Tackling Photo Clutter


photo casesAre you saving photos of people you don’t know so you can pass them on to your kids…who also don’t know them?Are you keeping photos of places or events you have no clue about, so you can pass them on to family or friends…who also don’t have a clue?

Important Thought #1: OK, let’s start here. You are telling yourself that these old photos of people you don’t know are very important.
No, they are not. They are people you don’t know. NOBODY values those photos. Do you know why?


So that’s where we start. You are going to get rid of all the photos of people you don’t know. And the reason is????? That’s right. You got it. You don’t know those people. (Also, get rid of photos that don’t make sense; that you do not know what they are about; that do not bring back memories…because you don’t remember what they are about)

Important Thought #2: Let’s stop striving for perfection. That is a Fairy Tale. You are human, and therefore, you are not perfect. If you have tons of pictures and you want to organize them — yes, it would be lovely to have them end up in perfect photo albums in perfect order with everything perfectly labeled.
And it would also be nice if leprechauns popped in every night and cleaned your house while you sleep.
Neither of above is likely to happy. So let’s get real.

First we start with photos that are printed, not digital pictures. (That will be a whole other post)

  1. To begin, set up a spot where you can leave your photo project for a while. This won’t be completed in an hour, so find a corner, a table or borrow a neighbor’s card table– some place where you can spread out, sort your photos, and leave them till you finish.
  2. Gather all your photos into one spot. Put them in a box, basket, semi-trailer, or corner of a room. Don’t forget the bags with school pictures in them.
  3. You will eventually sort your pictures into manageable chunks. Decide how you want to chunk them, such as by:
  • child or
  • year or
  • decade or
  • century or
  • what you drove or
  • vacations or
  • where you lived or
  • whatever.
  1. Obtain something to hold each chunk. No, don’t rush out and buy fancy boxes. If you have a ton of photos, then I would guess that you probably also have saved every gift box, shoe box, basket, folder, big envelope or bag that has ever entered your life. Go get them.
  2. Assign a chunk to each box or envelope. Maybe label them per decade, or pre-school, grade school and high school. Or maybe phases of your life: school, first job, second job, became a millionaire, bought the Chicago Cubs, Cubs win the World Series (WHOOPS!! Just slipped back into Fairy Tales. Sorry.)
  3. While you watch TV, start to sort and put each chunk into its designated spot. After they are sorted into broad chunks, then go through again, and this time maybe sorting by year, then by season or holiday. (Or however you have decided to categorize them.) Use the height and hairstyles of your children, or clothes styles of family and friends to aid you in figuring out what goes before what.
  4. When you come across pictures where you know the year, person’s name, and/or the event, jot it on the back of the photo. Ten years from now, you will be happy you did.
  5. From this day forward, if you print out any photos, date them right away.
  6. Keep only the great pictures. As you chunk up your photos, be ruthless in sorting and tossing out bad, fuzzy, blank, and unflattering photos. If you have 12 shots of the same event, select the best one or two. Your happy memories are in your mind and heart. You don’t need a photo of every single minute of an event in order to remember it.
  7. Decide (Oh noooooo, another decision?) if you are happy leaving your photos in labeled shoe boxes, large envelopes or whatever. If so, find a place to store them and you are done. If you want albums, at the start, begin watching for sales on photo albums or whatever you want to keep your pictures in.

Once you have chunked the photos, take one chunk at the time, (again, it’s easy to do during commercials) and put it in an album or photo cases. Remember, don’t be afraid to toss out all but the very best photos.

More Photo Ideas…Take pictures of:

  • things with sentimental value that you need to dispose of. Instead of having a room full of stuff, you’ll simply have an album full.
  • the kids’ art and science projects. Give them copies so they can keep in their albums.
  • the kids same place each year where you can see their growth – by a staircase or outside in front of the house.

Store photos in boxes or albums in a cool dry place. Don’t store them in an attic, basement, or garage. The best rule of thumb: Store pictures in the same environment in which you would feel most comfortable.

Now you have a step by step plan. Make up your mind when you want to start, and for now you can sit back, relax and…say cheese. 🙂

Rita Emmett, Author of The Procrastinator’s Handbook, The Clutter-Busting Handbook and Manage Your Time to Reduce Your Stress: A Handbook for the Overworked, Overscheduled, and Overwhelmed. www.ritaemmett.com


2 thoughts on “Tackling Photo Clutter

  • October 14, 2011 at 7:46 am

    What an excelent article. I have a pile of photos to organize and a surely have a copy of this article by my side.
    Thank you.

  • October 14, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Thanks Su! It’s always so nice to have a step by step plan for those overwhelming tasks, isn’t it?!

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