How to (Finally) Tame Your Photo Mess

We’re headed toward February, and hopefully by now you’re hard at work fulfilling some of your New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps you feel motivated to take care of some of the clutter in your life this year – including household, calendar, and photo clutter!

After a busy holiday season, you’ve probably got a lot of disorganized photos on a bunch of different devices. There are tons of opportunities to take great photos during the holiday season, including photos of presents you want to buy, holiday decor you’re considering putting up in your house, holiday meals you ate, and fun gatherings with friends and family. The holiday season is a great time to take photos – but it’s also a time when photo clutter stacks up.

If getting control of household or calendar clutter is your goal, I highly recommend you enlist the help of a qualified expert from the National Association of Professional Organizers. You can run a search for an organizer in your area by checking out their “Find an Organizer” page, which lets you run searches filtered by specialty and zip code. 

But if getting your photo clutter under control is your goal, I can help with that! In this post, I’m going to walk you through my simple step-by-step process for gathering, organizing, backing up, and sharing treasured images.

Let’s get started!

Step One: Take a deep breath.

Now that the post-holiday dust has cleared, you have a little time to take a close look at the images you’ve captured. Sometimes, this may lead to a feeling of overwhelm, as you reminisce about holiday memories from previous years and feel embarrassed or frustrated that you couldn’t locate those photos when you wanted to display or share them.

You may also be wondering, “What in the heck happened to my filing system?” or think, “How did this photo of my 1998 Christmas tree end up in my ‘Medical Records’ folder?”

It’s okay to feel frustrated, but I urge you to take a deep breath and say to yourself, “One step at a time.” Tackling your photo mess might feel a little overwhelming right now, but if you take it one baby step at a time (and I’ll walk you through each of those steps in this article) you will be able to corral your photos and come up with an ongoing photo organizing system that works for you.

So, take a deep breath, then dig into your next step.

Step Two: Gather and organize your photos.

The next step in your photo organization process is gathering all your photos into one place.

Gathering Digital Photos: (Note: If you’re using iCloud, and you’ve got it set up so it syncs your photos across all your devices, you may be able to skip this step.)

When you gather all your images in one place, it is easier to see what photos you have, get rid of duplicates, and organize your photos so you can easily access them later.

Get all your devices in one place (every device you have used to take a photo) and upload all the photos from each device into a folder labeled by device (i.e. Julie’s iPhone, Nikon Camera, Tom’s iPhone).

Gathering Print Photos: You also want to gather up all your print photos during this step, and make sure all of them are in one place.

Step Three: Check for duplicates. 

You can do this visually by viewing the files. Just to be safe, create a folder called Duplicates and move any you find there. Then if you’ve accidentally moved a file to the wrong place, it’s easy to move back. You can also run a duplicate checking program. For Mac, my favorite is PhotoSweeper. For PC, Awesome Duplicate Finder is a good product.

A note about print and digital duplicates: We all have that overlapping time period when we switched from print-only versions of our photos to print PLUS digital. That was the time period when we could develop our film and get a CD of the photos. So before you spend time scanning prints you already have on your computer, check for any overlap there between your digital and print photos.

Step Four: Select the best photos to keep

Your next step is to do a review to select your best photos. You can check out this post for more details on deciding which photos to keep using a simple A/B/C system. In general, first you want to get rid of anything that is blurry, black, or poor-quality, and also purge any screenshots of things you no longer need. Once you’ve gotten rid of the “C” quality images, then it’s time to be more discerning and select only the best shots of a moment.

Step Five: Rename and organize your photos.

Your next step is to do a little photo organizing, so you can easily find the images you need later.

Organizing Digital Photos: I recommend setting up a folder system by Year and Month. Rename your photos according to date taken and event –  but it’s a good idea to keep the original file name at the end of the end of the new file name. (i.e. 2016-12-25-Christmas day-IMG 2051). With file names, you want to be succinct and consistent. Then if you want to search by filename, it makes logical sense. For example, Christmas and Xmas are different names for the same holiday.

You can also include the device name (i.e. Tom’s iPhone) so you have a visual reminder of where the photo came from originally. To get the date the photo was taken, you can look at the information on the file following the name. Then move your files from the device folders into those corresponding Year-Month folders.

If you’re working on a Mac, you can rename your images in Finder, or on a PC you can get an app called Winsome File Renamer.

Organizing Print Photos: Grab a couple of photo boxes, and organize your print photos by event or category. Make sure you’ve got a large workspace for this project, and give yourself enough time to complete it without having to rush. For more information on organizing photo prints, check out our three-part series on print photo organization: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Step Six: Back up and/or secure your photos.

