Monday, June 29, 2009

Organize Your Stuff Challenge - Week 6

It's time to get down and dirty with the mainstays of scrapbooking, our photos. I'll be covering both print and digital at the same time. This is not going to be one of those challenge weeks in which you'll be done by Sunday. But - you WILL have a system in place by then and be on your way to getting your photos in order, and that's what's important. Don't feel rushed on this process. Each step you take will get your closer to your goal, so keep plugging away!

I'm covering print and digital together because I strongly feel that your systems should match. It seems silly to have one method of organizing your print images and then try to remember where you have them stored on your hard drive. If your systems mirror each other, they you'll always know where to look!

So, first let's talk about how to organize your photos. Some good news - you have 2 choices. You can organize chronologically or by subject. See how easy that was? Not painful at all. Now, which one you choose should depend on how you scrap. And you can even combine the 2 if that works for you. I think the vast majority of us think chronologically, even if you don't scrap chronologically, because it's easier to find events when you've lived them - everyone knows what year their first child was born, their wedding day(s), etc. So it makes sense to file your photos of these events accordingly. But - if you do a lot of heritage photos, or photos where the dates really don't mean much to you - organizing by subject or theme may be the way to go. Which ever system you choose to store your print photos by, do the same on the computer. So if you have a box of photos labeled "Great-Aunt Sally", then you should have a folder under "Pictures" on your computer labeled "Great-Aunt Sally" as well. For chronological organizers, go with the year and then month, or you could also sort by year and quarters (ie, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter). Within each month or quarter, you could also break it down into more specific events, if you tend to take a lot of event-based photos. So each print storage will have divided tabs with 1998 Spring, and you'll have a "1998 Spring" folder on your computer as well for those same digital images. Make sense?

If you don't know the date of a photo, you can take a guess. This doesn't have to be hard, and the Photo Police aren't going to haul you off if you mess up. It might help to have a folder for several years of photos (for example, 1970-1975) if you only have a handful of pictures and you don't know the exact dates. It will be close enough to find them when you need them. And that's the main goal of this challenge - not to necessarily have your photos in their exact locations by date or subject, but have them in locations where you'll remember to look for them when you need them! So tweak the system to work with how your mind works.

For those of you ready for a real overhaul, I'm going to recommend Stacy Julian's Library of Memories. Her class on Big Picture Scrapbooking starts next February, but you can do it on your own anytime with the help of her book, Photo Freedom. I just finished her class and it was the best money I have ever spent. The system entails 3 methods of storage:

1. Photo albums, which serve as storage binders for photos to be scrapped. Which means you can easily flip through and view ALL your pictures - no more digging through boxes. And your family can enjoy looking at them in the meantime as well. These photos are all stored chronologically, by year and by quarter. This is a fluid system - photos go out to scrapbook pages, newly printed photos go in their spots in the binders.
2. Card files, which serve to "age" photos and enable you to make connections between seemingly unrelated pictures for more meaningful scrapbooking. Photos in this file are sorted by themes and categories, with dates not being an issue. I found several pictures of my 2 kids doing the same thing, wearing the same clothes, or playing with the same toys but in different years. I could not have discovered those easily if the photos were stored by year in boxes. But with my file, they were stored together in my "play" category, which enabled me to find them quickly and do a really neat layout.
3. Photo boxes, which are termed "cold storage." These are photos which you do not want to scrap, really don't have a place in your card file, but you also don't want to toss them, either. I have a lot of photos in here from my childhood - homes I lived in for just a while, my pet mice (which only live 2 years, so they don't make a huge impact in your life, but they were cute!), some pictures of my old garden. These photos are out of the way and out of mind - they're no longer clutter.

If this system sounds like it will work for you, I wholeheartedly recommend Stacy's book - give it a try. If you are still struggling, then sign up for her class in 2010. It will really change your scrapbooking.

