The Great Photo Organization of 2016

Scrapbookers are, of course, known for having lots of photos and I am certainly firmly rooted in that group. Keeping the many photos in an organized fashion is a major task  One would think it would be easy to place a high priority on this essential task but I'm here to tell you that--at least for me--it's a chore and not one I can say I have managed to keep up with very well over the past twenty years of scrapbooking.

Over the years photos have been printed out of order. Some have been printed multiple times. 
Some have been organized by month, some by topic. 
Some have been put into kits in preparation for scrapbooking. 
Some are labeled with a date, most are not. 
Some are things I want to scrapbook, a few are things I'm trying to forget. 
Some are of couples who eventually got divorced and friends who came and went. 
Some are in this closet, some in photo boxes. 
Some are in albums, some are still in the envelopes that the developer put them in. Drawers, frames, hither and yon. 
Yes, this is a big chore.

As the saying goes, there is only one way to eat an bite at a time, so I've broken this mountainous task down into steps. 

Here is my step-by-step process.

Task One: get all the pictures together in one place. Beware: this can be overwhelming. If you are like me, your photos tend to run and hide all over the place. Keep your eye on the prize.

Task Two: acquire and label your sorting system. I used these awesome plastic photo keepers made by Iris, labeled for each year. You will soon discover that some years will require more than one case. That's ok. 


The inner cases fit neatly into the larger, handled case, giving the photos two layers of security. I like that. Each handled case holds 16 small photo cases. 

As you can see, I kept the labeling very simple--just Post-it Notes and a Sharpie. When the project is more complete, I will use the printer to generate pretty (and permanent) labels. 


I found these Iris Photo Storage units at Joann ($42.99) Michaels ($34.99) and online at the Container Store ($29.99) Link here.  Of course, by shopping at the big box craft stores, you could save more by shopping during a sale or using a coupon. 

I happened to be shopping during the Christmas season when Joann offers a $5 rebate through Ibotta on any purchase of $30 or more. That was fun! I used a coupon for 40% off and also claimed the $5 rebate through Ibotta, using their smartphone app. 

Task Three: sort the many photos
So there is only one way to conquer this--dive right in. I spent about eight hours total sorting photos into years. I just stacked them on top of the cases until they got to be a large stack, then I straightened them up and stuck them inside the case. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Some photos from years gone by have a code on the back, printed by the developer that includes the date. That's nice and all--sometimes very helpful--but don't forget that this feature is only accurate if you had your photos printed in a timely manner. The date indicates when the photo was *printed*...not necessarily when the photo was taken. 

I miss the days when these index prints were automatically included in a print order. They are pretty handy, even now for establishing a time line.


I gathered all the index prints, arranged them chronologically and put them on a binder ring. Most of them are dated so this was pretty easy to do. 


Task Four: Make lists of what's inside each case.

It's my goal to make lists like the one above for each case, so I can tell at a glance what's inside.  That part is going to take more time. 

Sorting photos chronologically is not particularly fun but having them organized feels very good. I did notice that even though I sometimes struggle to remember things, I have no problem remembering if I have already scrapbooked a set of photos. It's encouraging to realize that the page does indeed "remember when". 


This is what I accomplished in two days time. All the photos from 1999 to 2013, now located in  three big cases plus a few extra inner cases. Each is labeled for easy location of each year. 

Incidentally, I took a page from the book, Library of Memories and made a few very people-specific collections of pictures. These include:
--All the really good pictures of my husband and me together.
--All the pictures of my boys together.
--All the (far too) many photos of our cat, Sophia. 
--All the non-specific photos of my sister and nephew, who live with us. 
--All the cruise photos are together, especially because most of those aren't mine. 

It will be really nice to have easy access to these, going forward. 



1. Start today labeling each new photo with (at least) the year. Yes, it's completely tedious but in a few years you'll be so very glad you did. 

2. Small bites. 

3. I think it would have saved me some time if I had spent a few days gathering up the photos from their various stashes, *before* I started the big organizing project. 

4. This organizing project showed me who has the most photos taken of them and more importantly, who has not enough photos taken of them. This is good information to have, going forward. 

5. I will probably still print things randomly but I will be more diligent about keeping up with the organizing. (Fingers crossed.)

6. With technology changing every day, I am concerned about some of my photos that may still be languishing on old media formats. Can you say "floppy discs"? I am going to have to investigate how to update some of what was kept on platforms that are no longer commonly used. I am also going to investigate a common storage facility that is large enough to accommodate *ALL* my thousands of photos in one place. I don't feel secure having multiple styles and places, both online and in closets.

7. I love the uniformity of these cases. The photo below shows is just part of the menagerie of mixed up plastic goods that I cleaned out and moved on to other homes. 


One final Note: I stopped this project with the pictures from the end of 2013 because the subsequent years are probably going to require a whole big case for each year and I'm not ready to tackle that. I got an iPhone at the beginning of 2014 and the number of photos taken exploded exponentially. While that's good, (more material to scrapbook!), it's also overwhelming. I will have to come back for another round to tackle 2014, 2015 and 2016.

I hope my Great Photo Organization of 2016 has helped you get inspired to do a little bit of photo organizing if you share my struggle. If you do, I would love to read about your process too. 

Happy scrapbooking!

1 comment:

tnscrapper said...

Great article! I can relate to this easily. Up until the time I started to scrapbook, I always managed to get my pictures into photo albums right after I had them developed. Scrapbooking sort of messed with me some. I loved looking at the beautiful craft rooms on blogs etc and couldn't wait to set up my own happy place. I was OCD about doing things in chronological order, even going back and making layouts of really old family pictures (my parents when they were young, got married, etc.)I felt like I wanted to scrapbook every event from then on. But three years ago, I lost my mom and my brothers and I were left with photos that had belonged to my parents. (my dad had passed away 12 years prior to that) Some were photos that my dad had taken, some were photos that were given to them etc. I started the process of sorting photos by immediate family (my brothers and myself) Each one of us had a box. My brothers all have kids and grandkids, I didn't have any kids. So obviously they had more pictures that I returned to them to do what they wanted to do with them. Then I separated the remaining pictures of extended family and friends into piles. I also returned pictures to extended family and friends at my own postage expense too. Because I thought maybe those people might not have this photo etc. My brothers thanked me for going through all of them because they admitted it was a job they weren't excited about. Never got a simple thank you from anyone else. Doesn't really matter, because I thought it was the right thing to do and not throw them away. With the photos that are left over (some of my parents when they were young etc) I am now scanning them and will have them put on CD or USB storage drive. This will be my christmas gift to my adult nieces and nephews who have expressed interest in some of those one of a kind photos. That way they will each have a copy and can print out what they want, and I still get to keep the originals.

After going through all those photos, I began to wonder just who is really going to want all my photos and scrapbooks after I am gone. Since I don't have any kids, probably just a niece or nephew might want them - maybe. (I mean who is going to be interested in pictures from my bowling league over 30 years ago before I even met my husband?) LOL!!!

So, I have stopped scrapbooking for the most part and because I am still fond of papercrafting at this point, I have moved on to making cards. I still take pictures, but mostly keep them on my phone. Oh, and yes I have quiet the collection of empty plastic storage containers in the attic too.

Thanks for the great tips on organizing.

Marilyn C.

P.S. I know you won't remember, but we actually met once at a crop at Eclectica's in Bartlett, TN. I think it was one of two crops that I ever went to. I live in that area. I really miss that store.