Getting Out of the (Shoe) Box: Easy Ways to Organize, Store and Enjoy Your Photos

posted by Aby Garvey 20 Comments

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.


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?


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).


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.


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.


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).


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.

Print Friendly
  • July 13, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Great article! Reading the suggestions really puts me in the mood to get out my photos and start some scrapbooking projects. Thanks for the tips!

    July 16, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    Thanks, Jackie!

    • July 16, 2013 at 9:09 pm


      I have plenty of photos to organize. Thanks for your tips that will help me very much. I’m organizing my scrapbook room presently and I’m anxious to organize all my pictures. I hope to be able to start at the beginning of august. It won’t be easy for me
      because I have so many.

      July 17, 2013 at 6:39 am

      Good luck Carmelle! Work on it a little bit at a time and you’ll get it done. :)

      • October 2, 2013 at 8:19 pm

        Thank you for an interesting article. I have always been a photo album person and when I ordered photos, they went straight into the album, recorded event and dated etc. Then later in my life I started to jazz up the page, similar to scrapbooking and I throughly enjoyed the exercise of it all. Then suddenly I found I had more photos out of the album than in because I have been told that some of the older albums were not good for the photos. Now with new types of media to store your photos I became even more confused. I like the idea of photo albums even though they take up a lot of space. I usually number the books and when Dad was alive he loved coming to my house and starting from No. 1 he sat there and browsed over the albums time after time. Again thanks for all your info it is really common sense.

        October 3, 2013 at 2:54 pm

        Thanks for your comment Shirley!

        • January 5, 2014 at 10:00 am

          My New Year’s resolution, get rid of that nagging need to do something about all those boxes of photos, 40 years worth !
          Started this project a week ago, figured it was time and why not during the winter months when farming is put on hold somewhat. Thought I should check and see if I was on the right track before I get too deep into this project and regret not seeking out wisdom earlier.
          Glad I did, thanks to your article.
          I feel a lot better about my approach your article is a great guide.
          Thank you.

          January 16, 2014 at 11:41 am

          Thanks Glen! Good luck with your project!!

          February 11, 2014 at 7:44 am

          I totally understand where you are…,., I am the most unorganized human on the planet Earth!!! This website is a tremendous help!!! Now, if I can just find the time!!! Thank You!!

          • January 7, 2014 at 4:00 pm


            I’m just wondering if you have any advice on which online storage/printing website is the best? I’m so overwhelmed right not on trying to decide where to store all my photos, how to display, etc. I think I’d like to make a yearly album but wanted to know if there was a website your recommend for storage and printing? Thanks!

            PS For anyone else feeling overwhelmed….I used to always try to pick up where I left off as far as making albums and things which of course means that as the years go by I am actually getting further behind because I couldn’t get to the old albums. I’m finding that if I start with the most recent photos and work backward it’s a little easier.


            January 16, 2014 at 11:43 am

            Hi, Jessica,

            I haven’t tried too many storage sites. We use a back up service for our photos and store them on our own computer. I have used Shutterfly for printing, but typically just go to our local Walgreens…because it is close and convenient.

            What I would suggest is to make a list of which features are most important to you and then evaluate based on that. Also, you could try a service – for one years worth of photos – and see what you think before going all in. That might take the pressure off a bit.


            • January 9, 2014 at 4:50 pm

              Thank you for your useful suggestions including the trade offs.

              I’ve reached a stage in my life where I have thousands of photographs including some inherited from previous generations. Some are in albums but I have taken some out, at various points, to give to my grown up children, especially when they had babies of their own and wanted to do comparisons etc.

              I have recently been given a negative scanner which I am finding useful, mailing lots to relatives and friends that they may well never have seen before. Great fun, if time consuming.

              Have now got as far as putting them into decades, e.g. 60s and previous, 70s etc. Feeling some satisfaction and spurred on to continue to filter and sort.

              Sorry, I am rambling but just wanted to say thanks.

              January 16, 2014 at 11:57 am

              Congrats on all the progress you’re making! That is a big project but will be so worth the effort. :)

              • January 16, 2014 at 12:36 pm

                Thank you for the ideas!

                • June 13, 2014 at 8:45 pm

                  I thought I was almost done with scrapbooking my son’s photos. Then I found a LOT more photos!! ACK!! I’m so overwhelmed. Right now I have some of them separated into paper lunch bags by theme, and I wrote the theme on the front of the bag. But I ran out of bags, and places to put them. Now that I’ve found all these other photos I don’t know what to do with all of them! I sure was a prolific photographer when my son was growing up!

                  June 17, 2014 at 3:06 pm

                  That is one of the hardest things – photos of our kids, especially photos from when our kids were younger. But…don’t feel as if you have to keep and / or do something with all of them. I know that is a hard decision to make in the moment, but having fewer could make them easier to deal with now, and easier to enjoy later. Consider keeping and scrapbooking the best of the best…and put the others in a shoe box (archival safe, of course) to give to your son. :) Just a thought!

                  • October 28, 2014 at 7:40 am

                    I just loved this post! it’s inspired me to do something i’ve put off for far too long…taking my photos out of the shoebox and into a cute album for all to browse!

                    Thanks Aby for the ideas.

                    • October 28, 2014 at 8:52 am

                      Hi Aby and All
                      Update …. one year later….
                      The wet and rainy and soon to be cold and wintery season is about to put me back indoors to continue my photo sort project.
                      I’m please with my progress so far, I now have a 4 drawer legal size filing cabinet that houses all our immediate family photos sorted chronologically.
                      Photos of both our parents families, Grand parents, Uncles, Aunts and Cousins have been divided into groups and separate boxes to go through down the road yet.
                      This winter, like others have suggested, going to hi-lite the best photos and compile a scrap book that tells the best story of how we developed our farm and growth of our kids from the beginning to present day retirement. This is the bulk of photos we have, It was so much easier for our generation to take pictures than for our parents and Grand parents.
                      Just so happens that I have a cousin on each side of the family that are doing family histories and time lines. Hopefully they can fill in the blanks re: who’s who for those head scratchers and id those faces that leave you wondering.
                      Well that’s the goal anyway…. one step at a time.
                      Good luck to you all.

                      • November 17, 2014 at 12:41 am

                        For those of you who fall on the opposite end of the spectrum (like me), posts like this keep us motivated. It keep reminding us that we too can get out of the shoebox.

                        November 19, 2014 at 12:09 pm

                        Thanks for your feedback!