Organizing this year? Here's how to tackle a mountain of photos!

January 20, 2019

 Are you getting organized this year? 


All the coats, clothes, and toys? 

Bills, tax receipts, your sewing box? 

Kitchen cabinets and drawers? 


Getting the family papers and photographs together?  Finally building an actual family archive? You know, those papers and photos that preserve and tell family stories for generations to come, long after the original storytellers have passed.


Wait. What? 


Family archive is not on your list this year? I'd argue that your family archive is the most important thing I've listed here. But I would -- I'm an archivist & family historian. 


The first step in handling a lifetime of printed family photos (once a rarity, now in abundance) is to gather them together -- build the mountain!  So...


Designate a collection spot.  As you comb through your home, bring all your found photographs to the collection spot. Don't open envelopes or look through booklets yet. Just gather them.

Maybe you have photos in your dresser drawers, like in this photo. Or stuck in the china cabinet, on the bulletin board, or in envelopes.  When my mother-in-love passed, we inherited all the kid pictures we had sent over the years... in albums, envelopes, and shoeboxes. And probably we have duplicates of most of them!


Having your own photos sorted when inherited photos start to roll in will make that influx much easier to deal with. To get ready, set aside a dedicated place for photographs.


  • Step one: gather photos together somewhere in your living space. Get them out of danger zones: out of the basement, out of the attic, garage, shed, or laundry area. Get them out of damp, humid, flood zone, unstable-temperature areas. Away from water pipes, washing machines, air conditioners. See how much or how little you have.  When you have them physically gathered, know that getting them out of the danger zone is the most important step.

  • Step two: Find an appropriately sized cardboard box. Cardboard is somewhat breathable and far less likely to act as a terrarium -- a closed system that would trap any dampness, chemical off-gassing, pests, or an entire miniature environment. Size matters: too small and your photos will have abrasions and tears.  Too large and they will flop around and bend and corners will bend off.

  • Step three: Unlike the photo included here, stack your photos neatly until you sort them, whether that means retaining envelopes or shoe boxes or tying them up with cotton yarn. Rubber bands will get brittle and break as they age, or worse, may heat up and melt onto the photos themselves.

  • Step four: place those boxes in a dry stable area like the top of a closet or bookshelf. Shelving is actually finishing up that most important step that we started in step one.


If you want to shrink your photo collection, I have tips in another blog post for weeding, here.


Keep going, gather those papers and build your archive! I'm hoping your family photos and archive last for a very long time.


What if you don't have to continue alone?


In fact, I'm putting together a group program to make this process even more simple and accessible virtually and you can help shape it.


I'm designing this group program right now, and I'd love your feedback.


Naturally, I want my group to be exactly what you need to get it done -- from assessing what to include (what's a keeper?) in the family archive to keeping track of what you have (how would I find it again?). Lay it on me! Haha.


So, please comment below and let me know your questions on how to organize a family archive. Let me know what is wearing on you and I will address it in the curriculum or in a related Q & A.


Is THIS the year you get it done?

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