Now you’ve purged the duplicate or poor-quality photos, and you’ve got everything organized into categories. The next step is protecting your photos by backing them up. It’s vitally important that you protect your photos with proper backup, in case something catastrophic happens to your device, laptop, or print photos.

For print photos, it’s a good idea to scan them (or have someone scan them for you). You can check out this post for more information on that process.  After you scan your photos, it’s still a good idea to keep your original prints – those give you another additional back-up copy, in case something happens to your digital copies. 

I always recommend having two different kinds of back-ups for your digital photos: external hard drive, and cloud back-up.

You can buy an inexpensive hard drive at office supply stores, BestBuy or, and you should buy a drive that has plenty of space. Drives that are at least 1 TB are good – but larger is fine, too!

For digital cloud backups, I recommend full backups of ALL your photos and documents with Carbonite or Backblaze. You can set up these backups so they run automatically, so you don’t have to remember to back up your computer, and you don’t have to do anything manually!

When you sign up for one of these digital cloud backup services, they should walk you through the process of setting up regular backups of your photos.

Step Seven: Share your photos.

Want to share your photos with your friends and family members? Now that your photos are organized, and you know where all your favorite photos are, it’s the perfect time to share them with friends and family members.

Here are some ideas for sharing photos:

  • Creating slideshows and publishing them on YouTube.
  • Posting photo collections or collages on social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.
  • Create Shared Albums in iCloud, or share your photos via Dropbox or Google Photos.  

You can also discover ideas for displaying photos (and giving photo gifts) here

Step Eight: Maintain your system.

Now here’s the most important part: In order to avoid having the photo mess creep up on you again, it’s critical that you maintain your photo organizing system.

As you take new photos and upload them to your computer, purge poor-quality photos and organize them into folders as you go. Plan to do a photo-organizing session once a month (or more often, if you take lot of photos) so you don’t end up back where you started!

If keeping vacation photos under control are a problem, read this post on organizing your vacation photos while you’re still traveling

It’s your turn

Now I’m turning it over to you – it’s time for you to get rid of your photo mess, once and for all.

Use these simple steps to corral, purge, and organize your photos this month, and you can look forward to a photo-clutter-free 2017!

Need assistance with this process? Contact us to talk about how we can help.

5 Creative Ideas for Displaying Your Child’s Artwork (Without Getting Buried in Paper)

My kids are all grown up, and they’re out of the house now, but I can still remember the mountains of paintings and doodles that came home from school, Sunday school, and summer camp – plus the vast quantities of last-minute drawings my kids produced while they were waiting for dinner to be prepared.

As parents, we want to encourage creativity, and there’s something lovely about the innocence of a child’s drawing or painting – so we often feel moved to display our kid’s artwork on our refrigerators or bulletin boards.

Then as the quantity of artwork grows, we might get some boxes to handle the overflow. Before long, the piles of drawings and paintings get completely out of control, and we’re drowning in paper.

There is a way to manage the steady flow of artistic creations, while still giving your children a sense of appreciation for their hard work.

My recommendation is to carefully select what you’re going to showcase in your home. Put a few special pieces on display in creative ways, so you can show off your child’s creations and give them a place of honor in your home, without feeling like you need to save and display every crayon and colored pencil drawing he or she brings home.

You can group similar items together (sorting by color or theme, like animals, notes, or poems). Sorting things together automatically adds a bit of extra pizzazz to your display.

If you have more than one child, you might set aside an area for each child, or put siblings’ items side-by-side accordings to the groupings above. For example, you can put Susie’s blue paintings next to Jack’s blue colored pencil drawings.

Once you’ve selected some special pieces, it’s time to display them! Here are some possible display options for your home:

1. Hang on the fridge or bulletin board.

This super-basic option is simple and easy, and the only supplies you’ll need are some magnets or push pins. Just make sure to maintain your display, and swap older drawings every now and then – you don’t want your fridge to end up looking like an overloaded bulletin board on a college campus!

2. Hang in regular frames.

You can use regular picture frames to mount your child’s artwork on the wall – just buy some simple frames, and you’re in business!

Keep your eye out for discount frame sales at craft stores like Michael’s, or at your local frame shop.

3. Create your own rotating art gallery.

If you’d like to create your own do-it-yourself art gallery for your home, there are number of ways to go about it.

