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.

8 Ideas for Displaying Your Photos (or Giving Photo Gifts!)

I love displaying my favorite photos where I can see them often – and my clients do, too!

The images I display include family portraits, snapshots of my children when they were young, and various vacation memories. The décor in my house is mostly items we purchased while we were on vacation, or handmade items given to us by friends or relatives.

There’s very little on our walls, shelves or tables that doesn’t remind us of a person or place that’s important to us.

In the past, decorators have told me that it’s not necessary to use my photos for décor – but I disagree wholeheartedly. It’s important to me that I’m surrounded by things that bring me joy and honor our family ties – so I’ve decided to disregard the decorators’ advice.

Because photos are important to me, I try to keep a running mental list of my favorite ways to display my favorite images. Some of the methods on my list are my own, and some have come to me through friends, family and clients.

This post can give you some ideas if you’re looking for some creative ways to display your recent photos, so you can share and remember your memories from this year’s holiday season. (There are also some ideas for thoughtful birthday or holiday gifts in 2017).

Let’s dig in!

1. Display Your Photos On Your Computer.

You can set up a folder of your favorite photos to display like a slideshow when your computer is “sleeping.” You just compile your screensaver photos into one folder, and adjust your computer settings to point to that folder.

You can also select a favorite photo to use as the background image on your desktop or laptop. To adjust these settings, look around on your computer’s to find the “Display” or “Screen Saver” settings.

If you wanted a unique and thoughtful gift for friends or family members, how about sending them their own collections of photos for screensavers? You can compile and share a customized Dropbox folder for that person, and call it “Screensaver” so they get the idea.

2. Display Photos in Frames.

You’ve got lots of creative ways to play with this traditional way of displaying photos.

For example, I like to display frames in themes. For one project, I grabbed photos taken when each one of our children was two years old, and when each one was wearing a hat. Then using the Photos app, I created black and white versions and printed them for these frames.

You can think in terms of colors, age, holiday themes, or events when you’re organizing your photos into frames – or get creative and make up your own groupings! Also: Keep your eye out for frame sales at craft stores to snag good deals on traditional frames.

3. Put Your Photos in Digital Frames.

Modern technology makes it possible to display photos in new and exciting ways. For instance, now you can set up a digital frame that displays photos on it like a slideshow.

Digital frames are surprisingly easy to set up – you can do it in 15 minutes or less – and it’s a great way to showcase photos to help you remember everyday moments. You can even customize how long each photo is shown before the frame switches to the next one.

Need a digital frame suggestion? The Nixplay Edge 8-inch Wi-Fi Cloud Digital Photo Frame with Hi-Res Display is a good one to start with for your first project – it’s available on Amazon.

I once created a digital frame for a client as a thank-you gift. I thought this would be a great way to honor her relationship with her children and grandchildren, so I set up a folder of just those photos to display in the digital frame.

Her frame can even receive new photos remotely, through her home’s wifi capability (yes – her picture frame can get talk to the Internet!) and I plan to update her frame collection from time to time with new photos she has taken.

4. Compile a Wall Collage.

You can also put together a creative and beautiful collage of your favorite photos.

Right now, I’m in the process of compiling photos for a collage we’ll display in our basement (we have a little nook that’s a perfect spot for this). I’m going to use black and white photos of our family and extended family, for a consistent look on the collage.

I’ve selected some pivotal moments – like pictures of my in-laws as they migrated on a ship from Germany to Canada – and I’ll also use photos of my extended family and my own kids as little children. It’s a fun way to see family resemblances when you showcase photos of people at the same ages in their lives.

I purchased the collage frames from a local frame store. My frames have pre-cut openings on the mats, so to lay out my collage I just selected the photos I wanted to add, printed them out on my printer on regular paper, and attached them to the collage frame temporarily with a post-it note. Then I can move the images around to see which configuration I like best. When I have everything placed where I want it to be, I order the prints in the appropriate sizes and attach them them with the mat with regular tape.

5. Use Photos in Your Christmas Decorations.

Each year, when I take out our ornaments to hang on our tree, some of my favorites are the personalized ones with photos. You can get lovely ornament frames from Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, or from your local frame or craft store.

