You’ve decided to organize your photos. Two minutes into the first box of adorable baby pictures, or relatives you don’t know, you decide to take a detour through the kitchen for a cup of tea . . . . and we all know how this one ends. Photos left unsorted, boxes shoved back into the dark hole they came from.

How are you ever going to make progress? We’re here to help, with some tips to jump start your project.

First things first. If your photos are all a jumble, start your organizing without ever looking at the pictures. Really. Printed photos have changed over the years, from the quality of paper, to the style of edging, to the date placement and processing marks. Start by organizing your jumbled mess according to its physical factors, and you’ll find you’ve grouped things by timeframe automatically.

Now you get to look at the photos. No reminiscing, though! You’re strictly looking for things that will identify the approximate decade, or possibly even year if your first sort went well. If you’ve got modern family photos, start by lining up the children’s school and sports pictures. These are your “anchors” for your timeline. They’re likely to have dates printed on them, and they will show the progression of the children’s faces and height through time.

If you’ve got old family photos, look at fashion (hemlines!), hairstyles and cars to identify approximate dates. If some of the prints have a year printed on them, set them out as your anchors and build your timeline around them.

Save yourself some time while you’re doing this and get rid of the “dud” photos right now. It’s always easier to toss a dud photo while you’re in the midst of sorting lots of photos than it will be once you have them organized. If you wait, you’ll grow more attached to the idea of keeping the photos as you handle them more and it’s less likely you’ll get rid of the duds.

One final tip that’s true of any organizing project. Think about how and where you will want to store your photos. Since photos should be stored in the “living” areas of a home (NO basements, attics, garages, please!), you’ll want to limit the amount of space they take up. Understanding how much space you’re willing to give your collection can help you decide whether you really need to keep that third picture of your mother in her prom dress, or whether maybe the first two will be enough.

Oh, and one final, final tip – DON’T bring that cup of tea with you now that you’re ready to go back to your photos. Last thing you want to do is knock it over and suddenly need professional restoration!