Do you have piles of photos stored somewhere in your basement or attic or the back of your closet? You’re not alone. Many of our clients hit a wall when it comes to tackling the photos and memorabilia. It always seems to be the lowest priority until a life event like a birthday or graduation prompts the need for quick and easy access to your loved ones photos. It’s then that you realize how inconvenient you’ve made it for yourself to view your family memorabilia.
Organizing photos (digital or printed) is a lot like organizing anything in the house – the first step is to determine why you would be keeping them.
Take a few minutes to consider the bigger picture…what do you want your photos for? Do you imagine that you’ll pass the unfinished project on to your kids? Would you like to have some on display or in albums? How important is it to identify people or events for others?
Before you dive into the backlog spend some time framing (pun intended) the picture of your immediate and long-term goals – it will give needed clarity to your sorting and purging.
Figure out what you’re keeping. This takes setting aside time, regularly, to gather and weed your collection.
Divide your photos into 4 categories:
1 – Photos to display, share or put in an album
These are the best of the best; the ones you would be sad if they were destroyed. You may never actually create the album, but it’s important to make the separation in case you or your family member gets motivated.
2 – Photos to keep but not display
The second cut, those you want to store or archive for safekeeping and possible future use.
3 – Photos that tell a story
Even if they are not perfect, don’t automatically toss a great picture if it tells a significant story. They can be illustrative of some specific point in time or mark a milestone.
4 – Photos to dispose of
Come on! Do you need to keep the 5th copy of a photo you don’t even like? Blurry photos, poorly composed photos, photos of people you don’t even remember can all be tossed.
Next step, determine the keepers.
Set up containers with the 3 separate categories labeled — Album/Display, Archive, Trash — so it’s easy to separate them. The pictures that tell a story can be tagged with notes and put in the appropriate category.
Once the initial sort happens, you can drill down into more specific categories. Categories help with retrieval. They help you browse the archive for retrieval or help determine the structure of an album.
Would a picture of Aunt Mary on vacation with you in Hawaii get sorted into Vacations, Aunt Mary and Her Family, the year & month of the trip or …?
There are no right or wrong choices, but you will need to make a choice.
Post-its and index cards, Ziploc bags are great temporary ways to sort printed photos until you arrive at your final organization. Start with broad categories or themes and know that you can come back and fine-tune, if desired, later. To keep the process moving, limit your time with categorizing of each particular photo to a couple seconds. Resist the urge to reminisce; there will be plenty of time for that later.
Power Sort Box from Creative Memories for sorting physical photographs
Digital photos need this kind of attention and maintenance also! Don’t kid yourself – the accumulation of thousands of unsorted digital photos will create just as much overwhelm and hassle as the boxes or bags of printed photos taking up closet space. Digital photos can be tagged with multiple categories. This is a great advantage; it’s the equivalent of having the same photo in 3 or more different places.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, tackle bite-sized chunks. Commit to just one box of sorting, or time yourself and do one-hour blocks of time or enlist an interested party and make a date to do it together.
IMPORTANT! Moving forward, make sure you have a sound system of photo management in place so you’re not contributing to the backlog. For most of us this means managing digital photos. Here are some tips:
- Figure out how to sync your devices and/or copy photos to ONE master location
- Make sure you have a backup system!
- Use additional folders for sorting and/or use tagging to mark a photo as belonging in more than one category
- Make actual prints of favorites so they can be enjoyed on display
If this article has left you feeling completely hopeless and overwhelmed instead of inspired, it’s time to ask for help! Search the Association of Professional Photo Organizers (www.APPO.com) for a local resource.