by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I’m focusing on physical photos in this article. Going through digital photos uses similar techniques but I’ll talk more about them in another article.
Sorting photos, like sorting any other group of items in your home, allows you to see what you have and make comparisons. During this stage, you aren’t judging the content of photos. You are simply acknowledging, “Oh, birthday party, vacation, etc.”
This step takes time and you may be tempted to skip it or combine sorting photos with tossing or storing photographs. However, I think that if you don’t see what you have, it’s difficult to judge what you want to keep and how you want to store it.
The first step in sorting photographs is to decide how you want to sort the images. Honestly, there is no right or wrong way to sort your photos. The best way is how you’d like to view the images in the future. You may follow a chronological system for current photos but group old family photos by person.
Just like organizing your closet or your pantry, organizing your photos isn’t about how you’ll store them but about how you want to retrieve them.
Sort Photos by Years
Sorting photos by year helps you create chronological albums that tell a story through time.
To sort your photos by years, you’ll want to label a bin or tray for each decade, switching to individual years for the past decade. (So, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019). Yes, that may seem like a lot of trays, but consider that many of your photos are already grouped by year/decade (even those photos sitting in envelopes from photo labs).
Sort Photos by Events
Sorting photos by event helps you create themed albums – Olivia’s birthdays, the yearly summer vacations, Christmases. Yes, you’ll probably then sort the images by year. Of course, you may decide to create many small albums – say, vacation 2011.
Although I’m not going into sorting digital images in this article, sorting digital images by event works well.
Events can be things like birthday parties, first days of school, vacations, anniversary parties, holidays, etc. Again, you’ll want to line up trays or boxes to sort your photos. Here you aren’t as concerned about the year as you are about the content of the images.
Sort Photos by Categories
You could sort photos by person (but this becomes challenging when you have one image with multiple people in the picture, so this may work best if you’re looking through old family photos with the intention of pulling out images of your father as a boy).
If there are images of the garden or of a house being built or renovated or even of pets, you may want to sort these images by category.
Um, What about Photos in Albums?
People who specialize in photo organizing recommend taking photos out of albums. In some cases, this action helps preserve photos that are slowly being discolored and destroyed by non-archival albums. Unless you love the set up of an album and you frequently view the images as they are presented, you can consider if you’re up for removing the photos from their albums.
The added benefit to doing this – it will be easier to scan old prints so you can have them backed up in digital form.
Remember, while sorting you aren’t judging the content of photos, you are focused on grouping photos so you can best see what you have and then create meaningful albums that tell the story of your family.
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I help people focus on what's important to them by guiding them through clearing clutter and distractions from their lives. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; courses; speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.