Years of family outings, birthday parties, school events and other photograph-worthy moments can amount to innumerable boxes of printed photographs and negatives. It can be overwhelming to think about organizing hundreds or even thousands of photos that you’ve left to “take care of later.” Instead of putting it off once again, start with a plan.
If you have multiple boxes of photos to organize, prepare to dedicate at least a week to this task. Our recommended plan will give you a systematic way to organize the photos you have and the ones you will take in the future. The goal is to put a system in place that enables you to find your photos easily and preserve them for future generations.
1. Gather all of your loose photos in one place.
Over the years, it is likely that you have collected photos in several different places. This may be in the attic, basement, junk drawers, cabinets, your purse and any nook and cranny of the house. Gather all the photos and loose negatives you can find in one place, including any photo albums that are in need of attention.
2. Create categories for your photos.
Create categories for your photos: they can be organized by years or decades, holidays, occasions or people. Place the photos into these piles accordingly. If you have recently acquired photos from a relative, you may have to dedicate more time to this task — especially if you intend to organize by people in the photos — as you may not be able to recognize all the photo subjects. Involve a family member to help, and make it a fun family event!
For this first step of categorization, choose four to six general categories. Keep them broad at first:
- Year: If you have photos spanning many years to sort through, choose decades as a starting point instead.
- Events: This is broad at first, including holidays, vacations, weddings, birthdays, reunions and other occasions.
- Location: If you travel frequently, sort by country or continent, for example.
- Family member: You can begin by organizing by your side of the family or your spouse’s.
This is meant to be a quick portion of the entire process, so don’t slow yourself down by nostalgia. Get the sorting done and save the reminiscing for later! After you’ve done the first round of sorting, you can start to create sub-categories, such as specific holidays — Christmas or Halloween, for examples — and events.
Pro Tip: Clean out the clutter!
Consider discarding photos that are blurry, out of focus, or irrelevant — a shot of the sidewalk, for example. Photos can also be handed off to someone else: a good-quality photo depicting a friend of a friend may be more meaningful to someone else.
3. Label based on what you know.
Using an archival photo pen, write a description on the back of the photos. Use the same information, such as the date, year or decade; the names of people in the photo; and the location to make retrieving photos even easier.
4. Label and store the photo boxes.
After you have sorted your photos, label each box with its category. Write it on the outside of each photo box and store them in a dry and climate controlled room. Do not keep them in an attic or basement as this can cause damage due to humidity and fluctuating temperatures.
Pro Tip: Use archival photo storage boxes.
High-quality archival photo storage boxes will protect your photos when they are stored away for safekeeping. Frame Destination’s acid-free photo storage boxes and tissue paper protect photos from fading and discoloration.
5. Put your photos in albums. (Optional)
After you have properly organized your photos, decide if you would like to have some photos easily accessible in albums. Many people opt to keep photo albums as they are easy to view and share with guests.
6. Digitize your printed photographs. (Optional)
Go a step further in your photograph preservation by saving your images digitally. Digitizing photographs is not only a great way to save them from damage and loss, it makes them easier to share with family and friends. This can be a time-consuming process, but there are many photo scanning services available that can take physical photos and digitize them.
7. Organize your negatives.
Now is the time to address the pile of negatives. The rule of thumb is to keep negatives as flat as possible, preferably using negative storage sheets, which are specially made to keep them flat and protected. For ease of sorting, you can write on the sheets to label them clearly. Place your labeled negatives in a photo storage box to avoid damage.
8. Maintain an organized routine
After you’ve gone through the mammoth task of organizing loose photos, create a habit of staying organized. Label your photos as soon as they are printed, including the date, location, subjects and any other relevant information. Add them to the labeled photo storage boxes or photo album.
Organizing your printed photos and negatives can be time consuming, but it is a worthwhile endeavor. When your photos are labeled clearly and placed neatly in photo albums, you will be more likely to share them with friends and family — and not just on social media. A family gathering in which stories are shared is made much richer when a photo album can be retrieved to illustrate the story. Best of all, when photos are stored safely, your family can enjoy them for years to come.