by Susan McCarthy
In this first article in a series, learn how to declutter and organize photos whether they belong to your personal collection or they came out of your parents' home when you began clearing their estate.
When we cleaned out my mother-in-law’s house after her death, my husband filled two large plastic storage bins with family photos. Then we invited his brothers over for a meal, reminiscing, and the division of the pictures.
Although there were hundreds and hundreds of photos, each brother took just a handful. A few images of relatives were mailed out. And the rest? Tossed.
If you’re shuddering at the thought of family picture being thrown away, remember that each brother had kept what was meaningful to him. Even if someone had hauled the bins of the remaining photos into some spare space(?!), chances are no one would have bothered to look at them. After all, everyone knew that they’d taken what they wanted.
Whether you’re sorting through the family photos you found at your parent’s house…or those in your own home, going through photos can take much more time than you think it will. However, that doesn’t mean this is an impossible or unworthy task.
One of the things that makes organizing photos so overwhelming is the sheer number of images. And recognizing this is key. Even organized, will you and family members enjoy flipping through hundreds of images? Or will you and others feel more encouraged to take the time to reminisce if there are fewer pictures?
There’s no one best answer here. But you do want to consider why you want to keep the photos that you are. Are they going to sit in albums or boxes that no one will ever look through? Or will you display a few special images?
This is the first article in a series that will guide you through the rudimentary actions that can bring order to a vast number of photographs.
What to Do with the Photos in Your Home
If you’ll be sorting through your personal photos (and maybe some that you got from your parents’ house), you may have more time to do this than someone who is emptying their parent’s estate and must sort through the entire contents of the house. For either situation, you’ll still follow the steps described below and in future articles.
Also, set up a schedule of when you’ll do this work. You may start with the good intention of “fitting in” the work when you have time, but tasks that aren’t connected to a plan can easily get pushed aside until later. So, decide that you’ll work Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. until you’re done…or whatever schedule will work best for you.
What to Do with the Photos in Your Parent’s Home
I suggest intentionally gathering photos early in the process of emptying a parent’s estate. By this I mean to go through the house collecting photos – in frames on walls and propped on flat surfaces, in albums and photo boxes, in photo processing envelopes – and putting them in larger, well labeled boxes or bins. Gather all that you can easily find.
This way, you know where the photos are. One of the problems with finding pictures while sorting through drawers and cabinets is that when you find something like an album or envelope of photographs, you might not know what to do with them. You set them aside, which can mean they’ll get shuffled from pile to pile. And then you risk losing them.
So, go through the house collecting photos. Don’t worry if you miss some of the hidden one. I know, there’s likely a mini photo album or the random picture tucked in a drawer, but when you find these, you’ll put them with all the others you collected earlier.
Hi, I'm Susan
Emptying my parents' overpacked 800-square-foot house left me popping handfuls of peanut M&Ms and doing a WHOLE lot of comfort-crocheting. The experience of sorting through mom and dad's stuff also encouraged me to become a professional organizer...so now I can offer techniques that work much better than chocolate.