How do I organise my old photos?

How do I organise my old photos is something many have asked me about.

It’s a great question, and very relevant for many of us of a certain age! And indeed if you are asking this question you are likely to have boxes/albums/files full of black and white photos, many of them not very good quality, and probably full of people you don’t know.

It can be quite a headache to know what to do – it’s your family history, so you don’t want to throw them all out probably, but where on earth do you start with such a big project?

Here’s my suggestions, brought together from my own experience and that of many our clients:


Get all your photos together

Include both loose photos and those in albums. Also have some empty boxes into which to sort them  (you can get suitable photo storage boxes on Amazon or in stationers).

Decide to divide your time into 10 minute blocks

Start with committing to spending just 10 minutes on this project. After that,  you have done enough and been successful, although you can continue on for longer if you wish. And you can decide to do 3×10 min blocks to make a half hour session. But always start with just one 10-minute block; this is what makes what can be the daunting task of saving and organising your old printed photos much more manageable.

Release any poor quality photos

Put any photos that are bad/blurred/faded/duplicates/unlabelled landscape shots or just simply poor quality into the paper recycling. Be ruthless about this – life is too short for keeping poor quality printed photos!

Categorise the remaining photos

If you wish, you can now begin the task of categorising the remaining photos into collections such as:

  • old family photos
  • my childhood
  • teen/college years
  • travel

any other category that feels good to you (but no more than 6 major categories!)


Label your boxes

Do this with attractive paper and pens or print out labels, according to your categories/collections. This in itself can be an enjoyable task, which makes the organising of your photos a real pleasure, even if sometimes it is also poignant.

Sort each collection further

If you wish, you can now sort each collection further, perhaps into into smaller, more easily searchable categories, eg by year, location, holiday, or any other significant event in your life. For instance I have separate albums for the major trips I did with my husband (from San Francisco – Baja California in a camper van, for instance!)


Research any mystery photos

These are family photos including strangers and/or unfamiliar locations. Either online or at actual family occasions, bring your unidentified photos and ask every relative if they can help you identify who is who, the location etc. (This is an acceptable thing to do at a funeral, by the way, as many are focused on the family anyway).  Or you could scan or photograph the photos with your smartphone, and email the images to older relatives, inviting them to tell you any associated stories.


Make sure each photo is labelled

If you want any particular photos to be kept, you must have a means of identifying what they are about. Otherwise they are more than likely going to be thrown out further down the line, and your precious and meaningful memories will be lost from the family archives.

Depending on how critical this is to you, either write on the back, (this can mark or damage the photo, or fade with time),  put each into a photo sleeve and label that, or write into an album itself. The latter method allows you to also write any story, which brings the photo alive.

Finally, a bit of celebration!

At the end of each session (whether 10 minutes or longer) give yourself a pat on the back!  It is really important to acknowledge yourself, and choose to feel good about what you have done re organising your old photos,  because otherwise it is likely just to become a chore.  And that will put you off doing any more of your 10 minutes!

Then decide when you will do the next session (later that day, tomorrow, next week, whatever – but I suggest you don’t leave too much time in between as the momentum is lost and it can feel like you have to start all over again, not ideal).


This is one of the areas we focus on in the Start Your Living Legacy online video series, where I introduce the idea of the creation of your Living Legacy, a practical way to help leave behind your life memories for others.   Check it out if you are wanting to do more in this area.

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