The Right Way To Organize Photos

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What is the right way to organize photos?

 

I know many people who move through life with ease get stuck on what to do with their family photos. It’s like there is a well-believed myth that there is a “right” way to organize photos and if you didn’t learn it, or instinctively know it, you’re somehow a lesser human.

Your mom, sister, best friend, mother-in-law tried to teach you, tell you, show you the right way to do it but you could just never get it right.

You hired someone to organize your photos and she told you how you “should” do it but alas you could never keep up with the system.

It all feels like a huge mess that you’ll just never get the gist of.

 

For the record: I’m a life-long organizer, a Certified Photo Organizer, and Queen of the bossy pants. Let me set you straight…ahem….THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY!!!

And anyone who tells you how you “should” do it is full of malarkey and you have my permission to say so.

Here’s the truth. There are many, many ways you could organize your photos. Some of the ways are easier, some more complicated but none of them is the way you SHOULD do it. If it doesn’t work with your photos, your life, your circumstance, the way you think, or the way you live it will NEVER work for you. It just won’t. Accept that and move on to what does work for you.

When I tell you how to organize your photos what I’m giving you is a framework, based on what we know now, about the best way to sort and protect your photos. These are industry norms. They work for most people and their photo organizing needs. A consistent system, a central location, and a reliable/flexible platform are really the basis of all photo organizing.

Does that mean it will work for you? No. I’d say it’s a good place to start.

 

All that being said, don’t be afraid to listen to advice. My goal main goal is to protect your photos for generations. I will always tell my clients to digitize their photos and store them in a cloud service. There are a lot of people who do not want to do that. They want to touch their photos, hold their photo albums, and think the cloud is a data mining conspiracy theory. Who is right?

All good organization starts with your organizing needs and incorporates your individual circumstances. Never be afraid to say what won’t work for you. There is no right way but there are better/easier ways. In the end, the right organizing system is the one you feel most comfortable with and only you can know that.

 

The Hodgepodge Girl: Five Tips For Overcoming Photo Organizing Stress

 

Let’s talk about the emotional side of photo organizing. I know…sounds scary but I’ve got some ideas to help avoid the feelings of dread and resentment that many of you have mentioned as your top feelings associated with organizing your family’s photos.

 

First, I want to make clear that organizing your photos is NOT like organizing your spice drawer.

I’ve never met anyone brought to tears by an old can of baking soda but a photo of you and grandma in her kitchen with flour on your cheeks…waterworks. Wait…I’m not the only one…right?

Photos are packed with emotion. That’s the point. That’s what makes them wonderful. I would argue that organizing your family photos is good for your mental health. That sorting through those emotions and memories is as liberating as years of therapy. Keep in mind I’m not a psychologist…But I have seen people experience profound joy by rediscovering forgotten memories and self-acceptance by embracing the goofy little child they once were…

When I talk to people about organizing their photos the most common emotion I run across are a combination of obligation and resentment. We feel obligated to do something with these slips of memories and deeply resentful that the task has landed on our plate. Why us? Why not cousin Emily? Because she’s a flake who doesn’t deserve the family photos…she can’t even…

Sound familiar? I’ve heard it. Families are complicated. We all have black sheep, flakes, nincompoops, and knuckleheads.

 

Here are five tips to help you embrace the experience of organizing your photos and also create an atmosphere of self-care:

 

  1. The set-up is everything.
    • Block out 4 hours of personal time. Be unavailable to everyone. This is your time.
    • Gather all the albums, shoeboxes, and random envelopes that you want to organize.
    • Get a BIG glass of water, treats, and a box of tissues.
    • Make sure you have acid-free boxes and photo albums for your organized photos.
  2. You are going to make a mess.
    • The biggest mistake that I see people make when they try to organize photos is they try to keep everything tidy through the whole process. That’s very hard. Allow yourself to make a huge mess. It’s easier and way more fun.
  3. You don’t have to save everything.
    • If you don’t like a photo of yourself…ditch it.
    • If you don’t know who is in a photo…ditch it.
    • If the photo is damaged, unflattering, or a subject you could care less about…ditch it. If you think someone else in the family would appreciate the picture…send it to them in a card “thought you’d like this!”  Boom…you’re a hero and the dang thing is OUT of your life.
  4. There is NO right way to organize photos.
    • A lot of people get stuck at this part. They want to do it “right” but don’t know what that means…so they get overwhelmed and don’t do anything.
    • How you organize your photos is your business. You can organize them by color if that makes you happy. You can organize them by emotion. You can organize them by location. You can alphabetize them if you’d like. They just need to make sense to you.
    • I like to organize by year and then season. I know boring.  It’s just easier for me. If you organize your photos by color will you send me a picture…cuz that sounds awesome!
  5. Keep them safe.
    • Now that you’ve sorted, tossed, and reviewed your photos…you know how special they are. Please make a plan to keep them safe.
    • My top tip…always…is to get them digitized. You can do it yourself if you have a scanner and a lot of patience/time or you can have them done professionally. I recommend having them done professionally. It’s relatively inexpensive and a HUGE time saver.
    • Once they are digitized back them up on your cloud or use a service like Forever. Avoid using photo printing services like shutter fly or snap fish as your back up. One, you lose your digital copyrights to the photos and two you cannot be sure how long they will be around.

