How to organize photos

Do you have boxes and bags of old photos that never found their way into albums? Photographs are one of the best ways to preserve memories, but they can also become another pile of clutter if there is no organizational plan for storing and organizing them.  Here are a few tips to get started:

Organizing digital photos:

Today, most of us have moved to digital photos, but this has not necessarily ended the chaos. Disorganization on the computer or phone can be just as frustrating as disorganization in our physical space, because at the end of the day, you want to be able to find your photos when you need them. With that said, it is a little easier to organize digital photos.  You just have to make the time to do so and have a plan.

Decide on a system that works for you.  You can create digital folders on your computer, by year, person or occasion and move each photo to the appropriate folder.

One drawback of storing photos on your computer is that they take up a lot of hard drive space, so you may wish to use a portable hard drive just for your photos. There are many online storage options too, if you prefer not to keep any on your hard drive or want the bother of backing up on portable hard drive.

Organizing hard copy photos:

1. Get your tools together.  When you’re ready to begin sorting through the backlog of your old photographs, you’ll want to have a few tools handy, including, but not limited to:

•Containers, bins or large envelopes for sorting and categorizing
•A trash can to discard duplicate copies
•Photo albums, photo boxes or scrapbooks with acid-free pages and/or inserts
•Scrapbooking supplies, if applicable.


2. Schedule some time to do a quick sort. If you have many years of photos, you might want to start by sorting and organizing by year. If it’s only a year or two, you will more likely be able to remember each photo and can sort by occasion or person, e.g. birthday parties by child, vacations, events, etc.  Pick what is most intuitive to you.

3. Keep only the best of the best. It’s OK not to keep every single photo. If you have several shots of one person at the same event, pick the very best and get rid of the rest. It may feel a bit weird to throw away “good” photos, but it can be boring to look through a bunch of similar poses of the same person, so just pick the best.

4. Keep them organized during the process.  For organizing projects that will take a while, consider storing them temporarily in envelopes and label each clearly with a marker, so that you know where you are when you have time to do a bit more sorting. Containers take up a lot more space, so it also depends on where you will be storing your photos when you’re not working on them.

5. Display a few.  Plan to set aside a few of your favorites for display purposes. You can display in a traditional photo frame for the wall or table top. Plus, there are many other unique ways to display photos. Decorating magazines can help you come up with some other ideas.

Finally, for photos that would be devastating for you to lose in a flood or fire (or anyhow!), get extra copies made now and store the back-up copies in a fireproof safe, a safety deposit box, or both.

Do you struggle with organization and time management in other areas?  If so, you may like to receive my FREE 8-part organizing tip email course, “14 Days Towards a Clutter-Free Home”.  You will receive one motivating tip every other day.  Learn more here.

A new way to get organized.

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About Jacquie

Jacquie Ross is a professional organizer, a Certified Life and Family Coach and award winning owner of CastAway the Clutter! A busy person's expert, Jacquie works with professionals, seniors, empty nesters and families to develop strategies to reach their goals, identify any road blocks, and find more meaning in their lives. Learn more about Jacquie’s life coaching and parent/youth/family coaching here at the CastAway the Clutter Blog, and for organizing services, visit CastAway the Clutter! Jacquie can also be found on Facebook
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40 Responses to How to organize photos

  1. Lillea says:

    I have a lot of photos stored in marked envelopes, like you described. It makes it so much easier to find a photo I’m searching for.
    Lillea recently posted..Macadamia Nut Oil: Better than Olive Oil?My Profile

  2. Joanne J says:

    This is really helpful!

  3. Tara O. says:

    Thanks for the tips! I really think it’s time I bought an external hard drive just to store my pictures on.

    • Jacquie says:

      Smart move, because photos take up a ton of space. Also, remember to back it up online somewhere too, in the event your hard drive gets damaged.

  4. Mandy Haynes says:

    Awesome post! Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. Danielle Williams says:

    Wow love these tips! Thank you for posting!

  6. Carrie says:

    Most of mine I keep on my computer, but I have alot from years ago before digital camera that I have just stashed away in a closet. These are great tips!

  7. Michelle F says:

    I love all your ideas.

  8. Nena Sinclair says:

    This is great info! Thanks! I have tons of pics I have to get organized!

  9. Jessica Eaton Ledford says:

    I really need to do this will all our pics! Thanks for the helpful info! 🙂

  10. Rebecca says:

    Great tips! Digital organization is hard. My husband has a pretty good method, but I still have to go hunting for photos sometimes. With the tons of digital pictures that we tend to take, I think we need to start deleting stuff that is blurry or that we don’t like. thanks for sharing!

