Thursday, July 16, 2009

My organizing kryptonite: photos

Since the rain kept us indoors most of the time I was in Maine, my family and I took on an organizing job that could be done inside that I normally avoid. Even though I’m passionate about organizing and actually find it fun most of the time, like Superman I have one weakness: photos. I love taking pictures, looking at pictures, sharing pictures and forcing my friends and relatives to sit through slideshows of my pictures, but when it comes to organizing, labeling and displaying pictures (especially old fashioned hard copies), I lose my enthusiasm. I think that is mostly because I just have so darn many of them!

My photo drawer--neat, but not organized.

Right now I have thousands of digital pictures on my computer and back up harddrives, thankfully organized by year and subject because I force myself to do that much every time they get downloaded to the computer from my digital camera. I also have an entire drawer filled entirely with glossy photos from my entire life, and also a few inherited photos that are a great deal older. None of these are in albums. Hardly any are labeled. Most of them aren’t in any kind of order whatsoever. I made myself cull out the bad ones a year or so ago, which made room for the photos that I acquired this summer.

This post isn’t about how to organize photos, but I did want to share how my family and I approached two giant Rubbermaid boxes full of photos this summer. Some of the photos were damaged. Those went straight into the rubbish pile. The blurry, dark and pictures of people nobody could remember also went. I’ve been a digital picture taker for so long, it shocks me that people had to print out an entire roll of photos to get a few good ones not so very long ago. Anyway, throwing away the bad ones was the easy first step.

Since most of the photos were my mother’s, she had first dibs on which ones she wanted to keep. I gathered a pile from the box, gave them to her. She looked through them and sorted them into toss or keep piles. My sister and I then gave the toss pile a look-through to see if we wanted any of those. Then, we each looked through the keep pile to see if there were any photos there that we just couldn’t live without. Though it was slightly tedious, it was more rewarding to do it as a group and we got through the boxes in less than two hours. My mother then spent some extra time sorting her pretty large keep pile into smaller groups by subject, which she put into labeled Ziploc bags until she has time to put them into albums or some other display. We also kept out eye on the ball and didn’t spend too much time reminiscing over the weddings, first days of school and Halloweens that the photos reminded us of.

Even though my photos are waiting patiently for the day I take them out and put them in some kind of useable order, at least I know they are all ones I truly want to keep and look at or pass down one day. I have my eye on some Kolo achival quality albums, so maybe the next rainy day in southern California I’ll make these my project.

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email


  1. Photos are one of those things that I think is kind of the bane of anybody's organizational experience. It's trivially easy to TAKE a photo, and even my stepfather (who still takes film shots sometimes) will overload himself.

    I've tried to steer him towards immediately weeding out bad shots so he's not juggling seven versions of the same photo helps a little.

    A while back I looked at a scanning solution -- i.e., ditch the physicals and store archives -- but he takes a LOT of photos, so it made sense for him.

  2. Scanning photos is a good way to preserve them, provided you label them well and make backups of the data. I like to scan older photos that aren't as in good physical condition, just in case something should happen to them!