For example: Our beloved dog, Otto, is no longer with us, but this photo of him (taken in his first year) is a bittersweet reminder of his role in our lives. Christmas was always a fun, crazy time with him vying for our attention amidst the mess of presents and wrapping paper. 

For the same reason, I also kept all the ornaments my kids made during their school years. They remind me of those times, and they always make me smile!

Another way to enjoy your own Christmas or holiday photos is to frame the images and include them as part of your decorations. For our family, it’s fun to see look back over our memories of the year, and see what has happened and how we’ve changed.

6. Make a Holiday Card Collage.

Each year I keep all the photo Christmas and holiday cards I receive, and hang them on a large bulletin board in the back hall of my home. When I walk past my collage, I think of the people who are represented in those cards. Since we often just correspond once a year, it’s a way to keep them in my thoughts and stay connected with the people who are important to me.

If you’d like to make your own holiday card collage, all you need is a decent-sized bulletin board. You can buy one at a local craft store (like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby) or even snag one at an office supply store. Then just hang your bulletin board and start hanging cards!

7. Design and Create Photo Albums.

You can always create your own physical photo albums for your own home – and albums make great gifts, too.

To design and print albums, some affordable options are,, and You can easily upload your photos to their site, design on the spot, and place your order — then the site will print your entire album for you. It’s a good idea to pay a little extra to get their best quality so look for the hardcover albums that lay flat when they’re opened.

If you’d rather physically compile the album yourself, you can also print your photos and put them in physical albums. For the best quality prints, I recommend using your local camera store.

In our family, Sam’s fiancé Nicole and Ben’s girlfriend Amberlee have just graduated from college. For their graduation gifts, I thought giving them each photo albums would be a fun way to honor their accomplishments – so I gave each of them a coupon for that service from me. They can choose their own photos from their time in college, and I’ll design the album for them.

8. Create a Keepsake Box.

You can create a beautiful keepsake box to store your photo albums or prints – and even customize the box with one of your favorite photos on the lid.

Here’s a beautiful example of a wooden keepsake box from Artifact Uprising. One of my favorite things about this box is that it’s made from reclaimed mountain beetle pine. I gave my daughter and her fiancée one of these beautiful boxes, and customized it with one of their engagement photos. They can use it in their home to hold keepsakes from their wedding or their new life together! 

The Importance of Establishing and Documenting Family Traditions

The Importance of Establishing and Documenting Family Traditions

Most of us have our own unique family traditions, like gathering at the holiday table, taking annual vacations together, or watching special sporting events.

Family traditions help us form our identities (as individuals, and as a larger group) and they’re a critical part of creating a positive family culture.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what traditions are, why creating and honoring them is important, and the best ways to document our family rituals so we can pass them on to future generations.

What Are Family Traditions?

The official definition of “tradition” is handing down of information, beliefs or customs from one generation to another. Traditions are behaviors you engage in time and time again, often at the same time or in a similar fashion.

Family traditions can be large (like a holiday dinner attended by 25 people) or small (like a good luck ritual performed before a big game). To be a tradition – as opposed to a daily routine – a ritual has to been done intentionally, with a specific thought or purpose in mind.

In “The Book of New Family Traditions,” author Meg Cox defines a family ritual as:

“Any activity you purposefully repeat together as a family that includes heightened attentiveness and something extra that lifts it above the ordinary ruts.”

When they wrote about family rituals, bloggers Brett and Kate McKay said, “Traditions, when done right, lend a certain magic, spirit and texture to our everyday lives.”

What Are the Benefits of Family Traditions?

We often celebrate events, holidays, and occasions with traditions – and sometimes our family traditions are the only time we get to reconnect with certain relatives. Our lives are busy and packed full every day, so family traditions allow us to slow down and take notice of the things that are most important to us.

Traditions and rituals provide us with a number of important benefits, including:

1. Traditions give us long-lasting memories.

My father was an avid Green Bay Packer fan. He would watch every game while comfortably ensconced in his Lazy Boy chair, and he always dressed in head-to-toe Packer fan clothing.