  11. Alicia Ponce says:

    thanks for the ideas, and I am a true believer in back-up copies , learned the hard way once, never again.

  12. Great ideas! I’m really working on the displaying part, I can never get myself to print some photos!
    Anastasia @ eco-babyz recently posted..Kid Friendly Quinoa RecipeMy Profile

  13. This is great info! Thanks! I have tons of pics I have to get organized

    • Luis says:

      I have alot of stuff too, and recently did a major rtoeganizarion. First and foremost donate, sell or throw away anything you haven’t used or wore on the last year. Decluttering is so great, less stuff to clean move around!I’m a crafter too. Went through stuff I didn’t use anymore and sold alot on Ebay! You can use part of your spare room for your crafts. One of my walk in closets is my craft space!If you don’t have alot of closet space. I would reccomend shelving units. They don’t have to be expensive, buy one at a thrift store or garage sale paint it to match your decor. Use baskets to hold things. Group like things together. All craft stuff together, clothes shoes in a closet, get a space together for office, bill paying, etc. Set up different zones in your apartment .Clear storage totes are great. You can get them at the dollar store. You can label them, and see what’s inside.They sell these things call bed risers. They are about ten dollars, you put them under the legs of your bed they raise it up about ten inches, so you can store more things under your bed. I keep a plastic container of wrapping paper non-seasonal clothing under mine.I hope this has been helpful. Good luck! When you are all organized you will feel so great.Go to your library check out Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern. I bought it years ago it helped me.

  14. Sania Akbar says:

    Great Post !!!

  15. Jennifer Hedden says:

    These are some great tips. I don’t have trouble keeping my digital photographs organized, but I have so many hard copy photos that I need to organize. I think it would be great to use the photo boxes to get organized. I just need to decide how I need to organize them. Thank you for the great post!

  16. Sarah L says:

    I like the idea of putting them together by year for my boxes of old pics to get me started.

  17. Tara GAuthier says:

    I have that very organizer at the top, now just need to use it for all my prints. They are in the envelopes at least just not organized at all. We use LIghtroom program for editing and also storing digital picts.

  18. Rose Wendy says:

    These ideas are wonderful!

  19. Peggy Bolling says:

    I almost didn’t read this blog, I saw makeover and mentally thought about eyeshadow and lipstick. I got to remember to start thinking outside the box! I started last year boxing my photos and making albums for my siblings but lost the motivation, thanks for giving that back!

  20. Danielle Ring says:

    Thanks for the tips!!

  21. Mr Thomas Ticknor says:

    I have tons of photos and these are some raellly great tips.

  22. That is so great- I just moved and found pictures in the strangest places!

  23. Jacquie says:

    Thanks for all of your comments and kind words. Glad you found my photo organizing tips helpful.

  24. christal c w says:

    I check your blog periodically to see the new ideas for organizing. I like this one for the picture organizing. We all have pictures but do not always know how to store or group them.

  25. Veronica Hay says:

    I love the idea of manila envelopes. I scrap book a lot and digging through those scattered pictures is a nightmare

  26. Catarina Teixeira says:

    very practical

  27. Karina Lee says:

    awesome tips!!

  28. Linda says:

    Now if someone can just teach me how to get them into the digital picture frame I received as a gift 3 years ago…..

  29. Nena Sinclair says:

    I have hundreds and hundreds of pictures that I need to organize! Thanks for the very helpful tips!

  30. Ana Cláudia says:

    I need this :p

  31. Ana Cláudia says:

    so cool

  32. Rachel says:

    Thank you for the tips! Our photos are shoved in a tote somewhere. All the digital ones are still on SD cards, that I am sure we’ve lost some, which breaks my heart. 🙁

  33. Shabas says:

    Purge, Purge, Purge.If you do not have a speficic date that you will use the item next, toss it.If you do not have a speficic place to put an item, toss it.Toss it= throw it away, donate it, sell it. Less is more.

  34. Melinda Greenwell says:

    I have just started separating pictures I have had for years and want to put by person and chronologically. I keep seeing that sleeve albums are the best. My question is what is the most attractive way to label them. Or actually if you have several ideas that would be great.

    • Jacquie says:

      It’s really all about preference. Whatever you decide, be sure it’s acid-free so that it doesn’t damage your photo, or seep through to the photos. I use a Brother Labeler for labels and they carry an acid-free tape, plus my labeler has all sorts of designs I can use to make it attractive. You could also simply write your “label” -but make sure that, whatever you use, that it’s suited for photos and archival materials. Your local craft store should have something in the Scrapbooking section or you could do some research online. Good luck!