How to Organize Printed Photos

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While much of the world has gone digital, including photographs, there’s still a place in our hearts and our homes for printed photos — although I’m willing to bet your photo collection could use some organization. Let’s explore how to organize printed photos!

Do you have a giant box full of old pictures in a closet somewhere? Organize printed photos and ENJOY them! Here's how!
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As with any organization project, we’re going to follow these basic steps:

  1. Gather all printed photos
  2. Purge and sort photos
  3. Contain and label photos

Keep reading for further details and how to apply this concept to your giant box of printed photos.

Organizing Printed Photos

Let’s dive into each step further. You can expect this project to take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on how many pictures you’ve collected over the years.

It’s okay to take breaks between steps or even in the middle of steps if you need to — just note where you left off so you can easily get back to it!

1. Gather Your Photos

Before you can organize all your printed photos, you’ve got to gather all the photos you have — you wouldn’t want to get halfway through your organizing project just to find an extra box of photos that need to be added in. That would be confusing and redundant.

When you start to organize your printed photos, gather all the photos you have in one place - maybe on your dining room table.

If you have your printed photos in various places in your home, gather them all up in one space — perhaps the dining room table.

Inherited Photos

Organize printed photos

If you’ve inherited printed photos from other family members, I don’t recommend including those at this time unless you’re sure you’d like to combine all the photos into one organized collection.

2. Sort Printed Photos

Now that you’ve got your photo collection in one place, it’s time to go through it all and sort and purge. It’s especially helpful if you’ve got post-it notes and room to work.

Getting Started

Start looking through the photos and creating piles of like photos, labeling them with post-its so you don’t lose track. Don’t worry about getting too specific, keeping the categories broad is okay for now. If you try to get too exact, you may get frustrated quickly.

To organize your printed photos, first start by spreading everything out and sorting them.

Using Clues to Sort

Depending on when and how you had your photos printed, you may be able to read dates and captions on the back to help you organize printed photos — if this is the case, great!

If your photos aren’t dated or labeled, you’ll have to use your judgement and make an educated guess for now. As the pictures come together, you may get more context and be able to sort more specifically.

Broad Categories of Printed Photos

Examples of broad categories you can sort your photos into are:

  • Childhood
  • High School Years
  • College Years
  • Decades
  • Locations

Getting a general timeline of the photos can be very helpful — and it can provide a good stopping point if you need a break!

Get Specific When Sorting Printed Photos

Use clues within your photos to narrow the dates down to the year or time period in your life.

Once you’ve sorted your photos into broad categories and have labeled them with post-it notes, you can either stop there and consider your pictures organized or you can dive deeper into each category and sort further.

For instance, if you’ve got all your college photos in a manageable pile, you can contain and label them as “college”. However, if you have a lot of photos from those years, it may be helpful to break the category down by year.

This step may be time-consuming and stressful. You’ll need to think back to the people you spent time with during specific years and try to narrow it down.

Looking at the ages of other people, specifically children, can provide some clues, as can the clothing and locations you can see in the pictures.

If it becomes too tedious and frustrating, give yourself grace, let go of perfection, and let your progress be good enough!

3. Purge Printed Photos

Purging photos can (and should) be done WHILE you’re sorting (Step 2).

I know, I know! Purging photos feels really wrong! But if you were around before digital cameras were, I’m betting you have your fair share of poor quality, dark, blurry photos and you’re not letting go of the memories, just a few bad pictures of the memories.

I give you permission to purge any of the following photos while organizing:

Don't feel bad throwing out photos that no longer serve you or make you feel bad about yourself.
  • Blurry and/or dark photos
  • Very similar multiples or doubles of photos
  • Anything that brings up a bad memory
  • Boring photos (I used to take pictures of literally every animal when we visited zoos. I’d also take a lot of, ahem, mediocre, photos of flowers. They’re all gone now.)
  • Pictures of people you can’t identify
  • Unflattering photos of yourself (eyes half-closed, mouth full of food, you get the idea).
  • Anything else you don’t love

Fewer Photos are Easier to Enjoy

And as with any collection, if you’ve got so many items that you can’t look through them and appreciate and enjoy them — why bother having them?

