Summertime is loaded with photos ops like vacations, shots of your backyard get-togethers, trips to the zoo, and Fourth of July fireworks, to name just a few. But if you’re already surrounded by heaps of disorganized photos, you may hesitate to take even more photos, since that would cause you to get even further behind in your photo organization. But don’t be discouraged! While the summer is a great time to take photos, it’s also a terrific time to sort and organize your photos. When things get too hot outside, take refuge inside with a cool drink and a simple plan to organize your photographs.

Create Goals for Your Photos

To determine the best organizing system for your pictures, you need to figure out what your goal is. Start with a few simple questions:

  • In what ways would you like to enjoy your photos? Looking at them hanging in your home? By browsing through them in books?
  • Where do you see yourself looking at and enjoying your pictures?
  • Is your goal simply to get your photos organized into a single system, so they’re safe, protected, and can be enjoyed by future generations?
  • Do you envision showcasing your photos and documenting your memories with written stories?
  • Is the perfect solution for you somewhere between a box and a scrapbook?

Decide on a Sorting Scheme

Chronological organizing is a natural choice for sorting your photos. Photos are taken in chronological order and come back from the printer that way as well. However, when faced with a mountainous backlog, recreating accurate chronologies can be a daunting task. Here are some excellent alternatives:

Loose chronological categories

Instead of sorting your photos in very specific order by day or week or month, use loose categories such as decades, seasons, or categorize chronologically by an individual’s baby years, childhood, teen years, college years, early married years, and so on.

Events and celebrations

Consider sorting by significant events such as weddings, Christmas (with all years grouped together), or you can group photos from favorite travel destinations or your summer home (again, sorted by specific destinations as opposed to single specific trips).

People

Decide if you’d like to share some of your photos with friends and family members, and then sort accordingly. Giving photos to friends and loved ones can help you pare down years of backlog, and make your project less overwhelming. Decide who you’ll be sharing with, and then make the following piles:

  • Photos for me
  • Photos for others (as many piles as people you’ll be giving to)
  • Photos to pitch

If you’re hesitant to sort using a non-chronological scheme, consider this: you don’t remember chronologically, either. Memories come to you randomly, and yet your memories are meaningful regardless of how they’re sandwiched between your other thoughts. Give yourself the same freedom when sorting your photos. Do what makes sense given your photo backlog and the amount of time you have.

Store Your Photos

The next step is to decide how you would like to store your photos going forward. Keep in mind this doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If the thought of doing something with all of your photos feels overwhelming, then start with a small, doable project. For example, instead of feeling like you have to scrapbook all of your photos, decide to create a single scrapbook for a particular event. You can then decide where to go from there.

For each solution there is a trade-off between the time you invest, and your ability to retrieve or enjoy your photos.

Random, bulk storage

Consider storing photos randomly in a large container. If your photos are stashed in various rooms, drawers, shelves and containers around your home, or if they’re stored in a harsh climate (basement or attic), then corralling them all into an archival safe box and storing the box in an environmentally friendly room is a huge step forward. If that’s all you have time and energy for, that step alone is well worth the effort.

The trade-off:  This solution takes little time, but your photos won’t be much easier to enjoy afterward than they were before you started. They are protected, however, and you can always implement other storage solutions later.

Photo boxes

No longer reminiscent of plain brown shoeboxes, today’s photo boxes come in an array of colors, materials and sizes, ensuring there’s at least one out there to fit your taste and storage needs. Tabbed index cards help you label and categorize what’s inside. Photo boxes can be used as a temporary holding place for photos waiting to be put in frames or albums, or they can be your long-term storage solution.

The trade-off:  While photo boxes make it relatively easy to organize and retrieve your photos, they don’t display your pictures or make them easy to look at. You’re less likely to riffle through a box of photos, than you are to pull down a photo album from a shelf, flip through it, and enjoy your photos. Boxes are a terrific option for photos you simply want to store long-term—perhaps to give to your children when they move out, or for photos in queue for an album or photo frame.

Photo albums

Traditional style photo albums get your pictures out of the box and into a book, making it simple to flip through the pages any time you’d like to take a stroll down memory lane. Photos are easy to insert into photo pockets, and labeling is a cinch.

The trade-off:  It will take more time to get your photos into an album, and photos stored in albums take up more space than photos stored in boxes. However, this step makes your photos easy to look at and enjoy, and keeps them safe from fingerprints and smudges.

Scrapbooks

Scrapbooking allows you to combine your photos with written words and creative embellishments—if you chose. You can store your photos along with memorabilia such as ticket stubs, programs, and even children’s artwork. Including journaling or stories about your photos gives you the chance to add even more meaning and memories than photos alone can capture. If you’re intimidated by scrapbooking, remember it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. You can scrapbook your wedding photos, but feel free to pass on your boss’ daughter’s wedding. You can scrapbook your vacation to Disney, without having to chronicle every trip to your local playground.

all about me scrapbook

The trade-off:  Scrapbooks require a larger investment of time and money (for supplies like paper, scissors, stickers, and other embellishments). As with photo albums, a finished scrapbook is a breeze (and a treat!) to flip through and enjoy, and helps protect your photos over the long haul.

Photo frames

Don’t forget to display some photos where you can really enjoy them—in frames that you can exhibit on a shelf, a dresser, or hang on the wall. While this solution isn’t practical for every single photo in your collection, displaying some of your favorites allows you to enjoy your photos every day.

The trade-off:  Displaying your photos in frames can take time—selecting the photos (and frames!), getting enlargements made if necessary, and arranging frames on the wall. But you get to enjoy your photos all of the time (and that’s better than sneezing your way through a dusty shoe box any day of the week).

Take Action!

Let’s face it, your photos are important—probably among your most prized possessions. Yet many of us keep photos trapped in cardboard boxes in remote storage areas in our homes. Take some time this summer to get your photos out of the shoebox and into a safe storage system, so you can easily enjoy them for years to come. Tackle this project one simple step at a time, and by summer’s end, you can be sitting back with a tall glass of lemonade, flipping through a photo album, and reminiscing about the good old days.

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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and organizing eBooks.

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