Organizing Family Photos and Memorabilia: Hunt & Gather

Over the years, I have amassed thousands of photographs – hard copy and digital – and tons of memorabilia. There are items from my birth family, my husband’s birth family, and from our own family. Now we can start throwing in all the wonderful stuff from our daughters’ families. Some of it I can digitize and toss, but some of it I can’t. I don’t consider myself hyper-sentimental, but there is nothing quite like touching something that belonged to your parents or grandparents. Or great-grandparents. Or beyond. And, the older I get, the more precious some of my daughters’ first school papers become. Bottom line: There will always be some amount of stuff to sort and organize – even in the digital world.

I began last year creating a system for sorting, organizing, preserving, storing, and displaying our family photos and memorabilia. Quite a few people have asked about my process, so I decided to share it in a format that could be referenced at any time by anyone. It can be somewhat time consuming – depending on the amount of memories you have – but its absolutely worth it. I decided to break it down into a task each month for about the next nine months. Then I can take an entire month to complete a task, be thorough, but only take a few minutes a day or week. Feel free to follow along!

January – Hunt & Gather

Physical Photographs and Memorabilia

Time to search the house – high/attic and low/basement. Look for every single piece of memorabilia and every photograph you can find. Grab yourself a box or two, or three, and start collecting all those precious memories into one place. I created two “boxes” (which eventually ended up being about four boxes) for physical items – one for photos and one for documents and memorabilia. At this point I’m keeping the photos and documents separated so I can focus on the photographs. Eventually, they will all end up in the same location, sorted by families and dates (as much as possible).

I found these boxes at Ikea last year. They’re very inexpensive and not real sturdy, but I’m not moving them around a lot so they work for this. I wouldn’t use them for permanent storage. The larger box houses documents and memorabilia and the smaller has photos.

Photograph & Memorabilia Collection

As tempting as it is to begin sorting by dates or people, etc., I’m not doing that. This is a basic gathering to get everything into one place and get a good feel for just how much there is. However, I have taken a few moments to decide if I really want to keep some items. My ticket stubs from a forgettable movie eight years ago really don’t need to take up anymore of my space! I also contacted a couple of people for whom I had their children’s school photos, etc., to see if they wanted these returned to them or not (school photos: most of them did not; candid photos: most of them are super excited to get them when I’m done). If it’s family and there is a compelling reason to keep their third grade photo, then I do. If it’s a random acquaintance we lived next to for about a year sixteen years ago, I’m probably not keeping that photo.

Digital Media

Same thing here – just digitally.

I know for some this is a daunting process, but we’ll keep it simple and one step at a time. You probably already have some kind of storage area/folder for photos, videos, and scanned documents on your computer. We’re a PC/Android family and on my system I have folders called “My Documents,” “My Pictures,” “My Videos,” and so on. I choose to use the “My Pictures” folder to store all our family photos and videos. For now, you just want to find or create that main folder that you will drag ALL of your photos and memorabilia into. Regrettably, every camera and device you own probably wants to create it’s own folder on your system and put your photos in it’s favorite spot. But you tell those devices who’s boss! Look through your folders and find that single already created folder you want to use, or create a new one of your own, and start dragging those pictures in there! Make sure the folder is named something that will stand out to you as where your photos are: Family Photos, Family Media, My Pictures, Family Pictures, etc.

Digital Photo Storage

We will be working to further sort and de-clutter these items in the next few months. For now, we just need to get all those little beauties collected and accounted for. Feel free to comment on what you are doing that is working for you, or to ask questions.

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