The Importance of Establishing and Documenting Family Traditions

Anyone interested in watching the game with Dad knew the rules: You could only talk about the Packers when the game was happening, and if you wanted to talk about anything else, you had to wait until a commercial break. As soon as the game coverage resumed, you had to circle back to talking about the game.

Even though I have moved out of Wisconsin and I don’t usually watch football, I’ll always be a Packer fan because of my dad’s devotion to his team. And thinking of him in his Packer gear is a fond memory. When you think back on your childhood, you probably have happy memories involving your own family traditions.

Family traditions – both large and small – can provide your child with happy and positive memories that can have major long-term benefits. Recent research has shown that positive childhood memories can actually make your children happier and more generous (even as they grow into adults).

2. Traditions strengthen family connections.

In their article, The Importance of Establishing Family Traditions, bloggers Brett and Kate McKay wrote, “Researchers have consistently found that families that engage in frequent traditions report stronger connection and unity than families that haven’t established rituals together.”

If staying close to your family is important to you – or you feel like you want to do something to draw your family closer together – family rituals could be important tools in your toolbox.

One year, my mom organized a friendly team competition during Memorial Day weekend that included multiple generations of my family. We had lots of fun playing games throughout the weekend.

The competition allowed me to feel closer to all of our extended family members, and the invitation and team hats are now silly reminders of that special event.

The Importance of Establishing and Documenting Family Traditions

The Importance of Establishing and Documenting Family Traditions

3. They remind us who we are.

At a high level, our traditions teach us where we came from and let us learn about our cultural and religious backgrounds. They remind us of our family genealogy, and the cultural traditions of our ancestors.

In my family, we always said a specific Swedish table prayer before sitting down for our Christmas meal with my father’s family. We even made a plaque for our grandmother to commemorate that tradition that featured the words of the prayer.

Years later, when I met a first generation Swede, I learned our grandmother had accidentally omitted a few lines of the prayer! Nonetheless, we continued saying our own version of the blessing, and kept the plaque without changing a word on it. After all, that slightly modified Swedish prayer has become OUR family tradition!

On a smaller scale, our family traditions also act as reminders of the events that have shaped us into who we are today. Some families send their kids to the same summer camp they went to as children, and that ritual bonds the family together and remind them of many happy summer spent canoeing, horseback riding and singing songs around the campfire.

Every year when I was a child, we would spend the entire month of July at a cottage in Wisconsin. Having a second home was a luxury that my parents worked hard to afford and maintain. We no longer own that cottage today, but those memories are a reminder of the hard work my parents put in to provide a fun, summer vacation for our family.

The Importance of Establishing and Documenting Family Traditions

4. Rituals offer comfort and safety.

At some point, we all feel a little harried and stressed out from our increasingly busy and fast-paced lives. Our family traditions offer a few important constants in our lives – big and small rituals that give us a little space of sanctuary in the midst of all the craziness.

When I was in college, my family stayed connected via the telephone. Because a call home was long distance (and I didn’t have a long distance phone plan at school), my family figured out a ritual that allowed us to chat on a regular basis without racking up a big bill.

On Sundays, I would call and let the phone ring three times (because I was the third daughter), and then I would hang up. My parents knew that was the signal to call me back, and I didn’t get charged on my phone bill because my initial signal call didn’t connect.

Now technology has changed and we can stay connected with our out-of state children via a video conference call. Every couple of weeks, we set up a call using an app called Zoom, and we can all see each other on our computer or tablet screens. For me, it’s the next best thing to having everyone here in person, and we all get to share news with the entire family at one time. 

The Importance of Establishing and Documenting Family Traditions

Traditions can also help us during times of change, grief, or emotional turmoil.

A few years back, my husband Tom and I had to move our family multiple times in a short period of time. To give our children continuity, we tried to continue our holiday traditions – even if it became logistically difficult. One year we moved shortly before Christmas, so we invited Tom’s family to visit us, instead of traveling to visit them. Our relatives happily gathered together among the moving boxes and slept on air mattresses so we could share the holiday together!

5. They reinforce family values.

One of the most important purposes of family traditions (whether they are religious or secular rituals) is that they allow us to impart and reinforce our values.

Brett and Kate McKay wrote:

“Through daily family prayer, the importance of faith is re-enforced: through nightly bedtime stories, the value of education, reading, and lifelong learning is impressed; and through regular family dinners or activities, the centrality of familial solidarity is instilled.”

