A Challenge To Help Organize Photos…One At A Time

photo-pileI have to admit; I’m an organized person in most areas of my life, but I had let the photographs build up and get out of control! I think it can be hard to keep up on photos; when there are such great ways to take photos these days, and we have our cameras at our fingertips constantly, with our phones in hand! I know many no longer even print off hard copies of their pictures, but it is so nice to have them to look at with family. Maybe scanning through a photo album, with a child snuggled on your lap. Memories.

Our Recent Purge!

My husband is really quite amazing. He decided in the Fall, that sorting through and organizing our 28 years worth of photographs, was going to be one of his winter projects. Fortunately, we live in North West Montana, so we have nice long winters, so he would be able to accomplish his goal!
polaroidIn the early years of our marriage, back in the 90s, we didn’t have cellular phones with cameras. Indisc-camera the beginning, we didn’t even have a digital camera. I remember using a Disc Camera to take photos and we even had a Polaroid for some instantly processed pictures! When using a Disc Camera; or any film developing device, you take the photos and do not have a second chance to delete them or not. It is what it is. Blurry. Thumb of photographer in the corner. Double exposure. All of it. You paid to have it developed, and those were the photos you took home.

Developing film was expensive, so I hated to throw any pictures away. Throw pictures away? Oh my gracious, NO! I think, to this day, many of us consider it a sin to throw away a precious photo. Even if it is washed out, a duplicate, or even taken 1/10 of a second after the previous shot! So… I simply added pretty much every developed photograph to our albums, as I had them done. Needless to say, my husband had his winter’s project cut out for him!

Prepare Mentally Ahead Of Time

Like the majority of clearing clutter and getting organized, going through photographs requires entering into it with the right perspective in mind. I remember in previous years, when Ron would mention that we had too many photos and we needed to do some culling… I just couldn’t wrap my brain around getting rid of any pictures of our children when they were babies!
photosAfter time; I realized how the blurry ones, and the repeats, and the two pages full of the exact same outfit, just taken moments apart, were really quite ridiculous. I finally got my mental state prepared to toss the poor quality pictures, and make room for treasured memories.
Looking at a couple of albums; is much more likely now that they are organized. When the photos are overwhelming; stacked in boxes, and a daunting task to just look through…the entire point is lost. The memories no longer get revisited and enjoyed. It was time.

How To Begin…

If you’ve let the photo situation get extremely out of control, and just given up and succumbed to photo-stackspiling pictures in a box; you are quite possibly overwhelmed by the task at hand. Pace yourself. Start with just a few. Your situation most likely occurred over an extensive period of time, so expect it to take some time to straighten out. It might help you to set 15-30 minutes aside each day, to dedicate to your new project! Smaller chunks of time will help you not feel so overwhelmed, and will feel great to see forward progress!

Spread out if you have the space. A large table would be ideal, but maybe use baking trays to sort through photos, so you can stack them out of the way, when you’re finished for the day. Try to store what you’ve already gone through; in order, at the end of each sorting session. Clear sleeves can be great for storing during the process; as you can then see at a glance what is what.

Try To Include All Family Members

memoriesGet the input of each family member; as to what type of photographs are important to each person. Some like the quick little snapshot memories; where others may go for more the high quality artsy types. Remember that a framed photo can be a wonderful gift for a loved one. It can be scanned, cleaned up, or perhaps enlarged and reprinted to make a memorable keepsake!

When you begin the culling process, keep in mind Grandma, Uncle Ed, and Cousin Audrey; as possible recipients for duplicates or near duplicates. That way, you don’t have to throw them away, and someone else may deeply treasure the memory! Make a specific “give away” stack while sorting.stack

First Rough Pass

Lay out as many photos as you have room for and start the culling process. This is only the first cut, so it can be rough. Try to eliminate the obvious choices for disposal. All the photos that are blurry. All the overly exposed photos, with too much light. All the under exposed, dark pictures. All the ones with the photographers thumb or finger included in the photo. If it’s an older pic, toss all the ones with the camera strap added in!