Now that the infomercial is done, where to actually store all your photos, now that you know how to organize them? There are several options for print photos - I'll give you some links, and then I'll tell you about my favorite method. Please note that the links I posted are intended to give you a visual idea of what it is I'm talking about - it doesn't mean I endorse the product or the store. Whichever products you decide on, make sure they're archivally safe for photos if you intend to store them long-term. If you're housing them short term until you can scrap them, then it's not so much an issue.

Good ol' photo storage boxes: There are literally thousands of types out there, from expensive linen, to moderately priced ones at Pottery Barn, to $1.50 ones at Hobby Lobby.
The Memory Dock system: They also have a great drawer unit for oversized prints.
Creative Memories Power Sort system: Cropper Hopper Photo Organization system:
Expandable photo organizers:
Rubbermaid photo storage box:
Index card files:
Photo Albums:
Stack photos in fabric, metal or woven bins
4-drawer wooden cube units:

Once you've decided HOW to organize your photos and WHAT to store them in, let's go on to the actual process of organizing. I won't lie to you - this is going to be only slightly less painful than a root canal. But like a root canal, once it's done, it's DONE! So, grab your novacaine, and here we go:

First - grab all your photos. Ones in boxes, in albums, still in the envelopes from Walgreens, the ones you were going to take to a crop 4 months ago, the stack that you blackmail your children with. Every last photograph.

Second - find the biggest, baddest table you can. You're going to sort these photos into stacks by year if organizing chronologically, or by subject if you're going that route. If you have a LOT of photos (like 20+ years), start in decades first, then move on to the individual years. You should have a good pile for each year/subject when you're done. If you're organizing by subject, then skip to the final step. Just like any other scrap supply, this is also a good time to purge. Remember, this is just ink on paper - it can go in the trash, it's ok. Toss out photos that are blurry, dark, have a huge thumb in the middle, or ones you just don't want anymore. It's ok to toss. Trust me.

Third - once it's narrowed down to year, grab a pile and sort by month. A lot of times, you'll have no idea on the date. One option is to guess by the season in the photo. If that doesn't work, see if you can find the original image on your computer if it's a printed digital photo. They will usually have a date stamp.

Finally - label your dividers and start filling your containers with the appropriate photos. Once your container is full, put it back in your space. Make sure to label the outside of your container with the dates or subject as well.

Digital organization is a lot less messy! My best advice is to get some sort of tagging software - I use Windows Photo Gallery in Vista for PC, I've heard iPhoto in Mac is wonderful. Picasa, Adobe Bridge and Adobe Photoshop Elements also have tagging. What is tagging? Exactly what it sounds like - you are going to put a digital label on your photo. So all your photos of Princess the cat are going to have a "Princess" tag on them. You can tag any photo with any label that will help you narrow down and find that photo later on. So if you are trying to locate the photo of your daughter Roxy playing with Princess, and can't remember the date or even the year on that picture, you can do a search in your tagging program for "Princess Roxy" and it will pull up every single image on your computer with those 2 tags that you placed on it. Pretty neat, huh? In addition, some programs - like Windows Photo Gallery - have a star rating system, from no stars to 5 stars. I know a lot of scrappers like to "judge" their photos using this system. For me, I use all or none. If it's a photo I loved enough to get printed, it gets 5 stars. If it's a photo I like but will likely never display nor scrap, but I don't want to delete it, it gets no stars, so I know I never printed it. If I want to pull up all the photos I printed in Spring 2008, all I have to do is click on my Spring 2008 photo and pull up my 5 stars. Easy!

I know that organizing your digital collection is likely the most overwhelming task in this entire challenge, so take baby steps. Do it in 15 minute chunks - not enough time to drive you batty, but enough time so that you can make a serious dent in your filing and tagging. First step - if organizing chronologically, set up your folders by year and then subfolders by month/quarter. Other methods - set up folders the way it makes sense to you (person, place, thing, etc). That will take you 15 minutes or less, and look how cool that already looks!!! It already feels like you've made a difference. Then start slowly, one "old" folder at a time, moving your photos to their new home. Once the "old" folder is empty, delete it Soon, you'll have more photos in your new system than old! When your photos are in their new homes, then go back and revisit the pictures in each folder. Set up your tag system (I found this easiest to do as I went along, since you never know what tags you're going to need), and place the appropriate tags on each picture. 15 minutes a day, and you'll slowly but surely make progress. You can do this!!!

