Baby Steps to Organize Physical Photos

I’m still on the hunt for quick organizing projects for you, so let’s tackle baby steps to organize physical photos.

Baby Steps to Organize Physical Photos.png

I’ve written about organizing physical photos before, and I will again, as it’s not only a big part of our business, but it is So. Much. Fun! Seriously, we love it.

But if you aren’t wired like me, you’re feeling overwhelmed just thinking about it. It might truly be an overwhelming job if your parents, great aunt, and maybe siblings have passed their photos down to you. You have several generations of photos to protect and preserve. Where do you start?

Baby Steps to Organize Physical Photos

1. Gather your physical photos together in one place. They are in bins in the basement, in shoeboxes under beds, and maybe in some albums on the shelf in the den. Don’t forget the slides, VHS tapes, and the reel film tapes. Goo through all the closets. Don’t forget the framed photos you stashed in the foot locker. Get them all in one place, ideally in a project room with a banquet table or on a dining room table that you don’t use every day. Having a large, flat surface to spread out on is ideal. This isn’t a weekend job. These might be there for days, weeks, or months while you organize your photos.

Baby Steps to Organize Physical Photos


2. Sort by type. Put your loose photos together in a pile or boxes. Stack your albums together. Gather the VHS tapes in a pile, and eliminate the Miami Vice re-runs. You only need to keep and transfer your own family films. Don’t try to put them in order just yet. Just see how much of each category you have.

3. At this point, you begin to see the trash in there, taking up space. Pull out the things that aren’t photos and aren’t special. Toss the random T-shirt, the greeting cards that aren’t special, the 2nd grade spelling worksheets. Toss the empty photo lab envelopes and the empty photo albums. These are baby steps that will start to make your project have shape and scope.

Don’t start walking down memory lane yet! Organizing photos will take forever if you want to look at each and every one at this point. Take these baby steps to organize your physical photos faster.

The average family collection that comes through our office has between 5,000-10,000 printed photos.

One inch of (modern) printed photos equals about 100 photos. 

4.  Make sure you have all of your photos together. Look again in your hidey-holes. Ask your family if they have parts of the collection. Looks again in the basement.

It’s easier to put together a puzzle when you have all of the pieces.

5. De-album, if you can, without damaging your photos. One way to find out if you are the best person to organize your photos is to de-album a few of your old albums. You need to remove photos from albums if you want to scan your photos, and you can save a lot of space by storing photos in archival photo storage boxes rather than albums. If you enjoy pulling the photos out of sticky albums and pocket pages, and they come away without damage, then keep going. If you find it tedious or hard, or if you can’t remove them without damage, then it’s time to think about someone else organizing your photos for you. De-albuming doesn’t require any computer skills, so most people can do it. But every now and then we come across albums that are really stuck or are water-damaged or fire-damaged, and we have to use heat, water, chemicals, or scissors to free the photos. Some are stuck to pages or to each other permanently, and so we have to scan them in place with specialized equipment.

After these first few baby steps to organize physical photos, you’ll know whether you are ready for the next stage, which is hours of organizing photos into chronological order. Each collection is different, and our professional organizers spend between 3-40 hours organizing a family collection. Does that sound like fun to you, or does it sound like work to get to an organized print photo collection that looks like this?

Baby Steps to Organize Physical Photos- into photo-safe archival boxes


If you love handling your photos and putting that puzzle together, piece by piece, I show you exactly how to finish your project quickly in my online course, Save Your Photos with SORT and Succeed. 

Save Your Photos with SORT and Succeed course


If you don’t love the time it takes, the tedious process to match up duplicates and remove them, and piece together missing information, then give us a shout and let us help you love your photos again. You get to enjoy them…without all the work.