In a recent survey I conducted that allowed respondents to indicate what types of keepsakes they were happy their parents had saved for them, it was no surprise that photos were the number one item that people cherished. Nothing can take us back to those days and memories like pictures! Back before photos were digital, my photo albums were the number one thing (besides people and animals) that I would grab if I had to flee from a house fire.
Things are so different today. Photos are digitized and saved in the cloud. That makes it easier to store and retrieve them, but creates a new problem … there are so many places they can be stored! On my phone, on my computer, in emails, social media, whatever cloud-based service I choose, etc. It’s arguable which is more manageable … boxes of photos that have accumulated over the years or files of digital photos saved here and there!
I found myself with TUBS … I mean those HUGE plastic tubs … full of photos! In the day when I had rolls of film to be developed, I would get doubles of each image and “file” them by adding them to my collection. Sometimes some of them would find their way to an album or a frame. Sometimes they would be shared with others. Usually they were just added to the pile of “I’ll organize these someday.”
I have always been a container junkie. I would collect baskets and bins with the intention of organizing. Somehow gathering these tools made me feel as if I was making progress. For my photos, I even purchased a piece of furniture that housed shoebox-type linen-covered boxes that would contain my photos. I purchased dividers and set out to organize my pictures chronologically. That was when I realized that I could not remember when things happened … only in a relative sense; depending on which child was in diapers, I could get close to the year! I sorted out the duplicates and stored them separately … in case we wanted them for a project or wished to give them to someone featured in the photo. I also started to save the “greatest hits” in separate boxes for each child, but whenever I’d get interrupted in my journey to organize photos, it was hard to remember what was where. It got so complicated!
I also realized that I had a real problem throwing photos away. I guess I felt like that would be “erasing” history.
Last year I made a goal to digitize and organize my photos. I first tried to organize them and get rid of duplicates … since I was paying to have them scanned, I didn’t want to pay more than necessary. At some point, though, I couldn’t remember if I’d already seen/scanned photos or not, and just started bagging them up to send in. It was not a cheap venture, so I did get rid of photos that had little sentimental value or were of poor quality. In my head, I did establish some criteria for keeping versus discarding.
What To Keep
What to let go of:
- blurry images
- most cases where a photo subject would object (unflattering shots), as long as it is not the only photo taken of a special moment
- can’t remember who these people are
- don’t care to remember these people or places (yes, that happens sometimes… it’s okay to curate)
- duplicates – if you’re as old as I am, it’s a mental block that we have … we keep forgetting how easy it is to print out an image once it’s been digitized … or even forget that we may never need to actually print another photo again!
- for each major event (birthdays, for example), choose a few poignant moments to memorialize and get rid of the rest.
What to hang onto:
You’ll know it when you see it. Special people, special moments, special places, etc. But what about those mundane moments? A picture of your backyard as a child, the car your family used to own, an unspectacular photo taken around the family dinner table. These “lifestyle” photos are, in some cases, more special than the posed and curated shots. They help us remember (and even FEEL) what it was like back then! Remember that picture on the wall of your childhood living room? Look at the dinner plates we used when I was a child. That tree in the backyard was just a seedling back then!
Nope, I’m not gonna tell you that. I will tell you in a very general sense the process I implemented, but I do not proclaim to be an expert in this field!
Collect your photos (or document all the places they reside electronically)
Decide on a repository for them – iPhoto, Dropbox, SmugMug, etc. Just make sure that the tool you use to hold them can afford the functionality you desire.
- Do you want multiple people to have access to them?
- Should they have the ability to share them via email, social media, etc.?
- Can you attach multiple “tags” to them so it’s easy to search for what you want?
- Is this repository dependable and apt to be around for a very long time?
- Is cost a concern? And make sure the administrative login info is shared with someone besides just yourself, so if something should happen to you, your family still has access to these treasures.
- Will the database of your precious memories be backed up periodically, to ensure that they are not lost?
Scan them in
Determine your organization structure. Will you have folders for Birthdays, Holidays, Graduations, Vacations? Or will you organize chronologically and use tags to differentiate the occasions?
Now move the photos in the correct folder and tag them. This can take a long time, so it’s great if your family can help by going in and adding tags, but it’s a good idea to come up with the structure and tags that you can all be consistent on. For example, list names of holidays, how you will refer to vacations (place and year?), etc.
Decide on a process from this point forward! What a shame it would be to get these assets organized, and then fall behind again! I suggest that, on a monthly basis, you move all photos from your phone, and anywhere else they accumulate, to the main storage repository.
Curate Your Museum
Just because the family portraits you had taken when the kids were young were designed to be on the wall, doesn’t mean that less-composed images can’t represent your family memories. Consider how you feel when you view different pictures. Do they make you smile … or even laugh? Do they remind you of a stage in life that you felt particularly close as a family? Does the personality of the subject really shine through? Perhaps these are the pictures that should be on your wall!
AND that huge family portrait (you know … the one taken at Olan Mills Studio, where everyone looks stoic and no one likes how they appear in it) can be photographed and digitized, and then (gasp!) discarded.
Don’t Go Overboard
I was glad that I wasn’t too critical or stingy about my decisions of what to save. There were pictures that meant a great deal to someone else in the family, and I had no idea that the subject matter or the people in them or the environment was special.
and frankly, someday someone else may choose to hit the delete button on your carefully selected collection of photos. The important thing is that you carry forward the mementos that are potentially legacy material.