Get those photos out of shoeboxes and out of your phone and put them to USE. Easy steps to salvage and utilize them.

Organizing Photos in 4 Easy Steps

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Get those photos out of shoeboxes and out of your phone and put them to USE. Easy steps to salvage and utilize them.

Is it just my imagination, or do we take about a zillion more photos than our parents used to take?  I guess it’s because we carry a camera around in our pocket every day, plus we so much more visual than we used to be.  But managing all those thousands of photos can be crazy-making.

Be honest now, how many wonderful photos do you have buried in your computer or phone?  Or even worse, sitting around in dusty shoeboxes?  It’s a shame because your wonderful memories are literally locked up.

A while back when my husband and sons were off camping, I took advantage of a rare weekend alone to tackle a big project I’d been putting off for a looong time – organizing my shoeboxes full of photos!

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Normally, I would advise someone to tackle a project like this in stages, but I know myself and I also know that with a tedious job like this, my best bet is to do it in one large chunk because otherwise I can let a project like this drag out for weeks, or months, or years…

In my house, photos and other personal mementos are probably my largest source of clutter. I’m pretty sentimental and we have lost pretty much all of our older relatives so these items are the only things I have to remember them by. That makes them especially precious to me, so I am willing to take the time to organize them properly.

It is a LOT of stuff and it takes up a fair amount of space in my house. However, since it is so important to me, I am willing to forgo other types of clutter to make room for it.

I keep it all in a large cedar chest and three large Rubbermaid tubs that fit neatly into the closets in several rooms. So, even though it is technically clutter, it is fairly neat and organized clutter. It is also well-protected from dust, water damage, and bugs.

So, it’s a big, ugly job, but I’m definitely off to a good start. First I got all of our older pictures out of those old-style magnetic albums that were ruining them. That was a heck of a job right there, I’ll tell you!

HINT: Dental floss is very helpful for gently peeling pictures off those old magnetic pages.

My best tip is to send them all off for professional scanning. There are lots of companies that do this and it’s more affordable than you think. I’ve used and and was happy with both of them. You never know when a fire or a flood might damage all those irreplaceable paper photos. I’m also a digital scrapbooker, so I love having access to all these older pictures in digital form.

Then I use a service like Mixbook or Blurb to create gorgeous photo books or canvas prints for my walls.

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Photo Organizing – Step One

Get rid of of all the negatives and throw away all the paper envelopes that were taking up a lot of room. Yes, I hear you gasp, but I know perfectly well that I’d never go back and go to all the trouble of digging through the negatives to get reprints of anything made from them. Even though the quality isn’t perfect – scanned copies are much more useful these days than negatives. And besides, the last thing I want is MORE paper pictures, so I felt comfortable in decluttering them.  If you are going to keep them, at least figure out a plan to keep them all organized.

Step Two

Get rid of the darn duplicate photos! Lord in heaven, who ever came up with that particular marketing scheme? I had 4 or 5 copies of some pictures – ugh. And don’t get me started on all those dozens of little wallet sized school pictures we’d amassed over 25 years of school pictures. While you’re at it, get rid of the blurry shots, multiple shots of basically the same scene, and just plain bad photos.

Step Three

Sorting the pictures is the biggest job. Crank up a good movie and settle in for marathon session.  The first thing you have to do is decide on a sorting method.  By event, by date, or by who is in the picture? Some people are real sticklers for sorting things in date order, but that isn’t all that relevant for me, so I went with WHO is in the picture instead. I settled on a few basic categories:

– Immediate family
– Extended family and friends
– Pets
– Pictures of “stuff” or places like the zoo
– Everything else

My husband loves to take pictures of “stuff” – animals at the zoo, fancy cars at car shows, sunsets, flowers, you name it. My policy is that if it doesn’t have a picture of my kids in it, I’m not all that interested. But they are his and he loves them, so they can live in their own little section.

Step Four

This is more of a long-term project. Do something with all your photos.  Get them into albums, scrapbooks, frames, etc. What is the point of keeping all these pictures if you aren’t going to do something useful with them?