In our family, our Christian faith is part of our values, so attending church on our religious holidays is one of our major traditions. For Christmas, we typically attend our home church, but if we’re out of town, we will find a local church. This tradition gives our family a sense of spiritual grounding.

We’ve also got secular traditions at Christmas. Before we are turn in on Christmas Eve, Tom reads the poem “The Night Before Christmas” to our whole family.

The Importance of Establishing and Documenting Family Traditions

Maintaining your traditions (and passing them down to future generations) is important, too – that’s why documenting your family rituals is a critical part of this process. When you document your traditions, their evolution become richer and more distinctive.

Documenting Your Traditions

What are the best ways to document your own family traditions?

  • Write them down and take pictures. Writing down the details of your traditions (who does what, and when) is a great start – and then you can supplement your written descriptions by adding photos of your regular rituals.

Taking pictures as a tradition unfolds – such as preparing a holiday meal or decorating your house – can be a great way to document a beloved ritual.

You can take the documentation process one step further by gathering a book of traditions, too. I started keeping a scrapbook of Christmas traditions and memories the year Tom and I became engaged, and I add to it every year. My book includes photos, Christmas correspondence, and even our kids’ letters to Santa – but your scrapbook can include anything you want to document and remember!

  • Use Pinterest. You can use Pinterest boards to document your traditions by pinning ideas and suggestions, and uploading your own photos of your family rituals. For example, I like this idea for creating a Thankful Pumpkin.
  • Create a keepsake. You can also create a keepsake out of a collection of things. While helping a client sort through memorabilia, I found this neat idea for a birthday card book. 

The Importance of Establishing and Documenting Family Traditions

  • Create a video. Videos are also great way to capture the details and memories of your traditions. Video gives you the opportunity to replay the exact sights and sounds of a tradition – which really helps you bring the memories back to life and document the nuances of your traditions.

Creating Your Own Memories of Important Family Traditions

We’ve talked a bit about the benefits of creating, maintaining and documenting your family traditions and rituals, and how they can help you build and maintain family bonds and connections. I’ve also shared some of my favorite family tradition memories with you.

Now I’d love to hear about your family traditions! What rituals give you your fondest childhood memories, and what traditions have you started to implement with your own families? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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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How to Organize Your Vacation Photos (While You're Still on Vacation)

How to Organize Your Vacation Photos (While You’re Still on Vacation)

You’ve just returned home from your vacation to Mexico. You’ve shaken the sand out of your shoes, unpacked all your travel clothes, and you’re just starting to think about going back to work tomorrow.

Before you head back to your office, you sit down at your computer to share some of your trip images with your sister  – and that’s when you realize that your vacation photos are a bit of a mess.

How to Organize Your Vacation Photos (While You're Still on Vacation)

Some of the photos are in your phone, and some in your kids’ phones. The rest are in your digital SLR camera – and you’re not even sure where that camera is. You’re looking for one specific photo from your snorkeling expedition, and you can’t find it anywhere.

So you push the whole thing out of your mind, and decide you’ll deal with your vacation photos another day.

Months later, your lovely vacation memories and images are still in a big, messy virtual pile. Your photos are scattered across several devices, and when you sit down to try to organize things to put everything into a vacation album or a slideshow, you can’t remember:

  • The name of the place where you went snorkeling (and you still haven’t found those photos to share with your sister)
  • Why everyone is laughing in the photo you took at the Mexican restaurant
  • Why this vacation was so incredible. You know it was special, but your memories of specific moments are already fading.

And because your memories are fading and your photos are disorganized, you throw in the towel and decide not to create the album at all.

Next time you take a vacation with your friends and family, this cycle repeats itself, until you’ve got cameras and smartphones full of photos of moments you can’t remember, (can’t find the ones you want), and those images will never see the light of day.

I’ve got good news, though – if preserving your vacation photos (and stories that go with them) is important to you, there are things you can do to prevent this from happening again.

You can actually take a few simple steps to protect and organize your vacation photos and preserve those memories while you’re still traveling.

And the best part is – this method doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and it can actually be fun.