Having fewer photos that mean more makes reminiscing more enjoyable.

Downsizing your printed photo collection will actually help you enjoy them more. Once you’ve downsized and organized your printed photos, you’ll be able to locate them and look through them quickly, without having the chore of sorting them weighing on you.

Sharing Printed Photos

Just because you don’t want your printed photos doesn’t mean someone else won’t!

If you have pictures you think a friend or relative may enjoy, stick them in an envelope and send them along!

Discarding Printed Photos

Unfortunately, old photos cannot be recycled because of the coatings on them. Throw them away or burn them in a well-ventilated area.

4. Contain your Organized Photos

Now that you’re sure every printed picture in your collection is worth keeping, it’s time to contain your photos. Four great ways to store photos are in photo boxes, photo albums, photo cases, and digitally.

Over the years, I’ve used all of these storage solutions for organizing printed photos. They all work well for different spaces and photo collections.

Photo Boxes

Photo boxes, like these, are simple, sturdy cardboard boxes that are the perfect size for standing photos up vertically. They use vertical space and look great on a shelf — use them for photos and anything else to hide visual clutter!

Related Post: Identifying and Reducing Visual Clutter

If you’ve organized printed photos using photo boxes, be sure to use something like index cards or photo envelopes (that pictures come in when you get them printed) to divide up the pictures. Arrange them in chronological order and label the outside of the envelopes.

If you're organizing your photos into a photo box, be sure to divide them up and label each section!

Photo Albums

Photo albums are another favorite way to store printed photos. Storing photos this way makes it simple to flip through photos and reminisce.

If you plan to display them in a living area (as opposed to inside a cabinet), I recommend purchasing a few matching photo albums like this.

Organize printed photos into photo albums.

Opt for albums with photo sleeves rather than sticky pages if you ever plan on pulling the photos out of the album. I’ve ruined many photos trying to unpeel them from sticky albums.

Again, arrange the photos in chronological order. Label the front of each album with the range of years to make it easy to find specific photos you may look for in the future.

Photo Cases

Photo cases with individual photo boxes held within are a newer storage option for printed photo organization, but it’s one of my favorites.

Photo cases with smaller boxes held within are my new favorite way to keep my printed photos organized.

This photo storage solution keeps photos safe, flat, and contained. While these bins aren’t waterproof, they would protect photos from small amounts of water damage and wrinkling, although they are less accessible than they are when stored in photo albums.

Sort photos by year or events within a year. Label each individual case and then the larger case.

Organize printed photos into (labeled) photo cases and never have disorganized photos again.

I just completed this photo organizing project this winter and love the results. I used my Brother P-touch Cube Plus label maker to create the labels.

Digital Photo Storage

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention organizing printed photos by transferring them to digital files. There are three common ways to digitize photos.

  1. Photo-to-Digital scanning apps
  2. Personal scanners and printers
  3. Digitizing services

I have tried the PhotoScan by Google Photos app. The quality is good, however the quality is not the same as you would get using a professional service.

Digital photo storage is also a photo storage solution.

The benefits of storing photos digitally include being able to share photos with others, backing them up to keep them safe, and organizing them into folders that are easy to search.

That being said, there’s just something heartwarming about looking through an old stack of photos, so I’d definitely recommend keeping some physical copies even if you decide to go digital.

How to Organize Printed Photos

Organizing printed photos can be a big job, but it’s a worthwhile one. Organized photos are easier to enjoy. Having a simplified collection allows you to focus on the memories without getting having to wade through extraneous, poor quality pictures. Storing them properly and labeling them accurately ensures that photos are safe and easy to find.

Do you have a photo organizing project to tackle? Let me know!

Life with Less Mess helps you get organized one project at a time.
Do you have a giant box full of old pictures in a closet somewhere? Organize printed photos and ENJOY them! Here's how!
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