You can hang inexpensive (empty) frames, then mount some simple binder clips inside the frames so your child can hang her latest creations. Check out how blogger Julie did this on her site, Less Than Perfect Life of Bliss

Or, you can mount a simple wire between two eye bolts – check out this post to see how blogger Kelli W. created her display. 

Or if you want a slightly fancier option, you can create an attractive wood and wire display, like the one Liz Marie did in her home.

No matter how simple or fancy you make your in-home art gallery, you can hang your children’s artwork in your gallery with pride!

4. Digitize to archive the artwork – or make something more elaborate with your digital images.

You can also digitize your favorite pieces, to archive them and keep them long term. You’ve got two digitizing options: Scanning or photographing.

If you’re going to scan your child’s artwork, make sure the original is free of dirt or lint before you scan it. For additional scanning tips, check out my previous post on restoring old photo albums.

If you’d like to photograph the pieces to digitize them, take your photos in natural light for best results. Kate, a blogger from the site, also recommends standing directly over the artwork to snap the best shots. For additional photo tips for kids’ artwork, check out her blog post, Photographing Kids Art to Save

Once you’ve photographed the artwork, you can enlarge certain images to fit larger size frames, or make a collage with multiple creations. Jen, a blogger who writes at, wrote about how she created photo collages of her children’s artwork for their bedroom and playroom walls. You can find additional collage and display ideas on our “Kids Artwork” board on Pinterest. 

5. Make greeting cards.

You can also make greeting cards from your kids’ artistic creations! You can use part of the artwork as the front of the card (and leave the inside blank so you can it for any occasion), or you can get artwork printed onto postcards.

Looking for printing options? You can try your local photo lab — a lot of local shops will have options for printing photo cards. Or you can try an online site like Tiny Prints, which can give you customizable options for creating your own cards. 

Creating a special place for your child’s artwork

Hopefully I’ve given you some options for displaying or archiving your child’s artistic creations. What’s important is that you find a display system that works for you (and for your family) and frees you from having to keep mountains of boxes full of drawings and paintings that never see the light of day.

Of course, make sure you have fun with your art display efforts! This can be a creative and enjoyable project for the whole family.

Should You Delete (or Throw Away) Your Photos, Videos or Mementos?

Are your closets and file cabinets overflowing with duplicate, blurry prints of old photos?

Is your computer hard drive bogged down by enormous video files you’ll probably never watch again?

Do you struggle with letting go of sentimental items when you’re trying to declutter your home?

If so, you might need some help figuring out what photos, videos and mementos to keep (and which to get rid of) so you can clear out some much-needed space in your home and get clear on what is most important to you.

This article will discuss why we hold on to these items and why it’s important to separate the treasures from the junk. Then I’ll give you my best tips for choosing what to keep and what to let go.

Should You Delete (or Throw Away) Your Photos, Videos, & Mementos?

Why Do We Have This Stuff?

Most of us have a large collection of items like photos, videos, and mementoes, and many of these items are special to us in some way.

Our collections usually include a lot of physical items, like photo prints, old VHS tapes, or paperweights our kids made in their kindergarten art classes. And now our collections include a lot of digital items, too, like video files and digital images.

There are a number of reasons we hang on items like these. Theses videos, photos and mementos might:

  • Capture a memory or a moment that we want to remember forever or pass down to our kids.
  • Help us keep track of important bits of information.
  • Have a historical purpose, like a chart that shows your family’s genealogy.
  • Remind us of someone important in our lives, like photos and videos of grandparents or other loved ones who have passed away.

Our “stuff” is important, and often serves many purposes, so it’s no surprise that we have trouble figuring out what’s important and meaningful and what’s not. Sometimes it feels like it all seems important and meaningful!

Why It’s Important to Delete or Throw Away Some of These Items

If you don’t have a process for occasionally purging your less-important photos, videos, and mementoes, your stuff can start to take up a lot of space in your home, on your computer, and on your devices (like your phones and tablets). Having too much “stuff” makes it difficult to get around, both literally and figuratively.

As human beings, we navigate the world better when we’ve got a little breathing room – so don’t let a huge mountain of undefined stuff start crowding out what’s really important in your life.

Clearing out our junk items can also help us identify our most prized treasures! For example, if your closet is overflowing with old, blurry, damaged, or duplicate photos, it makes it awfully hard to you to locate the one perfect family photo you took on your recent trip to Jamaica!

Getting rid of your photographic or sentimental “clutter” can also help you figure out what needs to be preserved, digitized, backed up and organized. Don’t underestimate the importance of this step. if the unthinkable happens (like a flood, fire or other unexpected disaster) you could potentially lose everything – so it’s critical to have a backup of all of your important memories.

