Organizing Memories 101: Lessons in Photo Organization

I have a special treat for you today – I’ve invited Jody Al-Saigh of Picture Perfect Organizing to share some of her best tips and resources for organizing your precious photos.

You don’t need an advanced degree in photography or design to keep your photos organized and displayed beautifully. Organizing photos is similar to many other types of organizing you would do around your home. Here are some quick lessons in organizing your memories!

Why do you want to organize your photos?

Think about all the reasons you want to organize your photos. This will help you set your goals for the task at hand.

Some reasons that people might have for organizing photos:

To preserve precious memories. If photos or slides are stored incorrectly they can be damaged. Photos should never be stored in a basement or attic due to moisture and temperature fluctuation.
To share the photos with others. What is the point of taking all the photos of your kids, or your vacation, if they stay in a stack on a shelf or never even leave the memory card from your digital camera?
Free up the space where the photos are currently being stored. If you do print your photos, they can pile up fast unless you deal with them regularly. Just like any clutter in your home such as paper, mail, clothing, or toys – photos can take up valuable space.

How to get started?

Gather and sort! You won’t know what you have if your photos are scattered all over your home. Collect photos from every place they are stored and get them into one spot. A good area to work should have a large flat surface such as a dining room table or a bed in a guest room.

Sorting can be done in different ways:

Chronological. Sort by year or month. Start with the most recent photos and work backward.
Theme. Group like items together and toss the duplicates. People tend to have multiple copies and then never use them.  Sort into categories such as vacations, weddings and other life cycle events, or by a family member.

Did you find some old photos in your collection? Are there prints that are damaged?

You’ll need some restoration. Services like Photo Rescuer can help. These services can scan in your photos and fix tears, perform color correction, even remove items or change a backdrop.

Do you have old slides or a large collection of photos that are going bad?

You might be better served to scan them all. Then you can enjoy them digitally. Send them to a service like Scan My Photos. If you are nervous about boxing up your heirloom photos, check for local vendors that perform photo and video services.

Is everything in your collection digital?

Digital photography is here to stay. But if all of your photos live on your camera memory card, they are not serving you well.  Take the time to set up file folders on the computer and be sure to have a double back-up system in place for your treasured family memories.

If you have digital photos, but still want prints or albums, there are many online photo sites that are easy to use. You can upload your pictures with a few clicks and even make beautiful printed books or other gifts like mugs and tote bags. Two popular sites are Kodak Gallery and Shutterfly.

Got stuff?

Sometimes the collection of memories includes more than just photos. Perhaps you have a program book or ticket stub from an event. Maybe some children’s artwork. Or a prized sports medal. These items also need to be displayed or stored. Sometimes these items can be displayed easily alongside a photo in a book or shadow box display. But if the item is large, 3-dimensional, or bulky, consider taking a photo of the item and discarding the actual piece.

Time to display!

Scrapbooking is a hot trend, but it is not for everyone. And, if you do a lot of scrapbooking, you will also have to organize all of the stickers, papers, and tools as well!!

If you do choose albums, always be sure to choose products that are archival and acid-free. Websites or catalogs such as Exposures, and Light Impressions are two great sources for acid free and archival albums, photo-safe marking pens, tapes, glues and more. Craft stores like Michael’s and even Target have also started to carry scrapbooking products to keep up with the trend.

If you choose to store your photos in boxes, those same vendors also have plenty of decorative or functional boxes for photos. The Container Store is one choice for photo boxes in acid-free plastic or archival shoeboxes in decorative colors. Another great box for organizing and sorting is the Creative Memories Power Sort Box. Look for a box that has dividers to help you sort your photos and label them into whatever categories you choose.

Keep it up!

Just like other organizing, keeping up with your photos is an ongoing task. Try to go through photos on a monthly basis. This includes downloading whatever is on your camera or sorting through prints when you get them developed. Labeling as you go will keep you from a lot of guesswork down the road. Have empty boxes or albums on-hand to continuously work on maintaining your precious memories.

About The Author

Jody Al-SaighJody Al-Saigh is a Professional Organizer and the founder of Picture Perfect Organizing in the suburbs of Washington D.C. Before becoming an organizer, Jody received a bachelors degree in photojournalism and worked for 10 years in graphic design and print production management. She is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and is a proud mother of two. Follow Jody’s organizational tips on Facebook or Twitter.

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This post has 4 comments

  • Great article Hellen for this photographer gal! 🙂

  • Kristen says:

    Remember to label! Or, in the case of digital photos, tag. But indicate somewhere, please, who is in the picture and when it was taken. Of course *you’ll* remember. But imagine what happens when — forgive me — you are gone and your daughter-in-law reads your note on the back of a picture that says only “de Alfredo,” and has no way of knowing which of Alfredo’s relatives this is, because he’s no longer with us, either.
    Yes, I’m the daughter-in-law.
    Label your photos!

  • Denise says:

    Thanks for the article on photo organization. Can you tell me the best way to store lots of digital images, besides on my computer? Which are better to use: CDs or DVDs, as far as recording and retrieving images? Are there certain features that I should look for? Is one brand better than another? Also, what is +R and -R, and should I choose one over the other? I don’t know if it matters, but I use a MacIntosh. Thanks. A quick Google search turned up lots of conflicting information.

  • Jody says:


    I think CDs and DVDs are about the same as far as retrieving…but you will definitely fit more files onto a DVD. The R stands for re-writeable. I think the + or – signs are not really indicative of anything. Some companies perhaps use a + to say it is also re-writeable. Some just use the – as a dash….DVD-R…for example. I don’t think it is being used like a minus sign (like a math symbol)

    Be sure to have multiple backups for your photos. DVD/CD and perhaps also a portable or external hard drive. Or there are online sites that will store your photos (for a fee) in their offsite location. This way…if something happens in your home (to your computer, your hard drive, the CDs sitting in your drawer) then your stuff is still safe.

    One hint about writing on CDs/DVDs to label. I have heard that over a long time the ink from a Sharpie can seep in and potentially damage the integrity of the files.

    I hope this was all helpful. I know there is a lot out there. Try out different methods to see what works for you.