by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: Break down that large, overwhelming project into 5-minute segments. You could take on one segment a day or several and know that the project will get done.
Organizing your photos is one of those tasks that’s easy to put off. And, honestly, it’s not one of the first decluttering projects that you’ll want to tackle. Photos don’t take up much space, which masks the number of photos … and decisions … that need to be made with that “small box” of pictures. Also, since photos are images of the events in our lives, they can be tied up with a lot of emotions
Gather Your Photographs
Your first step should be deciding what you plan on doing with your photos. Knowing this up front is useful because once you start gathering your photos, you may feel overwhelmed by their numbers.
Bring your photos to one location in your home. If you plan on organizing your photos at the dining room table, you want to move the boxes and albums into a corner of that room. If you’ll sort through photos while watching television, keep the photos near your television-viewing chair.
What about digital photos? Download images from phones and tablets to a file on your computer and then back up everything to a flash drive and cloud storage, just in case one system fails.
Look around your home at the framed photos hanging on the walls and sitting on flat surfaces. Are these images still important to you and do you still find it valuable to display these images? (This could be an opportunity to rearrange some of your favorites to new locations or realize you want to update some frames.)
Sort the Photos
You can sort envelopes of prints, photo boxes, and albums by year before you start looking at individual images. This can help give you a sense of story while looking at the photos instead of feeling as if you are bouncing around through time.
If you are happy with your albums, you can leave them as is. If you want to pare them down, then treat the albums as loose photographs.
Although it would be great to think that you’d only have to look at each image once or twice, you may end up flipping through photographs multiple times. During your first round, you toss duplicates, blurry images, and generic scenery shots that require little decision-making. Then, in the next round(s), you decide which images are the best representatives of different events.
Keep the Best
You may think it will be easier if you keep every photograph; but, then chances are that you’ll value what you have less than if you keep the best images. Why? If you’re flipping through album pages (or scrolling through digital images), where you face ten images of your son blowing out his birthday candles, it won’t hold your interest.
Also, looking at dozens of generic pictures of the scenery is sort of ‘meh.’ Think of putting together an album like telling a story. You don’t want the author to describe in detail every step the main character takes to get to their meeting with the antagonist. A few details anchor the setting and the action.
Now, your album doesn’t literally have to tell a story about every event. However, keep the images that highlight why that day or trip was an important memory.
Curate Photos Stored in Albums
If you have well-curated albums that you or family members regularly look through, kudos! On the other hand, if you (or a family member) kept albums out of a sense of obligation, then you may have albums filled with generic shots of the landscape or images of people taken from so far away that you have to squint, while your nose is pressed against the page, just to hazard a guess as to whom you are looking at.
The sticky albums from years ago create an acidic environment that can destroy photos over time. If you value the images, you may want to remove them from these books. There is an adhesive remover, Un Du, that can be used. You can also search online for other techniques that involve working photos off the pages with dental floss.
If you decide that you will take apart old albums, scan the images, and reassemble the best pictures into new albums, it is okay to decide that you’ll keep the best twenty-five percent and release the rest.
Digitize Print Photos
You can scan the print photos that you cherish so you’ll have a back-up. You can do this yourself if you have a scanner or you can hire someone to do it for you. However, consider that these are your only copies of these photos you care the most about.
If you hire someone to scan hundreds of photos, consider someone local (check the website for the Association of Personal Photo Organizers) who will do the work themselves (or, you could hire a patient teenager). After I heard someone mention that some companies will send your photos oversees for scanning, you want to find out where your images will be scanned.
Also ask how the digitized images will be organized. (Will it matter if you presort photographs into years or themes?) You’ll have a lot of work ahead of you to identify the year, location, and individuals in the images, so the pictures will be searchable.
Before saving images, just for the sake of saving them, consider why it’s important to you and your family to do so. It’s expensive (or time-consuming) to scan photographs, so consider if you need everything or a selection of the best pictures.
Professional photo organizers recommend backing up digital images in three locations, say on your computer, in cloud storage, and on a flash drive or external hard drive).
Organize and Store Your Photographs
Whether you create a physical or digital album or keep prints in a photo box, you’ll want to decide how you’ll organize those images. Will you organize them chronologically or will you sort them into themes (vacations, birthdays, holidays, first day of school, etc.)?
Also, label the backs of photos with the location, people, and (rough) date. When I found some old photo albums at my parents’ house, I went to my aunt to see if she could identify some of the relatives in the pictures. The overweight, blond great-aunt I sort of recalled from my childhood used to be a slender brunette? I didn’t have a clue.
Schedule time each month to go through the pictures you’ve taken in the past thirty days. Delete what you don’t want, backup what you do. Share pictures on social media or mail a print to an older relative who isn’t online.
If you keep up with the pictures you take, then in the future you won’t have to face a backlog. Remember, going through your photographs can take countless hours, so keeping the best will highlight your efforts and your memories.
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