Create a separate pile for special photos that can be improved upon. Perhaps they need to be cropped or adjusted. you can take some to be scanned and edited. Set these aside to take care of when the project is nearly completed.

Decision Time!

You need to think about, and figure out, how you want to sort the photographs. do you want to do it chronologically? Or would you prefer to use categories? Making categories can be done with family, nature, artistic, utility, subject or events. It’s really a matter of preference.

albumMy husband did all of our chronologically; as we wanted to travel through the years and let the pictures tell our story. He’s a logically thinking man, so this made the most sense to him! Iscrapbook have made a couple of scrapbooks, of when the children were babies, that messed his whole system up. But he’s OK with that now.
Also, our horse crazy daughter has also made her own horse scrapbook along the way. We also let each of the kids make their own photo albums throughout childhood, so they can remember the memories that are important to them at the time.

**Remember to frame a few photographs for display! Even with nicely organized albums, you still won’t dig them out for viewing frequently. Having some beautiful family favorites on the walls is always fun to look at.

Obtain Or Create Space For Photos

There are several options here. You can choose to put all the pictures in photo albums, scrapbooks, flip frames, photo boxes, or a combination. I love consistency, so we put all of ours in albums; except for the scrapbooks I have made.red-album
If you choose photo boxes, you can simply sort directly into them as you go. If you go with albums, simply do a rough layout on each page, then put them in! Organizing them in order or categories photo-boxahead of time, makes this process go quite quickly.

When you are still in the sorting phase; keep in mind that you’re mostly trying to capture a memory through the photo. though 326 pictures were taken the same day of that wonderful family vacation back in 2002; we don’t need every shot in the album. Two or three quality photos will capture the moment and will be so much easier; and much more likely, to go through and reminisce of that treasured time.

Label As You Go

It’s important to label each photograph to recall when it was taken, and possibly what was occurringphoto-markers at the time. Many photo albums have a place to write about each picture. If not, you can write on the back, or even directly on the photo itself, if you get an appropriate photo marker.
Oftentimes we think we’ll never forget where something took place; only to look back 20 years later, and have no recollection. Not to mention once we are gone, and our loved ones are trying to make heads or tails of our history and know the story behind each picture! Labels are paramount!

If every single photo is not in exact order; don’t fret. There truly is no great harm if a couple are out old-horse-and-buggyof place. you do not need to aim for perfection; but rather, strive for completion! Getting started on this portion of organizing your life is half the battle. Completing it…is the other half. Be intentional in setting time as a priority to make it happen. If you do, you will find that it is much more likely and enjoyable for you to sit down on the cozy couch; maybe with a grand baby on your lap, and go through your story…one photo at a time.

I hope you will accept this challenge to get started and finished organizing your family photographs. Please leave a comment below and let me know if you do! I’d love to hear if this has inspired you to take on what has seemed like a daunting task for too many years.




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Shelli Thomas


  1. You know what’s funny, I wasn’t around in the age where cellphones didn’t exist but my mom was, and she literally has thousands of photos across multiple photo albums. You’d think it’d be hard to find specific photos but she seems to know where every specific one is, it’s crazy lol. My point is the reason she doesn’t get lost or overwhelmed is because she does the exact things you mentioned here like labeling and stuff. I still personally like a physical photo honestly, what about you?

    • Absolutely! Sitting on the couch, browsing through the photo album, taking a trip down memory lane, is really precious. Though you have all your photos on the phone, you can still keep them organized and even print some off now and then. I hope you’ll develop a photo album to enjoy! Thanks for the comment!

  2. Hi Shelli–thank you for your post and wonderful information. This has been my challenge to organised photos. I have thousands of photos in my phone, camera i think i need to start printing them and keep for future remembrance because phone and cameras last. Thank you

    • Thank you for the comment! Yes, the phone camera can make it easy to load up and get overwhelmed. I encourage you to start deleting those blurry photos and all of the duplicates and near duplicates. You’ll be much more likely to print some off for hard copies, if you have the amount more manageable! I hope you’ll check out some of my other posts to continue in Your Organized Life!

