Updated: Feb 5, 2019
To some, just hearing the two words “organizing photos” makes their stomachs turn. They instantly conjure up one of two visions. If you’re a little older, the vision includes a lot of boxes where pictures are stored in the home. If you’re younger, the vision might include phones and computers that are overflowing with thousands of snapshots.
For many, they started out with the best of intentions. They had plans to keep a log of their life in pictures in albums that would sit beautifully on the coffee table or on a bookshelf or maybe they had plans to create digital albums by event. Regardless of their intentions, most people are in the same spot – they have a lot of photos (both physical and digital) and are overwhelmed just by thinking about organizing them.
Below I will share how you can think about planning for and getting your photo organizing project checked off the to do list.
Start with the End in Mind
Before you start a photo organizing project, like any organizing project, it’s important to have a vision of what you’re wanting to accomplish in the end. Are you wanting to digitize all of your photographs? Are you wanting to put them all in archival albums? Something else? Whatever your goals are, it’s important to start with them in mind.
Planning: Find Space + Buy Some Supplies
Before you jump into organizing your photos, you’ll want to do a little bit of prework. For the most part this includes finding a space in your home to do the work and buying some supplies ahead of time.
Finding a Space: If you can find it in your home, it would be ideal if you could carve out a space in your home (e.g. spare bedroom) where you can spread out and leave your photo project for a period of time, which might be days or weeks. It’s difficult to estimate how long it will take for you to complete the project given every staring point is different and every end goal is different.
Supplies: Most of the supplies you should be able to find at your home, but you might need to make a trip to a local or online store to get a few things that would make the process easier.
Index Cards or Paper
Archival Photo Boxes
Gather the Photos
The first step is to get all of your physical photographs into one place. The same process would be followed for digital photographs. Once your photographs are in one place, the sorting process will begin.
Sort + Edit
Once you have all of your photos into one space, you’ll be working to get all the photographs organized by year and by event. So, before you start sorting the pictures, it would be helpful for you prepare the space. To do that, create and lay out sticky note labels for each year on a table or another surface you’d dedicated before you start.
The process of sorting is relatively simple, but it is tedious and takes time. You will look at the picture and determine first if you will keep it and if the answer is yes, then it goes into the pile for the correct year. Discard all the photos you no longer wish to keep. This may take you a few hours or a few days depending on how many photographs you are looking through.
Once you have the pictures sorted by year, the next task is to subcategory them by event in chronological order January through December. The process is similar to what you did to get them into the year piles. You will pick up your year pile and you will subdivide the pictures into events and label those events. Keep the labeling simple like “New Year’s Eve 1998” or “Jane’s Birthday 2002” labeling the subcategories on an index card works really well and allows you to put additional notes from the event you’d like to remember onto the notecard. This step is most critical if you’re going to want your pictures scanned and digitized in the long run, which I highly recommend.
If you are sorting and editing digital pictures, it's a similar process to organizing physical photos. You will want to getting all the pictures into one spot virtually. Then, you put them into years and create event folders within the years. Then, you begin to look through them and keep only the ones you love.
There are so many options for how you store your physical photographs. You can put them in an album or you can store them in a variety photo boxes. Organizing them into archival photo boxes is the most space efficient and allows you to easily scan and digitize your pictures when the sorting process is complete. More on storing and digitizing photos in the next post in this series of Organizing Photos.
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Lessons Learned and Tips
Believe you can do it. Even though it’s a large project, it is doable and you will feel an amazing sense of accomplishment when you are finished
Doing this process with your parents can be very rewarding as you’ll likely hear stories you’ve never heard before – both happy and sad – allowing you to connect in a new and beautiful way. And, truly these are the stories of your life
Any information you have on very old photos that you jot down on the index cards for the event can be extremely helpful for future generations
Highly consider digitizing the photos once you have completed this first step of organizing them as it can provide you so much peace of mind knowing the photos are backed up
Still overwhelmed? Help is available.
If you're still overwhelmed with the thought of taking this on alone, there are professional organizers like myself across the globe who can help you take on this project. One great resource to find professional organizers dedicated to this speciality in your area is the Association of Personal Photo Organizers. Professional organizers are able to help break the project down into bite size pieces and help you get it started and across the finish line.