Do you have photos spilling out of shoeboxes, cluttering up closets, or crumbling in the attic? Now is the perfect time to get your collection under control with the following simple process. Recognize that it will take some time — especially if you have decades’ worth of photos to organize — but with regular maintenance, your collection will offer a lifetime of enjoyment for you and your family.
(Please note that this article details the first steps to take before tackling any scrapbooking project, but scrapbooking need not be the end result. Creating albums is not for everyone, as it can be time-consuming, expensive, and even frustrating. So just try the easy organizing process listed below and see what happens!)
1: Think of the goal. Before you begin, recognize why you are starting this process. Perhaps it’s to preserve and share memories. Or maybe you just want to eliminate those scattered piles of photos and negatives once and for all. Whatever your reasons, keep them in mind throughout the organization process.
2: Gather photos in one place. The first step to creating an organized collection is to gather the photos all in one place. Check everywhere for hidden photos — attics, basements, files, closets, under the beds, and in current non-archival albums. Decide on a large, central work surface, such as the dining room table or an out-of-the-way floor. You’ll want a space that will be undisturbed so you won’t feel rushed to finish.
3: Sort the photos. This is the part that will take the longest, but it goes quickly once you set up your system. The most common way to sort is chronologically. This works well for most people because our minds tend to think chronologically. As you sort through the photos, place them in labeled stacks, envelopes, or boxes by year. Once sorted by year, you can go one step further and sort again by month if you desire. If narrowing down to a specific year is difficult, try just sorting the photos into decades. If you’re overwhelmed by the sorting process, start with the most recent ones first and save the older ones for later.
Another way to sort is by broad category or theme. For example, you might sort by events such as vacations, holidays, or weddings, or by family members or sides of the family. If you run across photos that stump you, pop them in a “mystery photo” box for later research at family reunions. Just like any organizing project, it’s important to group similar objects together so you can really see what and how much you have. Once the sorting process is complete, see if you have duplicates you can toss or share with someone else. If you have 25 photos of your son’s third birthday, perhaps you can share some with the grand-parents, or enlarge and frame your favorites. And remember, it’s okay to toss any photos that are out of focus, dark, off-center, or that you just don’t like.
Make this process as fun as possible, inviting family or friends over to help. Play some music, have some snacks (just be sure to always wash your hands before handling photos), and stop when you get tired or bored. Set a regular schedule to work on the sorting process so you don’t lose steam.
4: Store them properly. You’ve made the time investment to sort your photos. Now make sure they’re preserved for generations to come by using archival-quality storage materials. Some types of storage include photo storage boxes, accordion file boxes, 3- ring binders filled with photo sheets, and heavy-duty plastic (poly) envelopes. Your local office supply or scrapbooking store will have a variety to choose from. Whatever you choose, look for products that are acid-free, archival, lignin-free, and PVC-free. Store the photos away from light, heat, and humidity. (Basements and attics are no-nos.) Now your photos are ready for scrapbooking, or simply to enjoy as is!
5: Maintain the system. As new photos enter your home, be sure to sort and store them according to your new system.
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