Step One: Do Your Homework Before You Leave the House

The first step in this process involves finding a system to back up your vacation photos during your trip. This actually happens before you even start packing your bags. You need to do a little bit of homework about the technology you will be using, so you are comfortable with uploading and backing up your photos while you’re on the road.

Many of us take vacation photos with our smartphones, but a digital SLR camera often takes better photos – so we bring both. So you want to find the best way to backup your travel photos from your camera by uploading them to a secure location like your computer, tablet or online storage site.

The steps of this process will vary depending on your mobile device, your laptop setup, and your chosen online storage/sharing site, so my recommendations will focus more on the best practices and key features to consider for making your decision.  

What’s most important is that you get the photos copied from your camera or phone, so the images are all in one central location and you have a backup copy of the photos should your phone or camera gets lost or stolen.

The bare minimum you need to know how to do is upload your photos to your laptop or tablet. In most cases you can use your charging cord and connect your camera directly to the device. I suggest making a vacation folder/album (ex. 2016-Mexico) and uploading them to that location on your device. This will keep them organized so you can easily find them for the next step.

If you want to go one step further to secure your photos (or you don’t plan to bring your laptop or tablet with you), you can upload the images to a reputable online photo storage service. There are a lot of choices for this – my recommendation would depend upon the devices you have. What’s most important is that you pick a reputable tool that has been around for a while, not a new service that just hit the market yesterday.

Here are some potential choices for online photo storage and backup:

If you’re using an online service like one of the tools listed above, you will need to:

  • Download any necessary applications to your smartphone well before you pack your bags.
  • Practice uploading some files so that you aren’t trying to learn while on your trip.
  • Know whether the app runs in the background or requires you to open it for your photos to upload.
  • Know whether you need wifi to run the application (most do). If you need wifi, look at your trip itinerary and figure out where (and when) you’ll have access to a network.

Again – let me stress that there are many variations of this process (smartphone or digital SLR camera, Mac or PC, laptop upload vs. online storage).

It doesn’t really matter what your process is, as long as you know it works and you understand how to upload your photos easily and save them to one specific location. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a hotel room pulling your hair out over technological frustrations when you should be relaxing and enjoying your vacation.

The photo upload process should be really fast and stress-free, so I can’t stress enough how important it is to practice doing it at home until you can implement it quickly and easily.

The other super-quick thing you want to do before you leave home is take a quick moment and put a large (gallon size) Ziploc bag into your suitcase. This will come in handy later.

Step Two: Uploading and/or backing up your photos while you’re on your trip

While you’re on your trip, upload your photos using the process you figured out ahead of time. Make sure you upload to a vacation album/folder. You should do this every couple of days, at a minimum — if you go too long between uploading sessions, the process can get time consuming because you’ll need to upload a lot of files at one time.

Review the photos quickly as you go through the uploading process, and delete the ones you know you don’t want to keep (like duplicates or blurry shots). Your photos should be listed in date order which should help as a reminder – at least of the photos you took each day. This can also help to remind you of photos you still want to take – such as the hotel where you’re staying or other things you can capture while you’re still on vacation!

Again, this process shouldn’t take a long time – about 10 to 15 minutes every couple of days should do it.

Step Three: Preserving the stories and memories from the trip

Gather the physical reminders. While you’re on the trip, throw all your memorabilia – all your ticket stubs, programs, maps, scraps of paper, brochures, paper menus, stories or quotes written on napkins, funny sayings or jokes from the trip, etc. – into your gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Anything that will trigger a memory later should go into the bag.

These mementos will help you remember all the details of your vacation later, when you’re putting together photos to display.

Jot down the memories and stories. The other thing you should do while you’re on the trip is take a few minutes each evening to write down what you did that day.  Then write down the basic itinerary of the day (whether you went to a museum, the beach, a relative’s house, or some other attraction) and jot down any quick memories or stories from the day.

If your kids are traveling with you, enlist them to help you with this process. Ask them to help remember the funny or interesting things that happened that day, and write it all down. This can fun for all of you!

This doesn’t need to be a long or complicated process, and you don’t need to sit along in a room writing out long and eloquent journal entries. You can make your list on a napkin or the back of a placemat at dinner. Make a fast and efficient list, put the date on the top, and throw that list in your memory bag, too.

