It’s time to take action and finally get round to organizing those drawers and boxes stuffed full of photos. They are your family’s most prized possessions, preserving your family history to be passed on to the next generation.

If you follow these simple step by step instructions for how to organize photos you will safeguard your entire collection and feel the weight lifted from your shoulders. You will be able to enjoy your pictures without having to rummage through an out-of-control photo collection for hours. By using a system that makes sense your cherished memories will be easily accessed and easily shared with other family members.

Organizing pictures doesn’t have to be as daunting or time consuming as you might think. By following a few simple guidelines and ideas, you will come up with a system and have them organized, cataloged and displayed in no time. Keeping it simple will make you more likely to follow through with it as more photos get snapped.

Please click the link for tips on organizing digital photos, otherwise read on for steps on organizing photos that have been printed.




Step 1 – Choose a storage destination

Make sure you have chosen a destination for where your photos are going to be stored before you start. Options to consider include photo albums, scrapbooks, or just decorative boxes as long as they contain some form of divider system and are photo safe.

How To Organize Photos

Step 2 – Start somewhere

Start now: your photo chaos is only getting worse.

It’s unlikely you’ll have the time (or inclination) to go through years and years worth all in one go, so don’t even try. Aim to handle a few at a time so give yourself half an hour or whatever time you can spare and get started. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the number of photos you have to sort through, either:

  • Choose a recent envelope and go from there. Keep up to date with new envelopes going back to older ones as you can fit them in; or
  • Pick a photo theme or a series of pictures that inspire you, and use that as a starting point for organizing your pictures.

If it will be a while before you do anything with the rest of your photos, remove them from their paper envelopes and put them into labeled acid-free and PVC-free envelopes.

Step 3 – When in doubt, throw it out

The only essential tool you need to organize your photos is the trash bin.

Get all of your pictures out where you can see them and start by throwing some away. Honestly, who needs eight pictures of the Christmas tree of 1978 or six of little Emma’s first bath? So duplicates, near duplicates, blurry shots or ones with Dad’s thumb need to be dumped.

If you like the finished product, organizing your photos becomes fun so aim for an album full of interesting photos not indistinguishable landscapes. Think about the story you want to pass onto the next generation and share your favorite life moments.

Your photo collection can be overwhelming, which will kill your motivation to get this job done if it hasn’t already! So give yourself permission to reduce the burden by throwing things out unless there is a good reason to keep them. Do you need some help?

  • rare old family photos – keep
  • known family members – keep
  • unidentified people – toss after checking with other family members
  • vacation landscapes – toss
  • sentimentally important photos – a vacation landscape photo may have sentimental value if say it was where you got engaged. In this case it is worth keeping, – just write down WHY it is important to you. These are the treasures that will mean the most to future generations.

Make choices: you can’t keep everything
or you’ll have an uncontrollable mess.

Step 4 – Organize your pictures in a way that makes sense

Separate your photos into piles. You can sort them chronologically (the most common and probably the best way to organize photos) or divide them into categories and then chronologically.

Categories could be family, holidays, individual people who are the subject of the pictures (this is less common as photos can overlap between categories and then you waste time wondering where best to place them).

Just remember there is no perfect system – just pick one that works for you. Focus on getting the job done rather than doing it perfectly. That way you can enjoy your photos sooner.

Step 5 – The Who, What and Where

Using acid free photo pens, write on the back of each picture. Who, what, and where is often sufficient, although capturing the memories that went along with the photos will hold more meaning for you and your loved ones if you have the time.

If you don’t know the story behind the picture, you can either throw them away (No, you won’t be put in jail for this) or find someone who can tell you.

Never use a ballpoint pen to label photos.

Step 6 – Arrange your photos

Now that you’ve been through and eliminated, sorted, and labeled, you’re ready for arranging in albums, boxes, frames or scrapbooks. Always arrange and display your photographs in a way that makes sense to you, so that you can truly enjoy them.

You will not be banished to the Island of Misfit Moms and Family Members if you don’t scrapbook every (or even any) of your photos. If you want to have a go then the following video gives you some idea of what you can expect.

But if you don’t like scrapbooking or don’t have the time or money to put into it, there is no shame in that! Instead, select albums with acid free holders that safely hold lots of photos and give you at least a small space to record the ‘who, what and where’ that is now on the back.

It’s also nice to select a few special shots to arrange in small frames on a table or mantle, or to put in frames for hanging.

If you are arranging in albums, ensure you have every photo related to the category on hand and start with a rough layout idea only finalizing the album when you’re happy with your practice run.

Storing in photo boxes is perhaps the easiest option – just pick up each pile and store each in a separate section, noting the category name on the divider cards. To save you rummaging through box after box to find the photos you are searching for, keep an index of all your boxes and their contents to create a tracking system. You should note date ranges and special events contained within each box.

Step 7 – Store them safely

Even photos stored in photo-safe boxes or albums are sensitive to the cold, heat, humidity and direct sunlight. Rooms where the temperature stays between 40-70 degrees F are ideal – avoid basements and attics.

Nice Ideas

Every year select 20 of the best pictures of each of your children and get copies made. When they graduate, leave home or get married, you could present them with a gift of cherished memories.

Keep a separate album to use for all those large portrait pictures you accumulate from school etc. This makes for a great formal keepsake using professional photos.

Where to store negatives

With printed photos, come negatives. To keep them safe, use acid free binders and sleeve protectors.

It is always a good idea to pay the extra few dollars to have an index print made showing thumbnails of each shot so you can find what you’re looking for more easily when it comes to getting copies made.

Don’t hide them all away

Whether printed or digital, photos are not just a historic record of family life, they are also mementos that should be enjoyed on a daily basis, so don’t hide them all away. Pick a few favorites each month or year and put them into frames or flip frames (whether standard or digital). Or leave an album on the hall or living room table for everyone to enjoy. Rotate occasionally.

Organizing your photographs is a great place to start with your ‘how to organize your home‘ plan. It is a lovely way to bring generations of your family together and to pass on the many happy memories that make your family who they are.

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