Guest Author - Emily Wilska
Photographs tend to be both a delight and a curse. Life would be so much less interesting without snapshots of meaningful people, moments, and scenes, but all of those pictures can quickly become overwhelming and wind up as clutter. It’s possible, though, to bring some order and organization to your favorite photos so you can actually enjoy them (which, after all, is the point). Here’s how.
Curate your collection
Unless you’re a very careful shooter who’s never taken a bad photo or a very diligent editor, chances are your collection includes some (if not many) less-than-perfect pictures—not to mention shots of mystery people, places, and things that you can neither remember nor identify. The first step in an organized photo collection, then, is weeding.
Photos, like letters and other memorabilia, can be extremely hard to let go of, even if they’re of poor quality, damaged, or unidentifiable. As you weed, then, remind yourself that getting rid of a picture doesn’t mean getting rid of the related memory, or of the person or experience depicted in the photo. Also bear in mind that the more snapshots you have, the harder it will be to access and enjoy them (not to mention store and care for them). Aim to let go of boring, out-of-focus, and over- or under-exposed shots, as well as those of unremarkable people, places, or things (which is to say, anything or anyone you can’t identify or don’t care about). If you have duplicates, either send them along to the people featured in them or people who would enjoy them, or put them in your Toss pile.
Make realistic storage decisions
Many of us have grand ideas about what we’ll do with the photos we choose to keep. Often, these ideas include putting them in albums or using them to create scrapbooks, and even more often, this means that the photos (and quite possibly the albums as well) wind up hanging around for years. To prevent your pictures from becoming a cluttered, guilt-inducing mess, choose photo storage that’s realistic for you. If in fact you have the time, inclination, and patience to create albums, go for it: this can be a great way of organizing your pictures, and of accessing them when you want to browse. You can choose from albums with slip-in pages (which are quick and easy to fill) or those with paper pages onto which you stick each photo. Just be sure to avoid albums with adhesive pages, which can damage and discolor pictures.
If you’re surrounded by pictures and albums you intended to pair up years ago but haven’t, give yourself a break and choose a simpler method of storage. Photo boxes are a good option; these are roughly the size of shoeboxes and are made of acid-free cardboard that won’t damage photos. Most come with dividers so you can separate photos within them by category or date. Be sure to take your photos out of the envelopes they came in so they’ll fit easily. If you keep your negatives, label each sleeve by date, subject, or some other information that will help you sort them. Stack your photo boxes on shelves or together in a larger cardboard or plastic box or bin, grouping them by date, people, type of event, or some other category. Ideally, aim to keep pictures away from excessive heat, humidity, and temperature extremes, all of which can cause serious damage.
Stem the flow
Moving forward, make a conscious decision to limit the number of printed photos you allow into your life. Small steps—such as getting single prints rather than doubles, even if doubles are only a few cents more—can make a big difference. If you don’t yet have a digital camera, consider buying one; even simple models take quality shots give you the option of deleting photos you don’t like. If you shoot digitally, be sparing with the number of photos you print. Choose only those truly worth the expense of printing, and keep the others stored on your computer, a memory card, or a disc.
Use the photos you already have to create gifts for friends and family members. A simple album of photos you select for someone is a thoughtful, personal present, and has the added bonus of allowing you to pare down your photo collection. You might even invite your loved ones to browse through your pictures (perhaps lending a hand with sorting and weeding in the process) and choose ones they’d like. A few special photos in frames can also make a sweet gift.
Getting your photo collection under control, whether it’s as extensive as my aunt’s or simply a few scattered boxes, is an investment of time and effort worth making. You’ll get to reconnect with your pictures, let go of the ones that are little more than clutter, and store the ones you want to keep so you can enjoy them for years to come.