Here are some tips to keeping up with your newly organized system:

1. Set a regular date to download your photo card and print your images. It can be weekly, monthly, quarterly - whatever works for you. Put it in your datebook or your calendar. Treat it like any other thing on your schedule - getting your teeth cleaned, giving your dog heartworm meds, getting a pedicure. If it's on your to-do list, then get it done. I have mine monthly on the 1st of every month - I download my card and edit my photos on the 1st, upload and order from my online print service on the 2nd. Super quick and easy. Since I do it monthly, I don't have a huge amount of photos, either - which makes it easier on the budget as well.
2. Always, always date your photos on the back. It sounds time consuming, but it really isn't. Get a Staz-On black ink pad and a cheap date stamp from an office supply store. Use your digital date stamp on your original image on the computer as a guide. I usually group all my photos together by the same date, flip them over, cascade them (overlap slightly), and just stamp stamp stamp. Takes me maybe 10 minutes to do 200 photos. I upload once a month, so that's 10 minutes of your time once a month to date your photos. Not a huge commitment, huh?
3. Once you get your photos dated, file them. Put them in their appropriate container or in an addressed envelope, if they're going to family or friends. The less time they spend on your scrap space, the less chance they'll have to become clutter.
4. I cannot stress this enough - back up your photos! Use at least 2 different methods and 2 different locations. There are many options - external hard drives, CDs, online backups solutions are a few. I backup each of my quarterly photos on CD once I'm done with that folder. I also subscribe to an online service which automatically backs up the folders I tell it to once a week. This is a huge load off of my mind. You computer WILL crash at some point - it's not a matter of "if," but a matter of "when." So take steps now to protect your photos.
Here are the photos of my storage system. I love it. It has completely rejuvenated my scrapbooking - it's so easy to find whatever photos I want to scrap, that I've been overwhelmed with ideas lately. Which is a good thing!
These are my storage binders. Like Photo Freedom suggests, I limit myself to 15 - if I have more pictures than binders, then it means I need to start scrapping more. Every photo I intend to scrap goes in these binders.
A close up of my system. The binders house years, divided up into quarters by season. They're also numbered on the bottom so I can put them back on the shelf quickly and easily. These are the 3-up, 3-ring binders from Pioneer. Not beautiful to look at, but they're a real workhorse. The 3-ring binder aspect is especially important - you can get bound albums for much, much cheaper, but then you can't remove or re-shuffle pages when you clear out a good chunk of your binder. And that's pretty important.
A typical binder interior. Can you see now how easy this is? Suppose I'm in the mood to scrap, I have 20 minutes until I need to leave to pick up the kid from school. I pull out a binder and pull out a kit - either one you've purchased or one you've assembled ahead of time. Flip through the binder until you get a good color match, and viola! You're already halfway done with a layout. Isn't that cool?
These are my Memory Dock drawers. I think they've been discontinued, but you may find some on clearance. They house any photos that are larger or smaller than 4x6. I'm not totally thrilled with these - the drawers are hard to pull out - but I don't access them a lot so it's ok.
These are my category drawers. Just metal card files from Staples. I have photos by theme in here - you store photos in ways to make connections, not necessarily event-based. So a lot of my non-scrapped extra photos from a certain event can be placed in these drawers - like my son eating Easter candy could be put under "food," instead of "Easter." I also have personality categories to house all those quirks about my my oldest will turn just about anything into a hat. Those pictures go in the "hats" divider in his personality tab. Or all the photos I have of him sucking his thumb - I have a "thumb" category as well. For future blackmail, I have a "tantrum" category - I really hope that comes in handy someday.
A close up of one of the drawers. I don't have a ton of photos in them - the idea is to be selective and let the drawers grow and evolve over time.
Finally, these are the cold storage boxes. They used to house my entire photo collection - I had 20 boxes of photos. And even though they were organized by date, you can imagine how UNinspired I was to scrap - just the thought of going through all 20 boxes to find some pictures, no thank you! I now have these 3 as "cold storage," meaning they house photos that I don't want to scrap, don't have a place in my category drawers, and I don't want to toss out. They are loosely organized in here and out of my way, which is exactly how I need them to be. If I ever DO need them, I know where to find them.
In closing, I want to add my 10 rules for organizing. I'm going to post these at the end of every challenge, because I think they are very, very important. I want you to keep them in mind as you tackle each of these projects - they will make your life easier and the task less daunting.

