Generation Y (The Millennials), and Generation Z, are the most photographed people in history. Yet, these individuals see their pictures the least in the context of their life history. Why? Because everyone takes millions of images that remain in their iPhones forever, without any proper backup, rhyme, or theme. Therefore, what’s your story? Let’s discover this by organizing pictures.
Many people struggle with clutter and find loose pictures from years past, gathering dust, disorganized, among many unrelated documents, or stacked in plastic bags in the most unimaginable places.
But knowing our life stories and family history gives us resilience and enhances our self-esteem. Pictures tell our stories. Pictures are important. We need to provide those photographs with the respect and importance they deserve.
Let’s Do This!
But how do we reconcile the forgotten past (printed pictures in plastic bags) with the high-speed present (images hidden in our iPhones) to make them come alive and tell our stories? First, we need to organize the pictures!
So, here’s a detailed guide for you to organize all your pictures. Let’s begin.
1. Gather all print pictures
Find these pictures all around the house, office, car, and relative’s homes. You might want to undergo a thorough home organization process of your home to start (this is how we find most pictures!).
Do not forget to round up all those old photo albums and scrapbooks. Photo albums are rarely ever complete or coherent. Include all your framed prints; displayed and hidden in closets and drawers. Gather them all.
2. Remove prints from frames and photo albums
Remove all those pictures from albums and scrapbooks because chances are those hard copies are the only ones in existence. You might want to use a product like Un-Du to ensure album pages glue does not ruin the pictures while removing these.
Remove all pictures from their frames. Let these frames go by donating or discarding them. Place all empty frames you wish to keep in a box or bin. This box shall live wherever you keep additional home décor items. A hallway closet is an excellent place to store these things. Removing pictures from frames and merging those pictures with the others allows you to effectively preserve them without the added bulk of these frames that probably do not work for your space any longer and in the context of the story you are telling.
Consider that once your pictures are safe in digital form, you can easily decide what images might enhance your walls or surfaces. Then, you can choose the best sizes to print those pictures and get a similar collection of frames that will be compatible with your home décor and the picture grouping. In the meantime, your goal is to have all your pictures safe in digital form and a chronological context.
3. Sort pictures by year
Gather all those loose pictures and classify them by year (and, if possible, by month). If not possible to precise the year, start with a decade then. Then, after establishing the chronological order, sort by them by event, if this is an important criterion.
4. Store pictures in plastic bags
Divide and store pictures in plastic bags (for the moment, plastic is not suitable for photos in the long term) and place your labeled bags (with the year) in a bin or a box that will ONLY contain pictures grouped in this way.
5. Digitize all prints
Photos are an essential category to digitize. Having all pictures in digital form has the following benefits
To have all of your images in one single format so that they can complete the story
To enhance and repair pictures
To use the photos in projects such as crafts, photo books, scrapbooks, imprint them on mugs, blankets, or other gifts
To intentionally select images to display at home or office
To control the size and format to show your enhanced pictures
To change your display as often as you like
To share all of your images online with everyone
So, create electronic folders in your computer according to the year, event, family, or person – Whichever way makes sense to you. But these files will be the framework of your project.
To digitize your pictures, you may get the equipment to do this yourself, send your photos to one of the many companies that offer the service, or contact a Professional Organizer to help you with this. Some organizers belong to the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO).
6. Evaluate photo editing needs
At this point in the process, you should evaluate if any of your print pictures should undergo a restoration process or other kinds of editing.
For simple editing, you might want to get one of the many software programs available such as Adobe Photoshop, Mylio, Forever, Historian, Google Photos, Flickr, and Shutterfly.
However, if your pictures need restoration, you should probably contact a member of APPO. They will be sure to help with this. But, more importantly, they will offer a white glove, personal experience you won’t find anywhere else.
7. Other media to digitize
If you find videos, reels, negatives, and slides while searching for all your scattered, loose print pictures, you want to digitize them as well! In this case, chances are you need professional help. Again, APPO professionals can help you. You can also opt to use the services of companies that will convert all that media into digital files and return that along with the original material. Just Google the service you need, and many options will show up.
In my case, I had to scan pictures and slides. I bought a $30 “contraption” (LOL – love that word!) that allowed me to stabilize the iPhone and slides. I also purchased a $29 app (Photomyne) to scan and optimize these slides. The process was time-consuming but straightforward.
8. Combine them all!
Combine the photos from all digital sources you have (iPad, iPods, iPhones, Tablets, laptops, and others) with your scanned photos (prints scanned). Do not forget pictures in Shutterfly, iCloud, and other places you might have shared photos to in the past.
