Remember dropping off your film to be developed and ordering “doubles” just in case you got some great pictures on the roll?!

Or, remember when we used to click the camera shutter, hoping at least a few of our images turned out?

We’re spoiled now that we can take jillions of images on our smart phones (although THAT has created it’s own virtual clutter!!)

This how-to article will help you organize those hard copy photo prints from “back in the day”. And if you’re like me, you’ve collected lots of “doubles”!

These hard copy pictures can be found in many locations: they’re found in hope chests, footlockers, old frames, old albums, pin boards, corkboards, and boxes.


In addition to our photo prints, we all have other physical memorabilia – such as artwork, maps, and souvenirs. Taken together, these physical remnants of our lives need to be organized so they can be enjoyed.


Going through old photos can be a wonderful trip down memory lane, and these steps will help you organize and enjoy your memories.

A few encouraging hints:

A little discovery goes a long way. As with all organizing systems, our Order Restorers approach this project organically, letting systems develop as we go.


Especially with such personal – and often archival – items, applying a system that makes sense to YOU – the user – is most important!

Pay close attention to not only WHAT you’ve kept over the years and HOW MUCH, but also the “desired output” section later in this article. These clues will help you discover the best final system that will suit you.


This is one organizing project where procrastination pays! If you’ve got years of backlog, that’s not only normal, it may help you!

When going through boxes of old photos prints, a whole bunch of them won’t matter to you anymore. You likely will not want to keep in hindsight all the photos you originally kept.

If you don’t recognize anyone in the photo (or wish to weed someone out!) or if you don’t remember the context of the photo, you can toss it! With photo organizing, you’re actually rewarded by letting the passage of time simplify what you actually need and want!

Here are 3 steps to tackle your backlog of photo prints:

1. Get the proper supplies:

  • Box lids – shallow bankers box lids are great at containing piles! Can be stacked if needed and will maintain your sorted piles if you need to leave and come back to the project.
  • Sticky notes –  Post Its turned upside down on the edge of box lids, these make perfect “flags” to label each box lid tray by type
  • Envelopes of different sizes – easy to label and helpful for micro-sorting and grouping images within a box lid
  • Magnifying Glass – to better see the details and people featured in your pictures
  • Markers Sharpies for labeling


2. Create two main sorts:

  • Seeing-Double-Organizing-Photo-PrintsVintage photos 

When going through the old black and white photos of your family history, decide what system works for you. For our photos, we sorted by family of origin. I have a tray for my mother’s family and another for my father’s family. Going back even further, I separate by maternal and paternal sides of each family.

As you are going through these photos, keep in mind if there is someone else in your family for whom these photos may be more meaningful. If you’re looking to prune your pile, perhaps you can pass some special photos along to other family members. It’s a win-win!

  • Organizing-Photo-Prints-Family-SnapshotsCurrent photos 

I consider “current photos” those that happened during MY lifetime. I sorted these photo prints by decade. Depending on the amount of information you have on your photos, you may want to sort by year, by person (especially if you are looking to pass along photos to a family member), by events, etc.


As you are completing your sort, utilize your envelopes to group photos together. For example, if you are sorting by decade, you would label a box lid with the years. Then, within the box you may have an envelope labeled for each member of the family, or for certain family vacations or big events.



3. Make some key decisions:

  •  Do you want to keep negatives?

For most rolls of photo prints, it’s probably not necessary to hang on to the negatives. Only if you want to make copies or retain a back-up in another location does keeping the negatives make sense.

Special events like weddings or births may be an exception for which you’d like to keep your negatives in a safe deposit box or fire safe.

In our case, I decided to let go of our negatives to clear clutter and simplify.

  • How do you want to handle memorabilia?

This includes maps, souvenirs, artwork, and other mementos saved from special occasions. Determine what you’d like to do with these items:

Store them in the album along with the pictures?

Take pictures of them and toss the original?

Have a separate storage box or scrapbook for memorabilia?

When making these decisions, be REALISTIC! Don’t save memorabilia items to create a scrapbook if you know you’ll never actually get around to it. The more you can simplify the process for yourself and be realistic about how you’ll revisit and enjoy the items, the better your system will be.

One time I made an archival grade scrapbook for my mom of her vintage Valentine card collection. This is a good example of a useful storage solution for special kind of memorabilia.

  • What’s the desired output?

Before starting this process, decide how you want your photos to be stored at the end of the project. Knowing your end-goal will help you prune and sort your photos intentionally.


Here are some great questions to help you think through your end objective:

Will you want to access all your photos electronically?

  1. By what method/program do you want to scan these photos into your computer? Check storage capacity first. Note that there are services like Legacy Box that can help
  2. What system will be best long-term? Cloud storage? On an external hard drive?
  3. Will multiple parties need access to these photos?
  4. Will you put the photos in folders? Stored by year or by event?

Do you want to enlarge some of your photos?

  1. Do you prefer hanging up singular photos or will you create a photo gallery?
  2. Photos on canvas-wrapped frames or just framed pictures?
  3. Should duplicates be made for others who would appreciate these favorite images?

Will sorted photo prints in photo boxes suffice? (This solution DOES allow for the addition of maps, keepsakes and other “chunky” memorabilia)

Do you wish to have photo albums as the finished product?

  1. Will you use archival-quality albums?
  2. Do you prefer slide in photo pages or flat pages to which you must affix the photo? Or, do you want photos printed in books, allowing you to avoid deterioration and make multiple copies?
  3. Will you have one album per family, per decade, per year? (Sheer volume will help you make these decisions!)
  4. Will you need to provide copies to multiple children?


The key to your successful photo organizing project: COMPLETION!

Schedule time in your calendar – maybe a few hours a week or a weekend retreat – to complete this major project.

Overwhelmed by the thought of taking on this project? Consider enlisting a trusted friend or family member or hiring a professional organizer or personal historian to help!

Dealing with memorabilia backlog and organizing your photo prints will give you peace of mind and pay off for generations to come.





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