Locating Your Photos, Videos, and Mementoes

Your first step in this process is to find all the items you’d like to evaluate to see if they go on the “keep” pile or the “toss” pile.

Look for physical items in closets, storage units, file cabinets, shelves, and drawers.

Find digital items by looking on the drives of all the computers in the house (including all desktops, laptops, and tablets). Then seek out more digital “stuff” on camera cards and phones.

Time for a Treasure Hunt – How to Judge What’s Important and Choose What to Keep

Before you decide what needs to go and what should stay, you need to develop your own set of evaluation criteria. This is a personal decision, and your criteria will likely be different than other people’s.

To decide whether or not an item is a “treasure” to you or not, ask yourself if the item:

  • Commemorates or illustrates a special moment, like a family trip, reunion, holiday, or other milestone.
  • Has any kind of historical significance.
  • Contains important Information that you don’t have recorded anywhere else, like dates, locations, names of participants, or stories.
  • Is valuable, artistic, or a gift from someone.
  • Reminds you of someone important, and helps you remember that person’s personality.
  • Is an original item, and in good condition.

Once you’ve established your “treasure” criteria, use them to sort each item into one of these three piles:

  1. The “A” Pile: These are items that are of the highest quality, are original, and meet your “treasure” criteria, above.
  2. The “B” Pile: These items are of second-highest quality. They might be nearly an exact duplicate of something you already have, but these items are probably still good enough to keep.
  3. The “C” Pile: These are poor quality items. They may be duplicates of other items, or they could be blurry. These items have no storytelling value.

A couple of other things to consider when you’re sorting items into piles:

  • Prints are often a backup copy of a digital image – but you don’t need multiple backups! If you know you have the original digital image, and you’ve got two print copies of the same photo, consider putting the second print in the “C” pile. When I’m organizing my photos and deciding what to purge, I often keep one print and one digital copy of each photo, just to be on the safe side.
  • Memorabilia can be historic – a digital copy isn’t the same as an original – so don’t be too quick to put historically significantly items in your “C” pile.
  • When you’re sorting videos, make sure to keep the original tape or reel (you can use this to convert the video to the most current format). Overall, digital copies of videos are usually best, so if you have the original, you don’t need to keep an “interim” version (for example, VHS tapes or DVDs).

Once you’re done sorting, you can toss (or delete) everything in the “C” pile. Things in your “A” and “B” piles should be organized, backed up, and preserved.

Time for Your Own Great Purge

When you’re ready to tackle your own purge, dig in! Do your gathering, evaluating, and sorting in blocks of 1 to 2 hours at a time. Shorter work blocks will help you be realistic about what you can tackle and avoid losing focus or getting overwhelmed.

Then start looking for your items, and begin making your piles. If you get bogged down at any point in this process, remember that you’re going to feel better when you have room to move (both literally and figuratively).

Dig in, and start shedding that extra clutter!

Note: After you sort and purge your items, your next step is to preserve, archive, and back up everything you’ve decided to keep. We’ll dig into how to manage that process in an upcoming article, so look for that soon.

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Print Organizing Part 3: Securing Your Photos

Once you have selected the prints you want to keep, they should be stored in archive quality, lignin free containers. They should also be kept in a location that’s temperate – not too dry or humid and with a moderate temperature – not too hot or too cold. Photos and memorabilia can deteriorate if not kept in the right conditions.


When you are ready to scan, decide whether you’ll be doing the scanning or if you will be outsourcing it. If you’re going to outsource, it helps to communicate your preferences and system to the person or company doing the scanning. Then when you upload your digitized photos onto your computer, the system you’ve spent so much time creating is kept intact. You’ll want to ask your scanner to name the photos according to the categories you’ve created. You’ll sometimes be charged an extra fee for this but it will save you time in the future. For example if you have organized a year’s worth of photos into monthly divisions, give that information to your scanner so the photos are named accordingly.

With the sorting boxes and index divider system, photos are grouped and named according to each section. Some scanning companies prefer that you use envelopes or zip lock bags to keep photo groups sealed and separated from each other. Ask your scanning company for their preference so that you are getting the outcome you expect for your scanned images. If you are doing the scanning, then keep each category together and then name the images by the category. This will help to group your photos together.

Congratulations. Before you know it you’ll be enjoying and sharing those memories with family and friends.  To speed up the process, you can contact us to help you.  For more information on how we can help you secure your photos, go to our Services page.