9. Back up the mess!
Yes, you want to back up all that mess before you even organize it. You do not want to risk losing any of it.
10. Organize the new digital collection
Once all your pictures are in digital format, it is time to prepare digital folders by year and month within each year (or whatever criteria you wish to use) to organize all those pictures.
Rename all pictures in your digital file once prints have been scanned and merged with your other digital images. You want to have the images free of duplicates before you rename them.
Consistency is the name of the game to rename the pictures coherently. Here are some examples of ways to rename the collections:
Surname-Last Name, First Name
13. Backup again
Avoid losing your life story by employing two or more backup systems for the pictures once these are organized. The most common backup systems for photos are external hard drives and the Cloud.
14. Discard original prints
Once the process is complete, you can discard the prints. When you digitize your print pictures and toss originals, you recover all the space these take. You can let prints photos go by sending some to others appearing in the images, friends, or family members with interest in them.
Okay, this is the Organizer speaking. Experts in the field of photo preservation and photo organization will tell you about the many ways in which you can (and should) preserve your print pictures as well. Their information is extensive. I will limit myself to say that if you wish to keep your print pictures consider two things:
Your entire collection comprises the print photos (now digital) and the pictures initially in digital format. Preserving the prints will only tell part of the story. The complete story lives in your newly created digital collection.
To adequately preserve your prints, use special boxes that are acid-free, lignin-free, archival safe, and photo safe.
Should you wish to create photo albums or scrapbooks, use copies of the prints so the originals remain safe in the specialty boxes. Although a better alternative would be to create photo books, you only need the digital photos, and you can include comments and narratives that help tell the story much better.
15. Have a system moving forward
From this point on, have a system designed to quickly, efficiently, and systematically incorporate all new pictures taken (let’s say, every month) into your primary digital collection, adequately labeled, following the rest of the collection’s scheme. Keep in mind pictures you get as print only, should be transferred to digital as soon as possible. For a one-time scanning of a picture or two, any average printer these days might get the job done. Avoid gaps in your story!
The digitizing process can be daunting and the organizing part of it even more, especially if you don’t have the time. The Association of Personal Photo Organizers can help! In addition, some Professional Organizers specialize in picture organization.
All those school projects, papers, and awards are everywhere, and you can’t find it in your heart to let them go.
Organizing kids’ memories let you declutter your life and enjoy those mementos better. I will show you how.
First, gather all your children’s projects, artwork, school papers, trophies, awards, and the like. Go through every space, drawer, closet, and room in your home. Leave no space unchecked. Take all this kid-related stuff to a single place in your home to collect them together.
However, stay hyper-focused during this gathering process. Don’t get distracted by other things you might find. Your focus is crucial! Getting distracted is what trips people on this process, and then they get confused and can’t finish half the job.
Once you have this material in one place, you will have a large group of miscellaneous items. Now subdivide this big pile by the child if you have two or more children.
After having a separate pile for each of your children, sort each one by year. When you can’t recall the year when the piece was created, and the item does not show, assign some chronological order as best as you can.
You will have several groups of items per each of your children. Now follow the steps described below for each of those years, per child. You must work on one group (year or stage) for one child at a time.
1. Discard Unimportant Papers
Unimportant papers are notifications from school, lunch menus, and the like. These are things that won’t move our hearts at the end of the day. (You know what I’m talking about). So, recycle or trash all that.
2. Photograph Non-Scannable Items
Take good pictures of everything that is not flat paper, like artwork pieces, medals, trophies, etc. As you take each photo, include a post-it note with the child’s name and the item’s date. Place this post note at the bottom of each item so that you can crop it out of the picture later on. Then, when ready to work on a project with these pictures (like a photo book or scrapbook), crop the note out, if you can tag or caption the image.
If taking pictures of these items will suffice, you can let go of the physical object. When dealing with trophies, medals, and awards, if you or your child are not ready to part with the physical thing just yet, find a suitable location in the home where you can gather and display these items in a cohesive, aesthetic way. You don’t want them to look like accidents in your home.
3. The Written Work
Group items related to written work like stories, poems, analyses, and the like. The idea for these is to make binders or books later on. But, for now, organize the material to create these books later.
4. The “Warm & Fuzzy” Box
Regardless of your most ruthless efforts to eliminate clutter, there might be a few (a few), small items that you or your child can’t simply let go of, even when these have been digitized. That’s where the “Warm & Fuzzy” box comes in.
Everyone should have a “warm & fuzzy” box, by the way. This is a nice-looking box, basket, or container with a lid that includes items we keep forever. Those are the items that take us back in time and make us laugh and cry every time. Therefore, it is crucial to be selective with the things we include here. Not everything makes it to the coveted status of “warm & fuzzy” box material. Remember that!
