Organizational Hurdles

I need help. Although I tell myself that I love organizing things, I think that might apply only to boxes in closets and/or UHauls. I can’t figure out what to do with 20 cubic feet of memorabilia. Furthermore, I can’t figure out why I think I need to figure out what to do with all that stuff. It’s already crammed into a chest of drawers. Why do I think I need to do anything else with it? Unfortunately, it’s too late for that kind of thinking; everything’s already strewn about the computer room, and that makes Jonathan unhappy.

My real question is, how do YOU organize your 2D keepsakes? What scheme makes the most sense given their most likely future uses? Realistically, what ARE their most likely future uses?

Thus far, I have the following organizational possibilities, which can be combined in various ways:

  • Scan all photos into the computer and throw prints away
  • Organize photos (in computer or in print) chronologically
  • Organize photos (in computer or in print) by theme
  • Make photo albums
  • Make scrapbooks
  • Make Shutterfly books
  • Combine other paper memorabilia with photos
  • Create separate scrapbooks of other paper memorabilia
  • Assume that my kids will enjoy going through thirty boxes of unsorted papers and pictures…and also through 1000 directories of digital pictures…

And, I should certainly consider my own personality in making these decisions. Part of the reason that I haven’t organized my stuff that well is that I never finished my high school scrapbook in which I sought to present EVERYTHING (photos, papers, car keys, etc) in ornate, hand-painted layouts with detailed captions and even essays about major themes in my life. It would have been a great keepsake, but it was overly ambitious (for me) and therefore never got done. So there’s that.

In conclusion, I’m interested in how other people manage this problem. Have you guys digitized all your pre-digital pictures? Did you keep the original prints? The negatives? If you scrapbook, how long does it take you to make a scrapbook? If your answer is anything less than “one decade,” do you have any tips for staying interested? What do you think the most valuable parts of your scrapbooks are?

About Sarah

10 years ago, I was a computer science student. 5 years ago, I taught kindergarten. 2 years ago, I trained teachers. Now, I'm a technical writer. I have thoughts about most of these things, but most likely I'll just write about neuroses and why I love Mr. Gatti's pizza. Which might be a neurosis.
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11 Responses to Organizational Hurdles

  1. Paulina says:

    I don’t have any feedback on a lot of this, other than to say I think your first option, “Scan all photos into the computer and throw prints away” is not a good idea. Digital storage options are really not all that permanent — your prints are likely to last a lot longer than the digital files will. Optical media formats are generally only considered reliable for 5-10 years, if you really wanted to preserve the stuff, you’d need to plan to migrate it to new media every 5-10 years. And then of course you run the risks of file corruption every time you migrate.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t digitize your prints, just keep the prints around as well. Come up with some kind of organization system whereby you scan the print, and then put it into the physical storage media when you’re done, thereby killing two birds with one stone. :)

    • Sarah says:

      Drat…I hadn’t reallllly considered that option to be viable, but the thing that spurred this entire thought process was the possibility of clearing clutter. It sounds like I should resign myself to the equivalent of a memorabilia storage closet, whether that’s in the form of boxes or scrapbooks or both :)

  2. Laura M. says:

    My strategy is to put everything I want to keep into boxes that are roughly chronological. I spent the summer between college and grad school packing up all of my childhood stuff from my parents’ house, so I have one or two boxes of stuff for each period of my life up until grad school. Since then, I keep an open box in a closet and I toss in anything I want to keep (whenever I get around to sorting through piles of stuff and deciding what I want to keep). When the box gets full, I close it up and start a new one. So at least stuff is out of the way and if I ever want to make a scrapbook out of it, things from the same time periods will be together.

    Photos are different… I have those stored in photo storage boxes from Hobby Lobby. I don’t have any good way to scan them, so I’m not planning on doing that.

    My plan is to someday make scrapbooks out of everything. But that day may not come until I’m retired or something. :) As you know, my scrapbooking strategy is to stick things onto pages with no decoration. Otherwise, I’d never finish.

    I always think of the example of my Aunt Jan, who made her high school scrapbook two years ago, in time for her 45th class reunion. She saves everything, like me, but she was always busy and daunted by the idea of making fancy scrapbook pages. She was showing some keepsakes to my mom when we were visiting, and she and my mom and I ended up whipping up a scrapbook (with simple pages… just her keepsakes with labels) while we were visiting. She had some great stuff! I think the age of it made it even more fun to make the scrapbook (and also made it clearer what was important and what wasn’t).

    Anyway, my strategy is to keep everything I might want and not beat myself up if I don’t put it in a scrapbook within the next 40 years. :)

    • Sarah says:

      Wow, that’s neat that your aunt was finally able to organize it all! That makes me feel like it’s never too late :) And I like the idea of having an open box that’s just ready for keepsakes. I used to keep EVERYTHING, but then I stopped because I didn’t have a good place to put it. If I had a place ready to go, I might start keeping everything again. You also make an interesting point that, the more time passes, the easier it is to differentiate between interesting and not-interesting stuff. That should make me feel better about taking a long time :) Annnnd, finally, remind me how you put together your “pages with no decoration”? They weren’t in plastic sleeves, were they? Did you just use photo corners to hold everything down? I love photo corners.

