Back before iPhones and DSLRs, photos had to be printed in order to be viewed. Remember the days when you were young and picked up a $5 disposable camera and went wild taking photos of anything and everything, just for fun? Then you went to the drug store and dropped off your film, came back a week later, and finally got to see those pictures, hoping and praying that whoever developed them didn’t laugh too much at your goofy poses.
If you were around for those times, you’ve probably got stockpiles of printed photos lying around the house. From baby photos on baby photos on baby photos to the 500 images you bought from your wedding photographer. And not to mention the endless photographs of sunsets and buildings and trees and birds from your vacations. But what are you doing with those pictures? Nothing. Not a thing.
The Downside Of Printed Photos
Although they were fun at the time, printed photos are basically useless now, unless they’re family heirlooms or hanging in a frame. But those are probably just 10% of your photo collection, right? What about the other 90%? They’re sitting in a box somewhere. But why? Why do we feel like we need to hold onto physical copies of photos?
Here’s the deal. They’re clutter. Yes, your baby looked absolutely adorable in that frilly dress at the Christmas party. But when was the last time you looked at that photo? A long, long time ago. And if you were to pack up that photo safely into storage, would you forget how adorable she was that day? Of course not.
Printed photos are also irreplaceable. That means if you ever had a fire, flood, natural disaster, break in, or that monster under your kid’s bed decides to start eating pictures, those photographs are gone. G.O.N.E. You may be hanging onto physical copies so you can pass down through generations, but let’s face it. Younger generations are all digital. They can’t lose a Cloud full of photos, but a box of old pictures can get lost in a move or thrown out by accident. The days of keeping pictures in boxes has officially come to an end.
How To Save Those Pictures Forever
Now that I’ve completely burst your bubble and dropped the mood, let me give you some hope. You don’t have to sob your eyes out as you trash your life’s collection of pictures. Instead, you just need to take a few steps to preserve them digitally. By storing digital copies in a Cloud service online, they’re safe from any destruction that comes your way. Follow these steps to keep your images secure and they’ll last forever.
1. Sort Through All Printed Photos
This one is a biggie. You really need some time to do this properly, so move the coffee table up against the wall and clear a large space in your living room floor. Grab all your boxes of photos and sit down in the floor with them. Then go through all the boxes and sort them into groups or categories as you go.
You’ll find that you’ve probably got a ton of duplicates, dark images, blurry photos, dogs with freaky glowing eyes, and pictures of random places and things you don’t even know what they are or when they were taken. You can feel totally good about recycling those.
2. Scan To A Computer Or External Hard Drive
If you’ve got a scanner you can do this at home at no cost to you. If you don’t have one, you can always offer to pay a friend who has one, or you can hire a service to do it for you. I’m not a big fan of those scanning services, because I just don’t trust them to handle my irreplaceable photos without my supervision. I guess I’m just a helicopter photo mom, that’s all.
As you scan the photos, work in groups and categories, just like you sorted them. And once each category is completed, group the digital photos into separate folders with a clear filename stating exactly what they are and when they were taken. For example, “Tybee Island May 2015” or “Pets 2017.” By clearly labeling each digital folder, you’ll be able to find your pictures again way faster than flipping through that jumbled up mess of a box you had your printed ones in.
3. Back Up Your Photos In Clouds
Notice that I said “Clouds” as in plural. Let’s say you keep your photos all in one Cloud online. And that company goes bankrupt and shuts down. Their website is dead and all the content is gone. I’m not saying it’s ever happened, but I like to be extra careful. I definitely suggest keeping images backed up in multiple places for maximum security.
I currently have my entire digital photo library saved within an external hard drive and three additional Cloud companies. If my great great grandchildren want to see the car I drove in high school, then dammit they’re going to be able to.
My favorite online file storage companies include:
4. Make Photo Books With The Best Pictures
I’m a huge fan of photo books. I’m never going to break out that box of pictures when guests are here, but I’m for sure going to keep a cute book of my best photos on the coffee table for them to flip through while I’m making margaritas in the kitchen. What I love most about photo books is that you can put multiple pictures on each page, so you can essentially keep a year’s worth of images in such a tiny space.
I also do this with my son’s artwork. He’s an aspiring artist so he draws at least two pictures a day. That’s a lot of artwork to keep up with. So I scan his drawings into Shutterfly and create portfolio books of his art. When he’s grown and in his own home, I’ll give him all the books as a gift. But until then, it’s fun to flip through them every once in a while to see how his “portrait of mommy” looks like a three-legged cow with a beehive wig.
For photo books, my go to has always been Shutterfly. I’ve been using this company ever since they first opened their website and I’ve been loyal to them ever since. They constantly deliver incredible quality, and their selection options are endless. I’ve also heard fantastic things about Chatbooks, which allow you to turn your Instagram photos into books. This is a great option if you post a lot of IG photos every year.
5. Frame Your Faves
Gallery walls are such a huge trend right now. Your grandmother was ahead of the game when she had that entire wall of family photos over the sofa in the living room. That’s actually cool again, and people are going crazy over plastering frames from wall to wall.
In order to do a gallery wall of family photos right, you need to keep in mind the following basics:
- Pick a theme and stick with it. This can be black and white photos, nature backgrounds, cityscapes, one recurring color, etc.
- Choose a layout you like. The streamlined grid and the random collage layouts are both fine, and neither is better than the other. But be honest with yourself and your style and go with the layout you feel good about, not just what’s trendy.
- Avoid too many staged photos. Sure, that family photo shoot was expensive, but a wall full of staged and posed family pictures can seem a little, well, fake.
6. Store Heirloom Photos In Safe Containers
If you’ve been lucky enough to have received family heirloom photos, you should take extra precautions to keep them safe and secure. These photos should be stored in acid free sleeves kept inside a fire/waterproof container. There’s nothing like the look and feel of an aged photo, so you really need to do everything you can to keep those bad boys safe.
7. Keep A Digital Log
So you’ve taken the time to declutter your photo collection and pare it down to the most important ones. And you’ve scanned them all into digital copies and saved them in multiple Cloud locations. Now what? You’ve probably got so many folders and files and locations, you wouldn’t remember them all by next year, even if someone offered you a thousand dollars. So how do you keep track of them? You need a digital log.
It’s a super handy way to keep all your digital photos organized. You’ll be able to find any photo you’ll ever need in 5 minutes or less, ever single time. You can keep a digital log in your computer (also backed up to Clouds) by creating a simple spreadsheet.
*Update!* Try Legacybox for digital photo and video digitalization
I recently tried the company Legacybox, a service that digitizes photos and home movies. I sent in 250 pictures and in just a couple of weeks I got back my originals, along with a DVD, Thumb Drive, and access to an online cloud so I can share the photos with my whole family. I can honestly say that this was SO much easier than scanning them all into a computer myself, which would’ve taken a year with my already-busy schedule. You can read my full review of the company and my experience with them in this post, and you can get 40% off your own Legacybox package with my special code ORGANIZEDISH.
How are you currently storing your printed photos? Have you considered making the switch to digitals? Do you make photo books with your favorites? I’d love to hear your current methods and how they’re working for you. Leave a comment below and get the conversation going.