What do I do with all these photos?

Where is that one picture??

I love to take and display photos. They are a visual reminder of our history as a family, and they signify memories that really are precious and emulate significant growth. More than anything, they demonstrate how important family and friends are to me.  What to do with my growing piles of photos became evident during our first overseas assignment to South Korea. It was at that time, in 1999, that we caught the travel bug. It was also when we began forming some of our deepest relationships over the years.

It is when I started “scrapbooking.”  Trips to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) separating the two Korean nations, Thailand, and walking along the Great Wall of China seemed to require a much more official scrapbook. It was also the time when our youngest was in kindergarten and I was inspired to create childhood memory books for both of our kids.  Therefore, I had to backtrack a year for our son, but I am so glad I spent this time documenting these precious years of their lives. Life is simply far too hurried to remember it all.

So, what is my process for the thousands of photos? Back in the day of film, I printed everything. Therefore, I have annual boxes of photos organized by month. From that initial start of scrapbooking, I have annual bound books of our adventures with a lot of captions and stories included. Now that pictures are on my iphone and far fewer are printed, I use platforms like Shutterfly and Snapfish to print specific travel books or a comprehensive yearbook. I have, however, in the past 4-5 years gotten so far behind, I don’t know if/when I’ll get caught up to current day. My latest book is for our 2017 Alaska land & sea trip, which means I skipped over a ton of memories in the process but it was such a monumental event, I feel strongly it deserves to be documented.

Some of the most important life events that have happened over the last three years have been related to the the aging and passing of my grandparents. My dad’s father was the first to show the effects of the horrible diseases he battled – Parkinson’s, heart disease and diabetes. The first book of his life I printed was the year he turned 85 (December 2014) and it actually included very few images. It was mostly stories and letters written by his family to tell him what an amazing legacy he had created. I wanted him to end his life knowing he had achieved the best his life on Earth had to offer. His final scrapbook, chronicling his life with pictures from toddler-hood to that as a Great Grandfather, came the following August when he died the morning of my 45th birthday, August 21, 2015. I will hold these two printed treasures near my heart for the rest of my life.

My mom’s mother was moving out of her home and into an assisted living center around that same time to be able to receive help caring for my ailing grandfather with Alzheimer’s. Photos and family history have always been incredibly important to her. She had photos of their four families dating back to the 1800’s – Clark, Boggess, Rush and Goodman. We removed photos from frames, boxes, damaged scrapbooks, and organized them into decades and family names.  You’ll see from the photo that when the pictures were few, we would create a folder that spanned up to 50 years.  All of these were crated into a plastic tub with a lid,  and were matched against a digital family tree documenting family members for generations. When my grandfather died, I was able to easily pull precious pictures from these folders to create a chronological photo slideshow we played at his memorial service.

During our most recent move, I had to acknowledge two pieces of furniture that seemed to acquire random pictures, play bills, brochures and maps from our travels, post cards, and discarded pics from old frames.  They are just a mess! (Even organized people have messes and junk drawers – don’t forget that…) In fact, when I boxed up those pictures in the old house, I purposely wrote on the box, “Must sort!”  I was telling myself to not unpack them until I was ready to properly manage them. I was recently inspired by a dear friend who seems to have the same task on her to-do list.  So what should I do with these two piles? Obviously a scrapbook of them all is probably not in order considering my cabinets are nearly at capacity already. (The gallery of pics is by no means all-inclusive, sorry to report.)

I have decided the following tasks are in order…

Step 1: Sort by date, place, or possibly even the individual who would hold them most dear. If it’s a poor quality picture or very unflattering of someone, don’t feel bad about sending it to the trash. Pare down to the pictures you know others will also enjoy

Step 2: Decide, based upon size, if a file folder/box is in order or smaller photo boxes

Step 3: Select a handful of treasures that could be used as rotating images in frames around the house

Step 4: Would you prefer the pics be enjoyed by many for an extended period of time? Are there some images that could be reprinted or used in a collage that could be printed as a family puzzle? Shutterfly is one vendor who will print photos and cut into as many as 1014 pieces. Another option is to print calendars including many of the images, obviously requiring a digital version at some point. However, you could also create a handmade calendar, gluing the photographs onto each personalized calendar for extended family and friends.  Consider laminating the calendars for protection and longevity. Consider creating Christmas ornaments with smaller photos. I have no doubt ideas for ornaments are all over Pinterest with far more creative designs than I could ever suggest. A couple years ago, I decided to create a wine cork bulletin board and after the Christmas season is over, I crop down many of the photo cards and annually update the board with as many as will fit. The following year, I discard the old cards.

Step 5: After you decide the best way to use and sort your photos, create the labels for the selected storage receptacle and tuck those treasures in so they can be easily retrieved when you need them.

I hope you find just a few ideas for how you want to tackle your messy drawer of collected photos!

As of March 3…
An update to my project since it (only) took a month from this previous post to finish my photo mess and I wanted to share my solutions. I had a bench full of postcards from our travels around the world, so I needed to organize those by country. While this process brought back many wonderful memories, it also inspired me to try and find a way to rotate these beautiful images in a display of some kind. It seems sad to just file them away inside a folder no one ever looks through. I will be on the look for a glass top coffee table, tray or wall hanging where this would work well, without being a cumbersome task to complete. If you find something, please let me know.

I used two poly accordion file folders with tabs for labels and created 18 labels using a sheet of white card stock and a Word document. The folders can now sit in the bench where they can be easily accessed for that special display piece or reviewed just before an encore trip for planning inspiration.

The second half of my project was to organize five decades of family photos I keep within a chest we purchased in Korea nearly twenty years ago. I love this chest because it has small drawers perfect for photos and CDs. While I again used an accordion file folder for many of the pictures, I also used the card stock labels to mark the inside of the drawers to match the contents: playbills, family, our marriage, and more. In the process, I was also able to discard duplicates, bad photos, and select news clippings that need to be laminated in order to preserve for the years to come.

Organizing little bits of life brings such a sense of calm and order. We’ve been in our new house for three months now and this is the last of the little tasks. It feels so good!


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