Begin with the paper photos. We will deal with digital ones later.
Gather them all in one place. Albums, boxes, envelopes, booklets. Pile them all up.You will have to adjust the space and time allotted for the project depending on the volume of photos you are dealing with. I would recommend you go so far as to include the photos in frames scattered about the house. You may find another photo you would prefer to display and it is a good idea to see how much of something you are dealing with.
Now, take a Before photo of your project. You may delete it at the end, if you choose, but you will not be able to recreate this disorganized pile after you have decluttered.
I recommend that you work in blocks of time, no less than 15 minutes and no more than 1 hour. Sorting through photos is surprisingly emotional work and you do not want to becomes discouraged or exhausted and give up.
You will be organizing them eventually, but for the first pass through just do this: 1) discard any bad photos: faces cropped off, thumb over the lens, you can’t tell what it is a photo of, it is supremely unflattering to most of the parties in it. You get the idea. 2) You realize the photo actually does, or should belong to someone else. Put these in a box or large envelope labeled with the person’s name. For example, when I sold my house and went through my photos then, I kept copies of my favorites of the kids when they were little. But other photos of them, especially ones that were multiples like school photos in different sizes, I gave to the individual child. When I was going through photos at my mom’s house, I came across formal baby photos of a cousin and his parent’s wedding photos. I sent those to him. He and his sister were thrilled to get them. Perhaps, you have photos of a family member involved with a group that would like to have the photos related to the group activity? 3) You do not know the people in the photo. Set these aside. You may be able to find another family member or friend who does know who they are. Don’t work on that now, unless the person who may know will not be available to you later (they are gravely ill, moving soon, or have early symptoms of dementia.)
Good job! Take a Stage Two photo of your piles. Now you may throw away the bad ones and give away the photos you identified as belonging to someone else. Presumably you have a little bit more room to work with now, which the sorting step requires.
How you organize the photos really depends on your preferences and how you plan to use them. Some people like photo albums or scrapbooks with a theme (wedding, high school, a particular trip) and some prefer the photo albums in chronological order, i.e. one person’s baby photos, then school photos, then adult photos. When I was younger, I had that type of photo album. Eventually I pulled out the photos of my first husband, which left gaps. Then I pulled out all the photos and put them in archival boxes. That method takes the least space, but makes them less likely to be retrieved and shared with others. Think about how you like to use your pictures and what type of type of storage will facilitate that.
Now you should purchase any albums or boxes or envelopes or binders you need to sort the photos and negatives. The photos and negatives should be stored separately. Buy archival tools as your budget will allow. If you don’t have a lot of time or money at this stage, putting the photos in archival boxes will at least preserve them for the future.
I recommend sharing duplicates with others and keeping just one copy of your favorite photos. Similarly, if you have twelve sunset photos taken during that Hawaiian vacation, select the best one and discard the rest. Some folks just can not discard any photo they have taken, no matter how bad or uninteresting…but I doubt they are reading this blog.
Think about the best place to store your newly decluttered photos. Attics and basements and garages are not good places due to the fluctuations in temperature and humidity which can destroy or degrade the pictures.
Take a Final photo of your collection and congratulate yourself on your hard work.
- Delete photos as identified above as not worthy to keep.
- Organize them into folders that make sense to you, i.e. by person, trip, date.
- Back up your files.
Good luck, and let me know how the process is going. Be mindful that a large volume of photos can take weeks or months to sort through.