Picture Perfect: Preserving Your Photo Memories
As with all decluttering, the real reward is discovering what you have
In our hearts, we all understand that decluttering must be tackled sooner or later. Still, those paper memories – letters, cards and mainly photographs – seem to be the most emotionally charged of all and, therefore, most likely to be relegated to another day, another decade.
Many people also assume that "organizing" means "getting rid of" and understandably cringe at the idea of trashing family photos; however, with a little commitment, this doesn't need to happen. Pictures should be stored properly or digitally scanned to the cloud.
Remind yourself frequently that this is not an overnight project.
Many resources now suggest that it's not a bad idea to do both, which sounds daunting and time-consuming. But if you do nothing, your photographs may eventually degrade beyond repair. Like many things, the thought is much worse than the actual task. So, consider the following and let the great sifting begin!
Before starting, you'll want to designate an area where you can work and leave everything in place (a card table works well here). Remind yourself frequently that this is not an overnight project. It is, however, something that you can peck away at in small, consistent chunks of time.
Where to Begin
Sorting through photographs is unique because of the sentimental tsunami that visual images produce. For this reason, an initial business-like sort-through can make the job much easier as you progress. Dedicate some ziplock bags or shoe boxes to corral the piles and label them simply: family, school, vacations, etc.
If you plan to keep negatives as well, you might invest in a "viewer," which is very helpful for identification. Negatives can be stored in suitable sleeves or a box, just like those recommended for photographs. Archivists suggest a soft pencil to write on the back of each photo to identify the subjects and any other information such as location, etc.
Like many things, the thought is much worse than the actual task.
Be sure to dedicate a pile to blurry, unflattering shots and poor camera work. (No one needs a shot of a headless torso, even if you're sure it is Aunt Mabel.) The same goes for duplicates (remember when we all loved this option back in film developing days?).
But unless you know someone who would treasure a shot of the same out-of-focus lion at the same zoo, taken over five years, some of the duplicates can probably go.
A friend of mine bravely embarked on the sorting process with her mother, who had hundreds of pics, and she creatively named one of the leaning stacks: "Animals and Babies I Do not Know." Unfortunately, at the end of a torturously slow afternoon marveling at World War II - era kittens (no other connection known), the mother announced that the entire set was "too sweet" to part with.
This is a classic example of "inheriting" photos that we cannot identify and mean nothing to us, and yet the cycle goes on. As tempting as it may be, resist leaving the photos in plastic bags or cardboard for long-term storage: the idea is just to make sorting easier at the beginning.
Once you have a general sense of quantity, it's time to choose a housing method. An impressive selection of acid-free albums, boxes, and sleeves is available online, ready to preserve your photos safely.
Once you have a general sense of quantity, it's time to choose a housing method.
If all this sounds overwhelming, remind yourself that the subsequent "scanning" of photos will be much easier now that you have done the essential sorting. And the best news is there are many online services available to scan for you and ship the originals back.
Choosing to have photos professionally scanned is not only faster but should also produce a far superior result than using a flatbed scanner at home or using a cell phone as a scanner. However, these are options if your collection is small and you are not particular about pristine resolution quality. Check for local options if shipping makes you nervous but be sure the scanning will be handled professionally.
Carefully assess your needs – storage size, cost and user-friendliness – before committing to a cloud provider. Be sure you know exactly what you are getting. There are many to choose from, and each offers different features.
Some companies transfer photos to a DVD or memory stick for you but remember that this kind of technology is not generally stable enough for long-term storage. If you choose not to store photos in the cloud (even if you do), a simple external hard drive can also be a reliable backup solution.
Not many of us will sit with a photo album open on our laps, nostalgically turning the pages – but once your photos are accessible, you are much more likely to email them to friends, share them at family reunions or display newfound favorites in a frame on the wall.
As with all decluttering, the real reward is discovering what you have.
- Exchange ideas with others. You may be surprised by what a universal conundrum this is.
- Photos are meant to be enjoyed. Why not purchase a digital picture frame and display your pics on an ever-changing basis?
- Consider making a photo book for graduation or the birth of a child. A simple Google search will reveal dozens of how-to options and services to help you, such as Shutterfly.
- Many public libraries now offer photo scanning facilities on a self-serve basis, although doing it yourself can be tedious.
- Confession: Even though I have no use for the remaining 18 wallet-size photos of my children's school pictures (because we have all the 8x10 versions as well) I am unable to throw these out. Try to keep exceptions like this to a minimum – and give them to your kids/grandkids when they visit.
- Humidity matters. If you do nothing else, rescue photos from the basement or that overheated front porch. A storage bin inside is always better than keeping photos in extreme temperatures.