Step Four: Double check your photos when you get home

Within a day or two after you return from your trip, take a couple of minutes to make sure you’ve uploaded and/or backed up all the photos, and that you’ve got your memory bag in a safe place.

When you’re ready, you can display your photos by putting them in albums, frames, videos, or slideshows. You’ll have a lot more fun with this process (and it will take far less time) because of the work you did to protect and organize your photos ahead of time.

Use the items in your memory bag (like ticket stubs, quotes, and itinerary notes) to piece together meaningful collections full of wonderful stories and memories. You can even scan some of those items and include those images in your albums, frames, or videos.

For more information on designing themed albums around your trips or other adventures, check this blog post: 9 Steps to Designing a Themed Album.

Headache-Free and (Easy-to-Share) Vacation Photo Collections

Imagine being able to come back from your vacation, unpack your suitcase, and put your feet up, knowing your great trip memories are safe and secure.

Your photos are protected, your stories are preserved, and the memories of this trip will now last a lifetime.

Feels good, right?

And it only takes a few steps to make this vision a reality. Follow this process, and you’ll go from having messy, disorganized vacation photos to creating organized vacation albums full of heartwarming images, funny stories, and wonderful memories.

Do you need help with organizing and displaying your vacation photos from previous trips (or developing a plan to protect and organize your future trip photos)? That’s our specialty here at Picture This Organized! Get in touch with us to discuss your project.

How Photos Help Us in Times of Grief and Loss

How Photos Can Help Us in Times of Grief and Loss

In May, we lost our family dog, Otto. His death was very sudden, and it has been a big loss for me, my husband, and our three kids.

Grief and Loss - Pet Dog

Otto was a huge presence in our lives. He was a typical goldendoodle – big, happy, and overly friendly in the most lovable way.

Otto was my husband Tom’s daily companion — his shadow who followed him throughout the house. He sensed Tom’s gentle personality, and Otto would often nudge his arm off the desk to get some extra attention while Tom was working.

To me, Otto was a gentle soul who came to comfort me when I was tired or anxious. He’d accompany me on long walks or runs, and was a calming companion and buddy.

Although my oldest son Ben was not living at home for most of Otto’s life, his visits were always greeted with the same enthusiastic greeting that Otto gave the rest of the family. When Ben would throw a lacrosse ball or a frisbee to him, Otto enjoyed the chase – yet he was completely uninterested in returning them!

Anytime my daughter Molly came home from college, Otto always slept near her. He would lay his head on her bed as a way of asking permission to jump up on the bed for some cuddle time.

Otto also helped my son Sam through some tough teenage years, when he was having a hard time in high school and was struggling with health problems. Otto kept Sam company during many sleepless nights.

Since Otto died, our photos of him have helped our whole family grieve. When we look at pictures of him, his joyful life and personality comes back to us. We can remember all the things we did together, we can recall wonderful happy memories, and we can tell stories and laugh as we remember Otto’s amusing antics.

I’m so glad we have a big collection of photos of Otto, so we can remember him as he was in the prime of his life – happy, attentive, and loving.

And as my family looked at old photos of Otto after he died, it got me thinking about the part photos play in our grieving process.

How Our Photos Help Us Grieve

When we lose important people in our lives, our photos can bring back memories of them, and help us remember everything that made them special and unique. They help us keep that person alive in our minds, through stories and memories — and that’s an important part of making sure our loved ones’ legacies live on.

When we lose people (and pets!) who are special to us, we often tend to dwell on how they died. If the person was sick for a long time with a terminal illness, the memories of the person’s health struggles often stay first and foremost in our minds when we think of that person. Or if we feel any guilt about the person’s passing, we often focus on that.

We can get a kind of tunnel vision for the end of a loved one’s life — which is a totally normal and common experience.

But this is where our photos can help. Photos bring our loved ones’ whole, complete lives back to us – not just their passing.

