How to Organize 30 Years of Photos
You love your photo memories. They represent so much to you: family, friends, vacations, special events and more. You take pictures and videos of who and what you love.
The problem is there are so many of them and in so many formats, many of which are so old you can’t even view them anymore. You may have even inherited photos, slides and/or movies from previous generations. Your collection may be large and varied, and may even be packed away, out of sight. And you know you SHOULD do something about them. The only way to find peace about this situation is to forget about them, but that’s not really possible, as you know.
Most people are not doing anything about their photo memories. And it’s a very sad fact that when adult children clean out their parents’ home after they are gone, boxes of unsorted, uncurated photo memories are often relegated to the trash. If you don’t make the time to learn how to organize 30 or more years of photos now, then it’s likely no one will ever do it.
When I ask people what’s preventing them from managing their photo memory collections, I get the same two answers again and again:
- They don’t have the time
- They don’t know where to start.
Here’s some Photo Manager math for you:
No Time + No Knowledge = Overwhelm
Overwhelm is… well, overwhelming. It feels like an elephant is sitting on you. It paralyzes you. And how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Let’s look at each problem separately, one bite at a time.
I Don’t Have the Time
We are busy people. We have busy days. Busy days turn into busy weeks, and then busy months, and we tell yourselves that we are just too busy to get started on our photo management projects. We think, “if only” we weren’t so busy we’d finally organize our photo collections.
We say things like “I’ll do it later, when I have time” or “I’m not in the mindset right now.” We wait for the perfect moment of inspiration or magical time to suddenly appear. The funny thing is that the “perfect moment” or “magical time” with no other obligations doesn’t actually exist.
Here’s the point: If you can’t get started now, chances are you never will. Later, you’ll end up regretting all the time that you didn’t dedicate to this important project, and you’ll head back into that negative “if only” cycle.
There is Good News
The good news is, you CAN break that negative loop and start taking the actions that will get your photo memories into a condition where you can enjoy them now as well as leave a meaningful collection for future generations.
But first let’s acknowledge that your photo mess did not get into its current condition overnight. It took years and decades to get that way. Fortunately, it won’t take as long to get it organized, but it will take a chunk of time. Just like eating the elephant, you are going to have to do it one bite at a time. And you will have to keep taking bites to finish the dish task.
For some people those bites might be 15 minutes a day. Others might choose one Saturday a month. For me it was 2 hours on most Sunday afternoons – I say most because in our family we often celebrate birthdays and holidays on Sunday afternoons, so those would take precedence, but out of 52 Sundays a year, they didn’t take up very many. There is no right or wrong way to pick a schedule. It is only important that the schedule you choose works for you and that you can commit to it regularly at least most of the time.
Three Ways to Keep your Commitment
There are three things you can do to help yourself keep your commitment to yourself and your collection. The first is to figure out who you are doing this for. You might be doing it for yourself, your kids, your grandkids or someone else. Often we shortchange ourselves on things we do for ourselves, so it might be easier if you choose another person as your “why.” But if you do choose yourself, be sure to remind yourself constantly that you are worth it. Because you are!
The second is to put it on your calendar and maybe even set an alarm so that the appointed day and time cannot slip by unnoticed. Use a phone app, a sticky note – whatever works best for you to make sure follow through on your commitment.
The third is to tell someone about it. You are committing to making a change in your habits, and that typically doesn’t happen well in isolation. Sharing it with others will make it feel real to you, and can also provide some accountability. If there’s someone who can commit to work with you on your collection – that’s great! But if not, then make sure to tell several friends or family members. They might even be inspired by you to work on their own 30 years of photos, and even if you don’t work on them at the same time (we all know how to use Zoom, now, right?) you can check in with each other weekly or monthly by phone or email and cheer each other on.
On to the next bite:
I Don’t Know Where to Start
The hardest part of starting any large project is just that… getting started. But often, when we are paralyzed about starting, all we really need is for someone to tell us the first step.
I’m going to tell you the first step:
Decide you are going to start.
That’s it. That’s the no-fail way to finally get your photo and memory collection under control and feel peace about it. Decide to do it. You can download my Getting Started Checklist below to flesh out the details, but the commitment is the most important step, and it’s the first step.
Here are the rest of the steps:
Of course there are many details within the steps, but looking at just the seven steps is like looking at a map for a cross-country road trip. Each step is a destination where you’ll hang out and visit friends and relatives for a while before moving on to the next step.
And you don’t have to go on this road trip alone. When you join the Family Photo Keeper community, you’ll get all the photo and memory management help you need. It’s like I’ll be in the car with you, and I’ll bring the takeout – elephant, of course!
Your next step is to join the community. As a bonus I’ll send you my Getting Started Checklist and a few follow-up emails to make sure you are comfortable moving forward through the first three steps. After that everyone’s journey is different, so it’s kind of impossible to know when to send you what, so you’ll get my weeklyish newsletter with helpful information and tips. And if you ever have a question, I’m never further than an email or message away.