How Do I Organize My Photos?

Do you have boxes of disorganized photos all over your house? Are most of your photos from the last five years stuck in the recesses of your computer? You are not alone! The busyness of life often means we can’t find the time to organize our photos, and the onset of the digital age has complicated the situation. Here are some ideas to help you enjoy those photos:

For the photos piled up in boxes:

First, let go of the notion that you have to get all of your photos into chronological order. Second, try and find a space where you can set up a dedicated table (one you don’t need to clear up every evening.) Then, get some containers to hold your sorted photos – you can pick up photo boxes and albums very affordably at a Walmart or craft store. Get some of each. Finally, scrounge around and get all of your photos lumped near your table.

If you have lost the ability to sort by year, try using a different sorting system. You could try going with eras, such as “Baby Pictures”, “The Elementary Years”, or “Early Married Life”. OR, you could group your photos into themes, such as “Friends”, “Vacations”, “Homes”, or “Grandparents.” Give yourself time to do the sort, setting a goal for each day. As you sort through photos, rate each one as either A, B or C:

A= Album worthy…set these aside to be put into albums

B= Box… these will go into the boxes you’ve set up

C = Can (as in trash can)… these are duplicates, blurry photos, unflattering photos, etc.

This stage may take a couple of weeks, and that is fine.

For photos on your computer:

You need to do a similar sort of your digital images as you did for your prints. You can buy software to help your organize (such as Memory Manager), you can group your photos on a online site (such as Shutterfly) or you can just create folders on your desktop. Remember to keep in mind the A,B, Cs… this is the time to be brutal in getting rid of photos that aren’t terrific.

Now you probably have a mix of printed photos and digital images. So, you need to make a decision:

Do you want to upload all of your printed photos into digital form? This can be expensive and time consuming, but it does give you the ability to put all of your photos into one place. It also gives you a “backup” of all of your treasured photos in case of a fire. However, the best photo is a printed photo, so you may want to simply order prints of your favorite photos. If you choose this option, put the printed photos into the boxes or albums you used in the first step. And/or, maybe order enlargements of a couple of the best to frame and hang on the wall.

If you decide to scan some of your photos into digital format, you have a couple of options. Many computer printers are also scanners, but they can be cumbersome and slow. If you have a lot of photos to scan, consider investing in a scanner which plugs directly into your computer. You can get one online for about $100. You can also take them to a photo store and pay to have your photos scanned.

Once you have your images scanned in, you can upload them to any one of a number of sites such as

Shutterfly or Ophoto. All of these give you the option to make photo books. With photo books, you select the photos from your computer that you want to use, and then follow the step-by-step instructions. You can select from a variety of templates and also add captions. The quality of a photo in a book may not be as good as a print on photo paper, so you need to know your own priorities.

Going Forward

Now that your old photos are sorted, you need to have a plan for new photos coming in. I suggest uploading your photos after every major event (e.g. “Trip to Atlanta”), and then every couple of months for routine photos (e.g. “Winter 2011”).  Then, you can display digital images on photo frames (many will hold multiple photos), or you can order books/prints. One nice idea is to make an album for each year (e.g. “Highlights of 2012”). All of these make great gifts.

Photos should be a source of joy and remembrance, not a source of grief. Remember that experiencing life is more important than documenting it.