      • Laura M. says:

        I use photo corners for things that have interesting things on both sides, and then I use those photo square things (little square stickers) for everything else. Those hold really well. I don’t like the corners as much since it’s easier for things to fall out, especially since I make my books way too fat. :)

        I second the comment about labels on photos. Since I’m into family history, I come across lots of old photos and I have no idea who the people are. And no one else remembers either. I already have one photo album where I made an album but didn’t get around to captioning it and I don’t remember the names of any of the people in it…

  3. Kerri Cottle says:

    First I’ve got to say: Loving this blog! Reminds me of our letter-writing years :) *ahem* But as far as scrap-booking and photos goes, I have to completely agree with Laura and Paulina. Put everything on discs just in case, then put the photos in boxes chronologically (with keepsakes with the photos or in their own chronological boxes), then scrapbook: it’s the best of both worlds without being overwhelming and being neat while in the process! Also, now that I think of it, you could write on the backs of the photos w/pencil or special ink what the dates are and who’s in the pictures – found this out when I was sorting through very old photos w/my uncles when dad died. Probably the most important thing to do besides saving the darn things! :D Good luck!

    • Sarah says:

      Annotating pictures one way or another is a good point! I mean, right now it feels rather inconceivable that *I* would ever forget the people that are in those pictures, but part of the idea is to preserve all this stuff in a way that makes it meaningful/interesting to others. There are just so many pictures these days…I might have to choose which ones I take the time to comment on.

      I really appreciate all these suggestions! I have to admit that I was feeling pretty overwhelmed last night, but reading all these ideas makes me WANT to work on this :)

  4. Linda Schaffner says:

    All of the ideas above are very good ones. Now that I am retired, I am scanning all of my mom’s and dad’s pictures and saving to an external hard drive. I put my favorites on my Picasa account and also on a memory stick. Then file the photos in acid free photo boxes in categories…putting my favorites in the front. My plan is to create slideshows/movies of the favorites and burn to DVD. As Paulina pointed out all the digital ways of saving these pictures will change in years to come. I spent about 900 dollars getting my family 8mm movies copied into a DVD format. Guess what I will have to do is save the 3 DVD players we have and hope the way they hook up to our TVs will not change. I love the scrapbooking examples I’ve seen but the downside of that will be that paper deteriorates over time. I’m 63 and the ones I did of my school years in the 60s are already turning to mush. My moms that she did in the 40’s are even worse. Plus, I’m not a scrapbooking type of person. I would rather use my time making digital movies/slideshows that way I can tell a story or stories of my memories of the trip, family get togethers etc. As far as leaving your children to sort through thousands of pictures, I am there now. If you keep your photos in categories ie: my daughter Crystal, son Brandon, Vacations with dates, Christmases, Family etc. it will make it easier for them. By all means when you process your photos, be sure to write the names of the people on the back of the photos with complete name, date, and event.

    • Sarah says:

      Wow Linda…I hadn’t even CONSIDERED making slideshows of everything! That’s a whole new avenue to think about…what’s your favorite photo-storyish software? And I appreciate your experience dealing with uncategorized photos; that certainly captures why I’d LIKE to sort my photos by something other than year. However, I worry that categorizing things is where I get a bit paralyzed. If I do end up scanning everything into my computer, I’m hoping that the ability to assign multiple Picasa tags to a given picture will free me enough to stop worrying about having the exact right physical categorization. We shall see…

  5. I have some prints stashed in random places around the house that I mean to put in an album at some point. There are a few more from my pre-digital era back at my parents’ house. My ambition is only to put them in an album; I can’t be bothered to make a decorative scrapbook. I used to use photo albums with sticky “magnetic” pages, and with the advent of the kiddo, I’ve switched to albums with sleeves so I can just slip the photos in.

    It is nice to have a physical book to look at instead of a screen. It is also nice to have a curated presentation to show people, rather than overwhelming them with hundreds of images. You have to choose what to include and what to leave out, possibly even discard. Certainly that can be difficult. You could scan everything and keep only some physical copies.

    For digital storage, you could try a paid offsite service. See

    • Sarah says:

      Indeed…I really like having tangible books to look through as well! It’s been a long time since I looked for “just” a photo album; I honestly hadn’t given that option much thought for my current problem.

      Now that we’re talking about a psychological preference for tangible books, I’m reminded of the inverse problem: do you print out copies of digital pictures to put into a tangible album? Or are your albums restricted to the prints you have leftover from the pre-digital era? One of my longterm dreams is to somehow convert all my facebook albums into Shutterfly books while preserving the various captions and comments. I hadn’t thought much about whether to expand this goal beyond what I’ve already uploaded to facebook…

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