Photo storage, organization and maintenance can be such a tiresome task. Being that a family photo album was on my list of goals for 2018, I decided I should probably also share how I plan to tackle this task. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m guessing I might not be the only one who struggles with photo organization.
First, you should know that I am the family photographer. I take all the pictures and if someone should have a photo in their house (including my parents and siblings), other than a professional, it was more than likely taken by myself. Also being the historian and a big fan of all things memory-making, I have photo albums and scrapbooks that fill whole shelves in my bookcase.
I still haven’t figured out the best way for me to stay on top of photos. These photos are very important to me but I still get frustrated that it isn’t easier. Going digital was supposed to help us! Go paperless! Stop having laundry baskets FULL of photos and not knowing what to do with them! Going digital was supposed to eliminate the clutter, but it also made these photos just sit, invisible.
Does this photo just make you anxious? Notice the negatives too…
Do you remember that commercial of your old photos coming to life begging you to take them out of the folders of your computer and print them? That is what happens. They sit either on your computer, or worse on your phone, until your computer dies or your phone falls in the puddle and then suddenly those photos are really important to you.
So! Instead of letting another year go by, I’m hoping you’ll join me and try to tackle one task. Personally, I feel like your stage of life will have me give you different starting points, but the end goal is all the same. Start somewhere.
Note: You know photo organization is going to take some time and some space. Choose a room or counter where you can leave this project out and not have to pack up each time you work on it. I would recommend the dining room table, guest room or secondary office space. Secondly, instead of watching another episode of Modern Family, turn on some great music and get to work. And lastly, remember, getting started is always the hardest part and once you get going, you’ll begin building momentum and the process will go much faster.
Stages for photo organization
Group 1 Single/Newly married (no kids)–This probably means you have most of your photos digitized. Most photos are family, travel and friends. You might have uploaded them to the cloud but you might not have any albums put together.
Group 2 Parent with kids (ages K-8)–Maybe you were very tech savvy and had all your photos uploaded from day one. Maybe you have half print photos and half digital. Most photos (let’s be real…all your photos) are of your kids.
Group 3 Parent with kids (high school-adult children)–You have a lot of print photos, some digital (mostly on your phone) and may have not the SLIGHTEST CLUE how to do anything with them other than scroll through your phone.
END GOAL: Start and finish ONE album by a deadline of your choice.
Organization of print photos
Printed photographs, particularly those heirloom prints of grandparents and great grandparents, are shoved in boxes, drawers and cabinets. Some used to be in frames, but you didn’t care for the frame so you removed the photo and donated the frame. But you don’t want to get rid of the photos. They include your grandparents wedding photos, your aunt and uncle on a dock in the summer as kids and your Mom and Dad waving goodbye as they left for their honeymoon. These photos are important.
So these photos are special to you but they won’t mean anything to your children if they have absolutely no idea who is in the photo or you haven’t told them the significance of the picture. If you aren’t around to tell them, (please don’t hate me for saying this) but they will throw them all away. Your photos need context and if you don’t have any, these “heirlooms” will be in the trash.
So, I wanted to give you some simple steps to help you get your photos safe, organized and create the heritage you want your family to have.
STEP 1: Collect ALL print photos and take them to your open space. This means your dining room table, a fold-out table or counter space that won’t need to be used anytime soon. You could even buy a large, flat piece of plywood to use and then slide under a bed to be out of sight. This collection process may take some time, but if you have them all in one place it could take just a few minutes.
STEP 2: Begin sorting. If any photos are damaged, torn, blurry or have no context (particularly lots of scenery photos), throw them away. Yes, you heard me. Also, if there are duplicates, throw extras away (unless you have someone who would like them. If that is the case, get one manila envelope, write receiver’s name on outside and add to their pile.) More than likely there is one historian per family so if you are compiling these photos, your siblings aren’t going to want the extras. Also, pitch all the negatives. Are you really going to look through each and every negative and go print new copies? Probably not. Release yourself from the guilt and pitch them.
STEP 3: Consider grouping photos other than chronologically. Maybe group one album with photos of one person (“this album includes all photos of Uncle Tom”) or maybe even holidays (“this album includes all Christmas/special holiday/family vacation photos”). This method might be easier with older photos.
STEP 4: Once you have decided how to organize your photos, just start slipping your photos into an album like this. I would buy about 5-10 of these at a time so all your albums match and have continuity. Each album holds about 180 photos which is more than you think! I was able to fill my whole album in just a few hours. Do NOT let chronology hold you up, particularly for photos more than a decade old. Get ’em in, and get ‘er done!
STEP 5: Now comes the most important part. Label, label, label!!! The most important are names and dates. If you don’t have dates, write why this photo is important to your story. If you can’t figure out the importance of the photo, then your family certainly won’t either.
STEP 6: Create an excuse to have a family gathering. Maybe celebrate the birthday or favorite holiday of a loved one that has passed. Get everyone together just because. When you do, pass the albums around or leave them on the coffee tables where people gather. The conversations and memories to be had will be so much more rich and memorable. This is why you took the time to do this. These are the moments your family will remember.
Photographs can be such a beautiful gift of heritage for your family. They provide a source of pride by learning a country of origin, what experiences make up the family culture and dynamic and can also honor family members who were lost too soon. Any legacy takes time to create, so don’t let your legacy be lost simply because you didn’t take the time to save it.
Do you have piles and piles of printed photographs? Have you found a system that works for you to categorize and protect them? What would you do with a huge pile of photos that you had no idea who was pictured? How do you plan to share your family legacy to future generations?
In my next post, I plan to tackle your digital photos, so be sure to check back for those!