5. Paper and Flat Media
Loose papers, awards, recognitions, messages, etc., on paper, are scannable media. As you do this, name the electronic file with the child’s name and the year when they made it. This process is equivalent to the post-it notes you applied to items photographed.
Scan everything using your printer/scanner, your iPhone, or any equipment you might have or can purchase for this purpose. This equipment is not that expensive anymore. However, it would be an excellent investment to have a reliable scanner at home.
Stories, poems, essays, and other items you put together to make binders or books (step 3), don’t need to be scanned individually. However, it is clever to digitize these, ensuring a safe record. If you do, ensure that pages of the same item remain together in sequential order.
You will manage the scanned material the same way you dealt with the pictures. So think of each scanned paper or project a digital image comparable to the photos.
6. Rinse and Repeat
Once you finish working with all the mementos of a child’s years, repeat the process with each one of your other children, working a year or a stage at a time.
In my case, we have three children, and for each one, I divided their electronic files into four main stages: infancy, elementary school, middle school, and high school. Note that pictures or souvenirs from extra-curricular activities and summers get included in one of these four stages, depending on the year.
7. Create Digital Files
Download all the photos you took of non-scannable items into an electronic file. You could name this file “Kids’ Projects” or something like that. Then create a file folder per child, and move every picture related to a particular child into their electronic folder. After this, you may subdivide each child’s electronic folder into years or stages or any way you want to do this.
Do not forget to add all images from your scanning process. Add these to the same digital folders.
From Now On
From the moment you gather all those projects, awards, and papers from around the home, consider it is a clean slate and new beginning. Pay attention to how you manage your children’s documents, projects, and awards. The key is to stay on top of things. Here’s is how you do that.
Every day, when kids come home from school or extra-curricular activities
Note important dates and deadlines and place those dates on the family calendar.
Post any school reminders for your children on a magnetic or chalkboard where they can see them every morning.
Discard those notes or papers. Those are the miscellaneous papers you tossed on step 1 above.
When the children bring home artwork pieces, trophies, medals, and other non-flat items
Photograph these as soon as they get home (so they look their best and you don’t forget to do this).
Save these pictures in the child’s electronic file. Name the file with the child’s name and year.
Add subsequent art projects during that year to that same file.
Create a new file with the child’s name and year every year.
You or your child might want to display such an item for a while. That’s great! Just ensure you place this item in that particular location you designated for this kind of thing. But, again, you don’t want their projects to look or feel like clutter.
In any case, taking those pictures early on gives you and your kids the freedom to let go of the item after displaying it for some time.
Scan all paper items and flat media such as report cards, academic evaluations, school pictures, stories, essays, and poems as soon as they come home.
If you can’t process these items immediately, park these papers in a bin close to the scanner, and assign a day of the week or the month in your calendar (yes, do it now!) to periodically scan these things. Of course, discard originals as soon as you digitize them. But should you need to keep it, place it in a file with the child’s name in your filing cabinet.
It’s a lot of work, I know. But consider that all this work needs to be done just at the beginning of the project because you did not have a method to deal with all this stuff so far. So once you follow the initial process, you only need to stay on top of it.
But why do all of this in the first place? First, this solves the overwhelming number of papers and artifacts cluttering our home space. Second, this process allows you to have all that worth-keeping material organized and ready to create meaningful stories of each stage of your children’s lives.
Telling a story is the real purpose of keeping all these projects, pictures, and awards. Having all those papers and items with no order all over the house does not tell any story nor inspire anyone to create one. This material is simply meaningless when scattered around or carelessly stored in a bin somewhere.
On the other hand, memories in book form, like photo books, are easy to keep neatly on a shelf or library and are a joy to share. Our children will be able to see and enjoy their path through life and share this fantastic legacy with friends, family, and their children.
Also, imagine the storage space you will recover when you let go of physical items and original papers! However, you might think that throwing all that away is what you did not want to do. But how many times has anybody enjoyed those things since you put them away? Is there space in your home to display them all? Are they all worth exhibiting? Do you want your home to look like a kindergarten classroom?
Maybe when your child created a project, you displayed it for about a week or so. But eventually, that project, along with so many others, started cluttering your home and your life. So, this way of purposely and intentionally working with your children’s stuff will take you where you want to be.
Looking Beneath Your Need to Keep the Stuff
If you feel it is too hard to let go of those physical objects and original papers, even when they are safely digitized, what you are probably trying to keep is the feelings they evoke. It is not about the item itself. Images of these items can still satisfy those feelings without drowning you in “stuff.” Instead, having these memories accessibly organized enables everyone to enjoy and share them for many years to come.