Just like any clutter in your home such as paper, mail, clothing, or toys – boxes of printed photos can take up valuable space. Worse, if that space happens to be a damp basement or hot attic, you run the risk of ruining your precious memories.

Here are some quick tips to help you organize your photos and protect them from damage, plus organize all of your digital photos as well, so you can enjoy and share them with friends and family.

5 simple steps to organize and preserve prints

STEP 1 – Collect photos from every place where they are stored and get them in one spot. A good area is one with a large, flat surface such as a dining room table or guest room bed.

STEP 2 – Ready, set sort! Choose one of the following ways to sort and organize your photos:

Chronologically – Sort by year or month. Start with the most recent photos and work backward.

By theme – Group like photos together and toss the duplicates. Sort into categories such as vacations, life cycle events, or by family member or generation.

STEP 3 – Decide how you want to store your photos – in photo albums or boxes? What you want are archival-quality photo organizing products and supplies that are classified “photo-safe” and “acid-free.” Boxes with dividers or envelopes (again acid-free!) can be used to help you sort your prints and label them into whatever categories you choose.

STEP 4 – Purchase supplies. Archival storage costs a bit more, but if you want to protect and preserve your photos, it’s the way to go. Look for archival products including photo-safe marking pens and adhesives on sale at your local craft store or online scrapbooking sites. Some big-box retailers have started to carry photo and scrapbooking products as well. If you choose to store your photos in boxes, all of these vendors also have an assortment of decorative and functional boxes.

STEP 5 – When you have new prints, take a few minutes to sort them right away to save you from having to deal with a massive backlog tlater.

Organizing your digital images

Organizing digital photographs does not require a degree in computer science. A few minutes of your time every month can save you a lot of headache in the future – and a good backup system for your precious digital memories can save you from heartache as well.

Set Up a Schedule

Many people get overwhelmed by the process of organizing photos. It’s one of those projects that can fall by the wayside in our busy lives. But after a while, the task gets too big to manage because you’ve put it off for so long. So the time to get started is now.

Just like other organizing projects, keeping up with your photos is an ongoing task. I recommend setting an appointment with yourself once a month to download photos from your camera, sort them into folders on your computer, or even have them printed. Labeling as you go will prevent guesswork down the road.

Save Only the “Gems”

We all take far more photos than we actually need. The convenience of smartphones, tablets and digital cameras allow us to take thousands of photos – yet nobody wants to sit and look through these thousands of images. Sorting and saving the key memories, the truly beautiful shots, the true “gems” of your collection will end up saving you money in the long run on the supplies needed to keep these memories safe.

For digital photos, it is best to sort directly into file folders on your hard drive. Create a file folder for each year. Within each of those folders, create folders for each month (use numbers 01-12, not the alphabetical names of months so that the computer will keep them in the correct order). If you wish, within each month, you can create folders for sorting photos into special themes or events.

Be sure to have a double back-up system in place. I recommend a portable hard drive and a form of automatic cloud storage to back up your main computer hard drive. The portable hard drive provides backup should your computer hard drive fail. The cloud storage is the failsafe for catastrophic events that could affect your hard drive such as theft, fire, or water damage.

Organize As You Go: Picture-Taking Tips

As you take photos, be mindful of taking too many “background” shots such as landscapes or buildings. Without a person in the photo or a personal connection to an emotion or a time, a photo of a landmark or mountain might as well be a postcard you bought in a gift shop. If you add personal relevance to the image, you will be more likely to save it for generations to come…and isn’t that why we take photos in the first place?

close up crop print(1)Jody Al-Saigh has a background in photography and design and earned a B.S. in Photojournalism photography from Syracuse University.  She worked for 10 years in print production and graphic design. In 2008, Jody decided to follow her passion for organization and started her own business, Picture Perfect Organizing. Her background in photography and design led to her specialization in photo and collection organizing. Jody is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and a Certified Personal Photo Organizer with the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO). In her business, she serves all of Northern Virginia, NW Washington DC and Montgomery County, Maryland. Follow Jody on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Pinterest for free, weekly organizing tips.