Between our phones, cameras and video recorders, most of us have more images than we can handle. But few are special enough to be displayed, or even printed.
Amanda LeBlanc is a professional organizer, founder of The Amandas, and star of the Style network show of the same name. “Organizing family photos is a huge project,” she says, and suggests looking at photo organization as a long-term, ongoing project rather than trying to do it all at once.
“Start with the present and work your way backward,” she says. “And going forward, avoid the same mistakes you might be making now.” Here’s how to decide which family photos should be shown off—and which are destined to live quiet lives of digital obscurity.
Step 1: Consolidate!
Get all digital files together in one place: “It’s like the idea of having only one calendar,” says LeBlanc. “You have to get all your pictures into the same place.” Delete duplicates and bad photos at the source. Limit the pretty scenery shots, too. “When we look back through albums, it’s the people we love that we really want to look at,” says LeBlanc. She acknowledges that deciding which pictures to keep and which to toss can be difficult. “Anything having to do with children is going to be emotional.” LeBlanc compares pictures to children’s artwork. “Just because your kid drew an apple, that doesn’t mean it’s a keepsake.” Having trouble editing down your shots? LeBlanc suggests pairing up with a friend who also wants to organize her photos. The buddy system allows you give objectivity advice about images that might be hard to let go.
Step 2: Categorize!
Once your photos are all in one place, organize them into files by date, event, family member or another identifying attribute. “You can’t just upload 20,000 pictures into one file,” says LeBlanc. Think about how you may want to use your family photos in the future and then file accordingly. LeBlanc labels simply by year. “I’m not an album person,” she says, but her system still keeps that option open. “Maybe one day in twenty years I will want to sit down and put all these pictures into albums. If I decide to do that, they are already organized by year.” If you have years’ worth of disorganized images you may want to set a date on your calendar once a week or once a month for a set period of time to tackle categorizing.
Step 3: Download, print, and protect!
Transfer organized family photos to an external storage device like a thumb drive. Label and put the drive in a safe deposit box or fireproof home safe. LeBlanc also likes online storage systems such as Picasa Collage, which allows for public or private photo sharing. Once you have the digital photos organized and protected you will want to choose which to print and which to display. If you have done a good job eliminating photos you don’t want to keep, you may want to print all of them. For printed images, LeBlanc uses photo boxes labeled by year. For display, she recommends inexpensive enlargements so you can switch out family photos displayed as often as you like.
Keep it up!
Don’t aim for dozens of sub-categories you can’t maintain. The key to successful family photo organization is keeping the process simple so you can stick with it. “Maybe it’s a yearlong project to get all your photos organized,” LeBlanc says, and that’s okay. “You have to be diligent. You have to do the process.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.