Print Organizing Part 2: Selecting Your Favorites

As you think about which photos to keep, you’re likely thinking about sharing them with family and friends. While you can share the extra copies, we prefer sharing digital copies.  This means your prints will need to be digitized.  Since this is a bit of an investment, you have some things to consider: Scan now, select and organize later or Organize now and then scan the best ones. We like to organize before scanning because it’s easier to build upon this system and use it for all digital photos. And you avoid the cost of scanning photos you don’t want to keep – especially those duplicates and blurry shots.

Organized stacks

Getting Picky – What’s Worth Keeping?

If you’re like most people, your photo collection includes some great shots, duplicates, a few blurry pictures and the ones that tell a story.  Using the ABC’S as our acronym, this will be our guide for how to select our favorites. The “A” photos are the ones you like the best – typically the ones that you liked so much you ordered reprints of them. You may even have them in an album. These are the ones you want to highlight, preserve and share with family and friends.

If you have photos in albums, you will need to consider whether to keep them in place or remove them from the album.  If the pages of the album are the old, magnetic sticky sheets, then it’s best to remove them from the album to avoid further deterioration.  Since someone spent the time to carefully group photos together, you’ll want to pay attention to this and keep them in the same sequence. However, if you cannot remove the photos from the album, they can be scanned while still adhered to the album.

2002-03_Sam_2nd Grade_00001A
A treasured note from the teacher!

Memorabilia can and should be scanned for safe keeping.  Include this in your organizing system so that when the digital versions are uploaded to your computer, you can easily locate them following the same system.

The “B” photos are those shots that are close to the same quality as the Album-worthy shots, but you don’t think they are as important to showcase. You should still digitize these for safe keeping so include them in your “To be Scanned” box. An example of a “B” photo might be a look-alike version of a pose – might not be the best one but still good for preserving.

The “C” photos are usually an easy decision. These are the blurry or under/over exposed shots.  Or they may be photos of people you don’t remember! No need to scan a picture of a stranger – unless it’s an heirloom photo! Discard similar shots of the same view or pose. Then use a genealogist to help you identify it! If they are duplicates you can consider passing them along to family/friends or putting them aside to use for craft projects.

Telling the Story

Sometimes the story-worthy photos aren’t the best quality shots but the only copy you have to commemorate that event. You’ll want to keep this in mind as you select your photos to be digitized. As you think about how to group/categorize your photos, think about your preferences – chronological, themes, people and special events.

If you’re creating a life book or showcasing eras, organizing chronologically is typically the way to go. If you want to showcase interests, traditions or events then theme-based organizing works well. There’s no right or wrong way to group your photos – keep in mind how you remember events and traditions. Some folks are great at recalling dates, while others work better with themes!

As you find or recall important details such as the date, event name and location, document these on the index cards.  Or you can create a spreadsheet to list them in chronological order.  This is especially helpful when you are ready to put together a photo album or a slideshow.  Then the process of telling the story is easier because all the pieces are organized together.

Selecting photos can feel like a huge responsibility. If tackling this on your own seems daunting, send me an email. We have a keen eye for recognizing those important story telling details.

Next Step – Securing your Photos

Organizing Your Print Photos – Getting Started

Most of us have sizable collections of prints and memorabilia taking up space in our closets and storage rooms. Bringing them out of hiding and into our lives can seem like nothing more than a pipe dream. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In this 3-part series, you’ll learn the basics of getting started, selecting the best photos and ways to secure them.

Step One – Gather your photos.

With everything gathered and in the same place, you’ll be able to see what you’re working with.  Include the loose prints and the ones you have in albums. You likely have some artwork or memorabilia that are precious to you so include those as well.

Don’t worry if your collection isn’t neatly organized because with this system yours CAN be!!

Step Two – Set up your work space.

Lots of room

You’ll need a work area so that you can spread out your collection to review and select your best ones. A large table or work surface works best.

Chairs can be useful if you need to spread out!

Pick a room that’s out of the way so you won’t have to worry about encroaching into the family activities! If you have a large collection it might be easiest (and less overwhelming) to work with a portion of it at a time.

Step Three – Supplies are Key

Sorting Box
Sorting Boxes

You’ll need some sorting boxes, some index cards, sticky notes (Post-its work great) to use as tab, a pencil to write on the tabs and a photo safe pen/pencil for storytelling. These will be used to label and record information on your photos.

Are you feeling empowered and ready to go?  You are ready to begin the next step – Selecting your Favorite Photos. If this sounds overwhelming, you might need some coaching to take the leap. Send me an email to schedule a 30 minute consultation. We can create a plan for you that will help to get things started.