Organizing your photos is an emotional process. I know.

 

When I organized my own family’s photos I had multiple “good” cries. It’s part of the process and it’s healing. Rather than run from the emotion, embrace it. The fact that you care is a great sign. It means the family picked the right person to be responsible; you were the hero they were waiting for…

Why Family Photos Help With Grief

An unfortunate part of the human condition is grief. I’ve lost people, pets, dreams and it’s never easy. It always hurts.

Let’s face it…it always sucks. There is no way out, only through.

 

I know this seems like a depressing topic but like taxes and poor hair choices, it happens to us all. What can we do? How do we make this a positive?

My only advice is love as hard as you can, for as long as you can.

 

I lost my maternal grandmother about 6 months ago. I miss her. I miss knowing she was in the world. I miss her laugh. She was a force. 

I’m lucky that I knew her, that we loved each other, that I have memories and photos.

September has been the “Save your photos” month and I hope you used all the publicity to take a moment to save your photos.

They are priceless. They are your ticket to loved ones that are no longer here.

 

If you haven’t digitized your print photos, I urge you to make the investment today. If you haven’t backed up your digital photos to a cloud service, I urge you to take the time.

The grieving process for loved ones is hard enough with the photo reminders of love, laughter, and a life well lived. I don’t want you to also grieve the fact that you didn’t save your tickets to the show.

 

Brief Preview of “Hodgepodge Girl’s Tips For Organizing Print Photos”

When I explain to people what I do, organizing photos, I occasionally come across a response like “oh, I couldn’t let anyone else go through my photos.” I get that.

Our photos are very personal, sacred, objects that many people would feel uncomfortable handing over to someone they don’t know well. I will say that a professional organizer is not in the business of judgement. We are there to help. However, for those who would feel more comfortable doing it themselves I thought I would lend my years of advice into a “how-to book.” The following is an excerpt from my book “Hodgepodge Girl’s Tips For Organizing Print Photos.” It will be available in early 2018.

I know many people who move through life with ease who get stuck on what to do with their family photos. It’s like there is a well-believed myth that there is a “right” way to organize photos and if you didn’t learn it, or instinctively know it, you’re somehow a lesser human.

Your mom, sister, best friend, mother-in-law tried to teach you, tell you, show you the right way to do it but you could just never get it right.
You hired someone to organize your photos and she told you how your “should” do it but alas you could never keep up with the system.

Let me set you straight…ahem….THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY!!!

And anyone who tells you how you “should” do it is full of malarky and you have my permission to say so.

Here’s the truth. There are many, many ways you COULD organize your photos. Some of the ways are easier, some more complicated but none of them is the way you SHOULD do it. And if it doesn’t work with your photos, your life, your circumstance, the way you think, it will NEVER work for you. All organizational techniques must be customized to each client. There is no one perfect system.

When I talk to clients, I always ask “what do you want to use these photos for?”

 

The answer, and the medium of photos, drastically change how we move forward. For the sake of this post, let’s assume the client wants to organize and store her photos. She has no immediate plans to use them but wants access.

We could use:  Year>Season>Event (ex. 2016>Spring>Ski Trips)
Or another person might like  Event>Year>Location (ex. Easter>2016>Our House
Yet Another may like:   Person>Year>Event (ex. James & Jane>2016>Wedding)

None of these are wrong. But I will say for the sake of your sanity, especially with printed photos, it is much easier to think in broad categories when creating albums or storage in boxes.

 

For instance, I think it’s easier to organize in terms of either year, events, or people. An album or acid-free box devoted to each year and everything that happens within that year. Or Holiday album (ex Christmas) where all your holiday photos go. Or sorting all your pictures of a specific person (ex James).

If you try to get too specific you end up with 100 boxes or albums and while that is better than a hodgepodge mess, it’s still too many places to make the photos truly accessible.
So, before you begin your photo organizing project, take some time thinking about how you want to move forward with your photos. What makes the most sense for how you’d like to use them. There is NO right way and NO wrong way. There is only YOUR way.