by Susan McCarthy
Organizing your photos, plus those from parents and grandparents, can be a time-intensive project. But before you start, you’ll want to consider your reason for organizing the family photos. This can help guide you through the work you have to do so that you don’t get distracted by details that aren’t important.
When my husband and I moved into our house, we looked at the tall, blank wall alongside the stairs leading into the basement, and our first thought was family photos. Now, we don’t have kids, so this wasn’t going to be a gallery of their lives.
However, when I’d gone through my parents’ house, I’d collected some pictures of my parents and found a few of my grandparents. At the time of our move, Mac’s mother was still alive, and we sat down with her to look through some of the photos in her hope chest.
Mac made duplicates of some of his mother’s photos, we bought a lot of frames, and we hung up the images from our families, flanking a few of our wedding pictures.
In a few cases, we hung up pictures not knowing exactly whose image we were displaying, we just liked the look of the old photo. It’s an eclectic collection. I have a picture of my paternal grandfather and his brothers but none of that grandfather with my grandmother. My husband displayed a picture of a group of women from around the early 1900s, but even his mother didn’t have a clue who they were.
It may be odd, but our reason for hanging these photos was to fill a blank wall. We have art prints and framed posters elsewhere in the house, but we aren’t big on displaying photos.
I’m sure we both have a handful of photos in drawers. Oddly, we probably have more scenery photos and pictures of pets than we do of ourselves. Since we don’t have kids and there’s only a single nephew on my husband’s side of the family, there’s really no family looking forward to a legacy of family photos.
This has made it very clear that organizing family photos doesn’t have to be a high priority – for us. But what about you?
Before You Organize the Family Photos, Ask Yourself this Question
Chances are that you have a lot of pictures that you’ve personally taken. If you have kids, particularly since the age of inexpensive digital cameras and cameras on smartphone, then to say you have a lot of photos may feel like an understatement (especially if you also have a partner who snaps lots of pictures).
If you’ve inherited photos from your parents, in-laws, and grandparents, then you may feel guilty that these images sit in boxes or bins, in no particular order, and therefore go unviewed.
So, taking all of this into consideration, you may feel so overwhelmed that you don’t know where to start.
And your first step has nothing to do the photos.
Instead, it has everything to do with you.
Why do you want to organize these family photos? What is your purpose for undertaking this work?
Understand Your Reasons so You Don’t Waste Your Time
Take a moment to envision the finish product. Is it a digital site? A photobook (or several)? Can you imagine who is viewing this organized collection of photos?
How often do the viewers return to the collection? What do they say about it? What do they most enjoy? What do they skip over?
If you find yourself freezing in trying to come up with these answers, talk to a family member. While they’ll offer their own opinion, focus more on what your responses are. Your sister may think that it’s a great idea for you to sort through all those old print photos and bring order to the collection, but they don’t have the time, energy, or attention for such a product.
Your adult children may tell you that it would be nice to view a few photos of relatives as well as their own childhood, but they have little interest in scrolling through a hundred images of their first birthday party or their fifth Christmas.
Your goal in both discovering your own reasons as well as finding out what your family is interested in , is to help you judge the breadth and depth you want to bring this project.
You may discover that you aren’t the right person to do the work but that you and other family members are interested in owning an organized collection of family photos. The choice may be to hire a Photo Manager to do the work for you…and consider it a great investment since you’ll save time by not trying to muddle through on your own.
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.