July / August 2010 Newsletter

Tip of the Month: Photo organizing


Photos are an organizing bugaboo for lots of folks. We tend to have way more photos than will ever be meaningful to us – and for something so precious, they are often poorly stored. But like any other kind of organizing, photo organizing comes down to a few basic steps:

1. Sort like with like and decide which photos to keep.

A well-curated collection of photos will be meaningful to you and your family — and you might even find that friends are happy to look through your photos if they don’t include every single one you took on that two-week trip. You don’t need the blurry ones, or 15 photos of the same thing, with infinitesimal differences. You don’t need photos of people who aren’t significant to you. And be kind to others; get rid of those photos where you caught them, unintentionally, in an unflattering pose.

While most of us will want to take (and keep) some photos of places we visited, remember that the photos that are most meaningful to later generations are those of people, not places; we can find perfectly fine photos of the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon on the internet.

With digital photographs, especially, it’s easy and inexpensive to take a lot of photos. It’s OK to then delete almost all of them, saving just the best. I certainly don’t recommend going the route of Lindsay Nie, who after having her baby, “snapped more than 6,500 photos in nine months” — and didn’t delete any. (For another reaction to that story, read Australian organizer Lissanne Oliver.)

2. Make sure the keepers are in good condition.

For digital photos, that might mean cropping them, or correcting for red eye — or going all-out in Photoshop for those special photos. For paper photos, it may mean hiring someone who does photo restoration work, if particularly important photos have been damaged over the years.

3. Label the keepers.

Both digital photos and paper photos need some sort of labeling. As Sally Jacobs (The Practical Archivist) has pointed out, you might be fine with labeling a group rather than each individual photo. But don’t create a situation where your children or others look at a neat photo and wonder “Who’s that?”

The labeling might be as simple as “who” and “when” – but you might also want to record the story behind the photos – or at least some of them.

4. Decide how to store them.

If you have printed photos or slides, you may want to also scan them (or pay a service to scan them for you) so you have digital copies. Then decide how you want to save any printed photos: scrapbooks, photo albums and photo boxes (such as the boxes from Gaylord) are the most common alternatives.

If the photos are truly important to you, invest in storage materials that will preserve them through the years. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works has good advice on caring for photos.

If you have digital copies, you may want to print some into a book, using services such as Shutterfly. And please make sure you have good backups of your digital photos.

5. Give yourself permission to do the work imperfectly.

For inspiration, read how Gretchen Rubin “decided to put together a photo album that wasn’t as good as it could have been.