  3. Wow, did I need this. I have tons of photos, some gathered from my mom’s home since she passed away several years ago. I have never tackled trying to organize them because I feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of them. Your website and the information here will get me moving on this chore that I have been putting off. I’ve already starting pulling out the blurry one and duplicates and moving on from there. Thanks again. I will refer back often as I move through the process or organizing.

    • That’s excellent Lillian! I’m thrilled to read that this has encouraged you. I hope you will just start little by little and keep going! Please visit my other posts to continue in Your Organized Life. Let me know how you progress. Thank you for your comment!

  4. Great post on organizing photos Shelli. I got bit of a vintage feeling when you mentioned the non-ditigal 90s. we have old family photos in our family. Some are organized and there’s many simply lying in a box. In the past, every time we thought of organizing, we would end up being exhausted. Such relief to come across your tips. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Thank you for commenting Demi! I understand. It can be an overwhelming chore for sure. I hope you will take the simple steps and do it little by little. You will feel so wonderful when the task is complete!

  5. Hey Shelli,

    I am just like you when it comes to organizing photos. I have a ton of them, but they are not organized or anything. I actually have a ton of photos that I am going to be sorting through. A lot of them are on my computer, though. I really don’t develop photos, though.

    Do you have any tips for organizing photos that are on the computer?

    • Hi Garen! Thank you for the comment and great question! The same principles actually apply to digital photos, as hard copies; only you don’t have the dilemma of storage in albums or boxes. You still want to sort through them all and delete the blurry and low quality photos. Also, try to discard the pictures that are repetitive. Delete all duplicates and near duplicates. Make the tough choices and keep only the quality photographs that capture the memory or hold a special meaning. You will be much more likely to look through them more often, if it isn’t such an overwhelming chore! I also encourage you to print off a few of your favorites to frame for display. Let me know how it all goes!

  6. My dad was a keen photographer so there’s lots of photos of me and the extended family from the 1960s and 1970s that I inherited when he died. All his photos were on slide film so I had to buy a slide scanner to digitize them. I enjoy photography myself so I was color correcting faded slides, cropping bad shots and categorizing them as I scanned them.

    I must have scanned hundreds of photos before my hard disk decided to commit suicide, taking all those photos with it. 🙁

    Since digital cameras arrived on the scene, all my own photos have been digital, backed up on a hard drive. Many were also on that hard drive that crashed.

    I still have all the old print and slide photos I took in my teens and later years. I haven’t lost any of those. They’re all in the box I set aside for such memorabilia. It’s only digital photos I’ve lost. So much for new technology.

    Print photos last 100 or more years. Slide photos certainly last 50 years. We’ve no idea how long digital photos will last on whatever media they’re stored on. Storage technologies change every few years which requires you to transfer your photo library to the newest storage medium. And you need to keep multiple copies in case any one storage device stops working.

    I love new tech and the organizational opportunities it provides, but personal experience says filing your physical photos in a box is a much safer option than relying on digital storage media!

    • I’m so sorry you lost all those precious photos and memories Gary! You are very correct, backing things up with hard copies and digital, are always a good plan. It sounds like you have everything quite organized, which I love! Photo boxes work well, but I think most people are more apt to look through and reminisce with an album do you find that to be true? Do you look at your photos much, or show them to family and friends? Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us. It’s a great reminder for sure!

  7. I am not organised with photos, and it’s kind of a relief to see I’m not alone lol. I too remember those days without digital and the cost of getting those printed! I’ve even found a couple still undeveloped around the place! This is a great read to find how to organize photos. Thanks for the info.

    • Thank you for the comment Kathleen! Yes, they can becoming quite daunting. I hope this post has inspired you to get them in order, so that your family can enjoy them! You might want to get rid of those old film cartridges…lol!

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