Is your cell phone full of digital photos and videos? Do you have memories scattered on various computers, hard drives, cloud storage spaces, and in shoe boxes and albums throughout your home?

If you’re like most of us, you want to create a system to organize the memories you have, as well as the ones you will be making in the future.

Below are the steps you can take to get organized, decrease photo clutter, and create a system for moving forward:

gathering of photos

1. Hunt and Gather

According to Cathi Nelson, founder of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO), the average consumer has between 10,000 and 15,000 photos in their home––most of them are still in the envelopes they came from, or have been inherited from parents. Designate a table for the project and and put a tablecloth on it to cover any mess underneath. You’ll need a large garbage bag ready. Collect all loose photos, negatives, slides, and albums and put everything you find in boxes beneath the table.

2. Classify

Once you’re ready to sort, gather sticky notes, colored index cards, cotton gloves, large clear storage bags, and a photo labeling pencil to help you in the sorting process.

Before you start, think about how you want to organize your photos. Perhaps create a timeline that shows birth dates, wedding dates, milestone events, etc. Try not to get too bogged down in the details here. You may want to organize photos by theme or category instead. Examples include: birth, toddler years, childhood, weddings, vacations, and holidays.

Most photo organizers use a simple system to sort photos using the ABCs. The “A” photos belong in an album and these are the photos that you will want to digitize, back up, and display. These are the ones that you would mourn if you lost them. The “B” photos can go into a photo safe box, and are the ones you aren’t ready to part with and want to have access to at some point in the future, and the C photos should be thrown away. The goal is to eliminate 70-80% of the printed photos. The “S” stands for story. Always think about the story that a photo tells as that is as or more important than the picture quality.


3. Store

Purchase a 2 TB external hard drive to backup your digital photos, an archival photo box, like a Legacy Box to house your “B” photos, and albums, like those from Kolo, to display your “A” photos.

For the scanning, you can purchase or rent a Kodak PS50 to scan up to 800 pictures per hour and a Kodak A3 Flatbed Accessory to scan photos that are already in albums. A company called E-Z Photo Scan charges around $300 to rent the PS50 for three days. You can also call a local photo-processing lab to find out their pricing for individual photos. Companies tend to charge between $0.25 to $1.50 a picture for scanning. There are also online services that do scanning but this can take longer and involves shipping off the originals.

Depending on how many photos you want to scan and how much time you have, one of these options may make more sense for you. You can also search for a local photo organizing professional to ask about outsourcing this piece of the project.

4. Protect

Once you scan your photos and save them to your external hard drive, you should also backup your external hard drive (as well as your computer) to a cloud-based environment, like BackBlaze.

If you have old photos from the 70s and 80s in those sticky photo albums with plastic sleeves, you should remove your photos from those and throw those albums away. These are very harmful to pictures, and you should move the images that matter most to an archival-quality, acid-free box or album, like the brands recommended above.

If you plan to store your photo boxes and albums in a storage unit, be sure to select an indoor-facing, climate-controlled facility, preferably on the second story or higher. This will mitigate the risk of damage from humidity, sunlight, temperature changes, dust, and flooding.

5. Organize

Nelson recommends that you manage your digital images using four simple steps: transfer, delete, rename, and tag. The first step is to transfer your images to your central photo hub (your computer or external hard drive). During this process, take the time to delete any unwanted photos. Next, rename your photos by batch renaming them. A quick Google search will show you how to do that. When renaming photos, use a consistent format, such as year-month-day (for example, 2016-05-27 to indicate May 27, 2016). Putting the year first ensures that your computer will sort your photos in chronological order.

looking at photos together

6. Display

Photo organizing is a means to an end. You want their photos organized so that you can see them, share with others, and secure the memories for future generations, right?

Once the photos are organized, there are many ways to display them to help tell your story. This includes legacy photo albums, slideshows, videos, baby albums, and more. Organizing your family photos and creating a beautiful library of memories is a gift to yourself, as well as future generations.

Jodi Holzband