Send some copies to your kids or to other family members who would enjoy them, label people in photos for future generations, write down funny memories with them.  Share all these wonderful memories with your friends and family.

So the basic strategy is this:
– Determine your priorities and set aside some time
– Choose a storage method that works. Safe from damage, easy to get to, out of the way of daily life.
– Pick an photo organizing scheme that makes sense to you and implement it
– Find the treasures and get them out in the open. Scrapbook them, print them in online albums or create a great photo collage of the memorable, meaningful pictures you love.

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  1. It has been interesting to me to see how at a certain age, my clients have hardly any photos… everything is digital. I think sorting through “piles” of digital photos can be hard on the eyes, and not feel as rewarding as watching a pile deplete. Digital files take up less space, and you have great options for how to store and view, so that is a good way to go. But funny how all of the sudden, everyone just made the switch… no more shoeboxes!

    1. You know, I marvel sometimes at how drastically things have changed in just one short generation. I’m kind of half in/half out. On the one hand, I do have thousands of digital photos and I curate them carefully and make them up frequently (sadly most people don’t), but I also have plenty of shoeboxes too. But my kids don’t attach as much importance to photos as I do. Once they’ve shared it on social media, they seem to have gotten all the value they want out of them. Maybe they just have better memories than I do!

    1. Thanks! I think it’s a struggle for all of us. It’s just a low-priority item that gets put on the back burner. But it is such a nice feeling to have your photos at least semi-organized and protected from any disasters. I would feel so awful if there was a water leak or anything and my photos ended up being damaged. I hope these ideas help you.

  2. I have so much trouble with photo organisation – I am literally years behind and it is so depressing. I so need to get a system in order to help with this. Maybe you could expand on the photo organisation and do a series on the blog about it, it could be really great.

    1. Yes, it is an enormous task. Right now, I’ve got about 5,000 electronic photos on my computer that I need to take the time to sort out. Sometimes, you’ve just got to stop analyzing stuff and just jump in and DO IT. If you spend just 15 minutes a day on it, you’ll have it all done in a month.

  3. Ugh Definitely agree with getting rid of negatives! Why do we always feel like we have to hold on to them? I also have started doing photo books online instead of printing a tone of pictures and it has helped me cut back a lot.

    1. Me too. I’ve done a bunch of them. They are so cheap anymore, you can do loads of them now. I just finished up one for my son’s Eagle Scout ceremony.

  4. Oh, the days when you had to keep all of your photos and negatives. It’s strange to hear someone say throw away the negatives.

    1. I know – I was thinking as I wrote this. If I had negatives that I want to develop I wouldn’t even know where to take them. But I’ll bet there are hundreds of thousands of them stored in little shoe boxes just on my block!

  5. Photos are my constant headache. I’m doing okay getting through all the paper copy ones, but digital ones. Knowing that they are all a jumbled mess on my computer keeps me up at night!

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me. I’ve got something like 15,000 pictures on my computer right now. I do keep them backed up, but still what a dang mess. I wish I had like a week or so to unsnarl all of them.

  6. I use to scrapbook a lot. Now I really don’t have that much time. i bought a big organizer from Miachaels with a 50% coupon a while back. I still need to go through it again and take duplicates out and add new pictures. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Thanks for sharing with #ThrowbackThursdaylinkup
    I REALLY need to get my photos organized. I have so many printed photos that aren’t in albums yet. And yes, I totally gasped when you said to throw out the negatives but you are right. Besides for our wedding, there aren’t many I would go back to print.
    Hope you link up again this week! Sharing and pinning.

  8. This is a job I really need to do and you make it sound so simple! I have a box full of ‘real’ photos from my childhood that I would love to scan so that I have digital versions. But I also have years of digital photos on my PC that need to be reviewed and cleaned up.
    I am trying to start afresh though and the 2013 photos have all been sorted and archived and turned into a photo book – well 3 actually, it was my twins’ first year and I took a LOT of photos!

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