Pile of old photos that need to be organized.
Pile of old photos that need to be organized.
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How to Organize 30 Years of Photos

By Kellie Hillis

Photos have a way of accumulating over the years, even when you only take pictures of family members and special occasions. When you have a shutterbug in the family, you get even more photos and if you aren’t careful, they will invade every nook and cranny in your home.


You’ve probably been through it a hundred times. You want to keep your photos, because they are your family’s history. At the same time, you have this overwhelming urge to declutter. In the end though, you keep your photos.


The problem is pictures fade. As photos age, they can change color. The longer they are unprotected the more likely they are to become damaged by moisture, insects, rodents, fire, and more. Organizing your old photos and digitizing them is a great way to have them for years to come. But how do you organize 30 years’ worth of photos? Where do you even start?


We have some tips that will help you get started.

How to Organize Your Old Photos

Gather all Your Old Photos

Organizing printed photos isn’t all that difficult most of the time. You begin your photo organization project by gathering all of your pictures and photo albums. If you are going to be digitizing your photos or creating heirlooms for future generations, you may want to remove the photos from the albums for easier handling and sorting. The key is to get your entire photo collection in one place, so putting them in photo boxes or a shoebox or even a plastic crate may help you keep everything together.

Review Them

Once you have gathered all of your photos, review them to get a good idea of what you have. This can also help you decide how to sort them. You can also do this while you are gathering them together, but it may work better if you sit down and devote all your attention to reviewing them. This way you can see what all the photos are, how far they go back, if there are people you don’t recognize that you may want to identify, and if there are any duplicates.


At the same time, you are going through your photos, check to see if the negatives are with them as well. Try to keep the negatives with the appropriate photos if possible. This will be beneficial later and help with organization.

Sort Your Photos

The next step is to sort your photos. There are several ways to do this. You can sort them chronologically, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent, or you can do it by theme, event, family, or person. Sorting them so that they tell family stories is also popular. The beauty of that is you can arrange them however they need to be arranged in order to tell the story. As you review them, you will likely see a logical pattern for sorting.


Chronological may sound like fun, but if you have years of photos, it may be overwhelming, especially if you have a big family. Separating by family may make more sense if you have a lot of family photographs. Even doing something like a family tree type organization can help bring your organization project into better focus. In the end though only you can determine exactly how you want to sort your old family photos.

Properly Store Your Photos

Organizing and sorting printed photos is time-consuming, but even properly stored photos can take up a lot of space. As you look at your family photos during the sorting process, start thinking about the best storage options for them. The volume of photos will play a part in this, but how you sort them is also likely to influence how they are stored as well. If you are sorting by person or family, family photo albums may work well. If you sort chronologically, photo storage boxes or a photo book might be what you need.


A pretty scrapbook will allow you to add some personality and really tell a story as you create a keepsake that will be treasured for years to come. Glassine envelopes are also a good option. The emphasis here is on what is the best way to protect the photos and keep them from succumbing to the ravages of time and any environmental factors that can affect them.


While shoe boxes, cardboard boxes, and plastic containers may be useful while you are sorting the photos, they are not good long term storage options.

Tips for Handling and Sorting your Photos

These tips will help you efficiently sort your photos and keep them protected.

  • Review and sort your photos on a large, flat surface like a table in an area that is not prone to drafts or is under a fan
  • Have several boxes or containers to put your photos in as you sort them
  • Try to keep the negatives with the photos
  • Consider throwing away blurry shots, or shots that you can’t use (head cut off, etc.)
  • Decide what you want to do with duplicates, whether you want to keep them, give them to other family members, or discard them
  • Handle photos with photo gloves or cotton gloves
  • Use an acid-free photo pen to write on the backs of photos
  • Keep photos that you may be able to fix using PhotoShop once you digitize them
  • Use index cards to make notes or to label each photo collection


Consider Digitizing Your Photos

Digitizing your family pictures is a great way to keep them. A digital photo takes up far less space than a printed photo. What’s more, you can protect them from degradation due to time or environmental factors. There are companies that will scan photos, but you can also do it yourself. However, if you have a lot of photos, using a company may be a more time effective option and cheaper in the long run too.


The great thing about digitized photos is that you can share them on social media, share them with other family members, use PhotoShop or another photo editor to create beautiful displays, have your photos at your fingertips in a format that is easily searchable so that you don’t have to sift through hundreds of photos before finding the right one.

Digitize Photos Yourself

If you want to digitize your photos yourself though, you can use a photo scanner to get the job done. There are several styles, including flatbed scanners and document feeders. This can be a good option for you because it can save you money, but if you don’t already have a scanner, you will need to purchase one – and you don’t want the cheapest scanner on the market. You want something that is good quality, is easy to use, and is fairly fast.

Use a Digitizing Service

If you go with a photo digitizing service, it can be slightly more costly upfront, but once you factor in the cost of purchasing a scanner and the time you will spend scanning photos, a photo scanning service is less expensive. It is easy, fast, and hassle free, so if you want something that isn’t going to eat up a lot of your time and energy, this is the best choice.

Create an Organizational System

Once you have digitized your photos you need to organize them. Good photo management includes naming files for easier searching, creating folders to improve sorting, and creating an index so that you can find what you are looking for quickly and easily. You can also add information to the file to make it easier, so include the date, event, relevant names, or other keywords that will allow you to search your photos and find what you need.

Backup Your Digital Files

The first thing you need to do once you have digitized your photos is make a backup. Cloud storage is an affordable, secure, simple way to store your photo library and all of your electronic files, including digital photos, but it isn’t the only way. You can also use an external hard drive, CDs, DropBox, Google Drive (a type of cloud storage), and Google photos. The beauty of cloud storage though is that you can increase your storage space as you need it to store more digital images. It can go wherever you go and is easily accessible on your digital devices, including a Mac, iPhone, Android, Tablet, or PC.

Final Word

Legacybox can make organizing your family photos easy with our convenient, fast photo digitizing service. Visit our site or call today and let us help you find the best way to preserve those precious memories that are your family history.

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