Our photos can remind us of:

  • The unique way they lived.
  • Their personalities, passions and hobbies.
  • How they impacted our lives, and why they were so important to us.
  • The memories (and moments) we most want to remember when we think of them

3 Ways Photos Can Help You After You’ve Experienced a Loss

1. Looking through photos after you’ve lost a friend or family member.
It can be healing and helpful to look at pictures of the loved one you’ve lost – whether it’s one day, one month, or one year after he or she has died. It’s healthy to hold on to old memories — you don’t need to cast them off in a forced effort to “move on.” Spend time going through old photo albums or image files, and reflect on the happy and memorable times you had with your loved one. Reminiscing can make you feel better when you are missing your loved one, and sharing stories and photos with your family and friends can help keep memories of your loved one alive. That sharing process can also help you work through your grief. Don’t forget to tell the funny stories, too – laughter can be healing!

2. Displaying your loved one’s photos.
Our clients often ask, “Is it okay for me to display photos of my deceased friends or family members?” People often shy away from putting photos of people who have died into their albums or frames, but sometimes it’s far more painful to rid your house of all photographic evidence of these loved ones. It can be healing and comforting to have photos of people you miss around your home. When you’re trying to choose photos to display, the key question you should ask yourself is, “Does this image bring to mind a happy or sweet memory, or does it just make me feel sad?” If the photo makes you feel happy or eases your grief, think about displaying it in one of your albums or frames. If not, it’s okay to keep the photo in storage for now.

3. Memorial tribute videos
A slideshow tribute video, made up of photos of a loved one, is a lovely and meaningful way to say goodbye to a friend or family member during a funeral or memorial service. As part of our services for Picture This Organized, we often work with clients to create tribute videos. If you’re creating your own tribute video, remember that the main purpose of your video is to illustrate how the person lived. Select photos that share the person’s hobbies, passions, and interests, and showcase the friends and family members who were most important to him or her. You don’t need to represent every person in the deceased person’s life (or every moment they lived) – you just need to show the highlights. We typically arrange the tribute photos chronologically, starting with baby photos and moving up through the present day. Need to know how long to make your tribute video? If the video will be shown during the service, then 6 to 8 minutes is plenty. If you will be showing the tribute in the background during a reception or other gathering, then you can make it longer.

The Healing Power of Photos

When we’ve experienced a significant loss, our photos are more than just snapshots of the past – they can be a powerful tool for helping us grieve, memorializing our family members and friends, and reconnecting us with meaningful moments.

Of course, you should always be gentle with yourself during a time of grief. Losing a loved one is incredibly hard, and the healing process can look very different for different people.

Do you have a story of how photos have helped you deal with a loss in your family or community? We would love to help you preserve and share those memories. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

Vacation – Remembering the Stories

A vacation is like love – anticipated with pleasure, experienced with discomfort, and remembered with nostalgia.” -Author Unknown

Going on a vacation is an opportunity to experience new places and bond with your fellow travelers. The stories that keep those memories alive risk getting lost without a system for saving them. It doesn’t have to be complicated.  All you need to remember is Who, What, Where and When. 

IMG_3110Document the details!
Most smartphones have a Notes feature where you can record each day’s events. I’m old fashioned and prefer to use a journal. Get creative! One year we didn’t have pen and paper handy so we used the closest option – a dinner napkin and a crayon!


Who is in your group?
I know this seems like a no-brainer, but write down the names of the travelers in your group.
You’ll be thanking yourself when it’s time to share your photos with everyone!


IMG_1285Where did you go? If this was a destination trip, then the location is easy to document. But if you make lots of stops along the way, you might need some help recalling each place. Enlist the help of your travel friends if you don’t have an itinerary.

When did you travel? Check the clock on your camera or smartphone so that the time is in sync with where you vacation – when you arrive.

Choir Mission Trip_09 06 06_0332

What did you do each day? Did you try something new to eat? Making note of the funny experiences and stories are high priority. Write them down as soon as you can. Anything that falls into the category of “We will laugh about this someday” is a great story to share.

English plaque of Mark 1: 9-11 (had these in every language throughout entrance)

What you photograph can help to jog your memory.  So take a picture of yourself next to a sign, the front of the restaurant or even the menu.

So for your next vacation, bring a journal, check your camera clock and enjoy each moment! After you get home, if you want some help organizing your photos, contact us, we can help you find your favorites!