o you were stuck in your house during the pandemic, and went through all of your drawers and closets, downsized your holiday decorations, brought your houseplants back to life and even cleaned the grease trap in your stove. But did you tackle your photos? For most of us, the answer is “No!” Maybe even, “Oh, no way!” or “Not on your life!”
Why are photos so hard to organize? So many reasons! We start reminiscing and we forget that we’re supposed to be organizing. We’re afraid to throw anything out – even the blurry shot of the back of someone’s head – in case it turns out to be IMPORTANT. Or we have those dreaded family photos dating years back, and we don’t know anyone in the photo. What if we throw out Great-Grandma?!?! What kind of family member are we? Our children will never know their heritage. This is serious, folks – we are playing with people’s lives!
How do we jump over our objections and concerns, and take that first step? Like any organizing project, your approach to getting started will depend on your personality and your comfort level with the tasks involved. Are you a person who likes to organize five minutes at a time, or are you better off gathering the whole project in one place and tackling it all together? Once you start a project, are you able to stay in one place for a long period of time, or do you find you can only focus for a short period and then need to do something different? Do you have a place to leave the project out, or do you need to put it away after each session?
Then think about your goal. Are you picturing a completely organized set of print photos, sorted by time and event, neatly labeled and stored in archival boxes? Digitized for the entire family to share, with notes and tags on each picture to explain the who, what and where? Many of us DO want to achieve that level of organization for our photos. Some of us even want to go farther, digging into family history and genealogy.
One thing I’ve learned though, during the pandemic, is just how much truth there is in that old truism that you can’t reach the goal if you don’t take the first step. One step, any step, is often the inspiration to keep going. When I started organizing some of the many family photos that were left to me by my mother, I decided I could handle one branch of the family at a time, not all of them. So that’s where I started. I divided the photos into groups – Family 1, family 2, families 3 & 4, and the UFOs (unidentified family organization – gotta keep it light here, folks!). I spent about one hour sitting at a table, surrounded by photos, just grouping. No timeline, no reminiscing, just grouping.
And then I boxed them back up and put them away for a couple of weeks. But knowing that I only had to deal with one piece, not the whole, took away some of my hesitation. So I brought them back out, and started putting photos into decades. 1900s family, 1920s family, and so on. Doing it this way, I was able to use one person – we nicknamed him “Mustache Man” for his gorgeous mustache – as a way to date photos by decade.
I’m not done, but I’m further along than I was, just by taking that first step. My advice to you: think about how you work, where you can work, and your end goal. Look at how many photos you have to go through and break it into pieces you can handle. If you get stuck, bring in a friend to help – you could even swap projects for each other. Call on a professional if you truly can’t move forward – there are photo managers of all kinds who can help you DIY it, or take the whole thing off your hands.
Just take one step. See what that becomes. You might be surprised at how far you can go.
Oh, and Mustache Man – turns out he was my great grandfather. Pretty cool!