1. Label your containers.
2. Be consistent in your methods.
3. Don't be too specific - your search for your items within your space should be short and simple.
4. Your organizational method should be easy to take out AND put away.
5. When organizing, break any large piles into smaller groupings. Have a 2 foot tall stack of paper to sort? Do it in 1" high chunks, it will be easier to handle mentally.
6. If it's something that you use on almost every project, then keep it within reach of your main scrap area.
7. Don't stress your containers. Get a new system or purge your stash.
8. For most items, product packaging adds bulk. Toss it. With once exception - rub ons.
9. Repurpose when you can - almost anything can be painted or covered in paper/fabric.
10. THE GOLDEN RULE - FIRST choose an organizational method, THEN choose a container that fits your space and style. Always shop for containers with a list in hand - a beautiful container is simply clutter if it doesn't have a dedicated purpose in your space!

Your photo dilemma has now been solved. Congratulations! Go give David Duchovny a kiss for me and I'll see you back here for Week 7.



  1. WA-HOO! I'm already completely organized for my pictures! I actually get a week off. :)

  2. Wookiemouse - a question: I have read SJ's Photo Freedom and have waffled on this very point: do photos go into category boxes (your black box with 4 drawers) FIRST or AFTER they come out of the 3 ring binder? Thanks!

  3. Your binder system intriques me, but ... once again would come down to money for me right now. I have already invested in 5 CM photosort boxes. I do have some sub-categories of themes but they are mainly the extras for smaller albums - such as a mini-album for my mother.

    My biggest problem with photos (besides having 5 photo sorts full) is that I can't keep the larger pic's like school pictures and memorbilia with them so something is forgotten every time I crop an event. It's just like my paper - one thing here (pics), another thing there (large photos), another thing there (memorbilia)- how do you put it all together?

    I do have a box full of tossed photos spanning my whole life so I'll work on sorting those this week - and BOXING. :)

  4. Pennyscraps - the pictures can do either one. There really is no right or wrong, but as a guide, if you intend to scrap a photo as a group or as a stand-alone on a page (ie, an important event), then it goes into the binder first. For example - we went to the zoo last month. I have some great shots of my kids feeding the animals and some of a llama (our weird obsession). I will scrap the feeding shots as a group. I have no interest in doing a page about that one lone llama, so the llama pic is going into the "obsessions" tab under "us" in my drawers. In the future, I may have a dozen llama pics over time that will make a great page. In the meantime, it's just going to hang out in my drawer until I need a llama pic for something. Does that make more sense?

  5. Pennyscraps the other way to figure this out is to scrap your "event" for example your kids birthday party. After that you may have left over pictures say one of your child and their grandparents and one of the cake. These would then go into the category drawers under people we love- grandparents and things we do-food or cakes. HTH

  6. Stacy - I too am a fan of LOM, Photo Freedom and Stacy Julian! I just came across your blog today! Love it! Thanks so much for the challenge and the inspiration.

    I do have a question about the dividers you are using for your category drawers. I see you have black ones with white labeling. Where are you getting your dividers? I'd love to know. I broke down and ordered the file drawers a few days ago and am excited about setting up my category drawers.

    Thanks for any help you can give me!


  7. For digital photos, when I download to my computer for filing/sending to print, I re-name them with the date as the beginning part of the file name so when I get my prints, the date is already on the back of the photo, then its easy to sort.

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