Do you have boxes or bags or drawers of loose photos collected back when everyone ordered prints and kept them – along with the duplicates and negatives? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Taking the time to organize them now will help you avoid the stressful last-minute scramble to produce fun shots for milestone birthdays, anniversaries, or memorial services. 

Here’s a way to go about it to make the project manageable. 

Set Yourself Up for Success 

  • Create a workspace that you can keep up for a couple of hours, days or longer if possible
  • Use index cards (rather than sticky notes) to designate titles of the piles 
  • Store physical photos into proper containers – acid-free cardboard or some plastics (polypropylene) is OK.   
  • Gather all your loose photos into one place 

Begin with the End In Mind 

Before you start, spend some time thinking about what your end goal is – to make family albums? Digitize? Preserve critical photos for future family needs or natural disaster? Sharing with other family members? Memorialize someone? It can be as simple as paring down the collection to remove the duds and dupes.  

Being clear on your goals will help you focus your sorting techniques. It can be helpful to write out a family timeline within the decades to help sort in chronological order. 

How To Sort 

There’s lots of options here, but the key is to go from gross categories into more specifics. Examples of gross categories are time (decade or year or childhood, school years), events (holidays, graduations, etc.), people, places.  

Cull Ruthlessly  

Does the picture tell a story or capture a memory? Weed out duplicates, blurries – unless they are one of a kind to tell the story and landscapes that may not be meaningful. Often you can find better pictures of places online.  

What Next? 

This will depend on your original goal. Photos can be stored in labeled archival boxes. There are many options for digitizing; we’ll cover that in a future post. Professional photo organizers are available to help if you get overwhelmed! They can guide you through the sorting, do the sorting for you, handle all the digitizing and the archiving by creating books or websites.  

Remember – aim for progress, not perfection! Any work you do on getting through backlog photos will serve you or others next time you are looking for that special shot.