It’s Time to Start Spring Cleaning Your Photographs!

Forget about spring cleaning in your closet and basement—those are musty chores, no fun at all. (Writers have been known to say they don’t relish the process of writing, but “having written”; I don’t like cleaning, but love the effects of “having cleaned”!).

Delving into myriad boxes of curling photos might not sound like an enjoyable task, either, but it can be. And the rewards, for you and particularly for future generations, are plenty.

Why even begin such a daunting task as sorting boxes of old pictures?

Well for starters, you saved those boxes for a reason. The pictures they contain are treasures, glimpses of the past with stories to tell. But they do no one any good fading away in the back of your closet.

Beyond that: You just might enjoy the process. As you discover forgotten gems among the piles of photos, your memory will spark and you’ll want to share them. Sort pictures into piles that make sense for how to store them, but more importantly, how to share them:

  • a stack of perfect Throwback Thursday #TT pics;
  • some unexpected candids to enlarge and frame;
  • some that don’t hold great meaning for you but certainly do for a friend or family member—your perfect excuse to write a genuine letter and send them off.

While spring cleaning might not be ‘your thing,’ the deeper meaning in this organization project will hopefully spur you into action.

Is there a right way to sort my photos?

There’s no one right way, of course—but there is a wrong way: You can’t keep everything. Well you can, but why? Photo hoarders can never find what they’re looking for amidst the mass, and you don’t want to leave such a mess to your heirs, do you? You must learn to throw some pictures away. In previous posts I explored the ABCs of photo organizing, in which I explain in simple terms how to sort and store your photos; plus ways to minimize your digital footprint and manage your digital images across your devices.

Today, we’re addressing how to begin the process of cleaning through your physical photographs. We’ll take a deeper dive into digital another day.

Set priorities, and make a realistic plan.

1. Determine the best place to make your mess.

Because you will make a mess. A few piles will certainly turn into many, many piles, and your sorting process will get interrupted by dinner duties and TV time. Find a corner or a room that you’re comfortable storing this stuff for a period of time, and where a family pet or your cleaning person won’t disturb your work.

2. Decide on a realistic time frame.

If you are just tackling the six boxes you’ve accumulated, a couple of days will suffice—and kudos to you for not letting things get too out of control!

On the other hand, if your array of boxes has been collected from family members and you don’t want to even venture a guess as to how many actual pictures are filling up those plastic tubs, then setting a goal is key to your success. The worst thing is starting the project, getting overwhelmed by the scope, then abandoning it.

So set mini-goals to start: Choose a few boxes you believe contain some special photos, and make that part-one of your project; hide the others from your sight. Alternatively, choose a few you think contain mostly junk: It may be easiest to throw away the obvious rejects and feel invigorated by the dent you’ve made.

Write down your objective and your due date, and post it within view so you are always aware of the mission.

GOAL: Sort Grandma’s 3 boxes and my 4 childhood photo albums into manageable piles, storing them in archival photo storage boxes, and throwing away pictures along the way.


3. Keep an informal inventory as you go.

This will prove most helpful if you’ve got years’ worth of stuff. It doesn’t have to be formal--just some notes on a pad, such as:

    Box #1 - all Dad’s military pics with a few random childhood shots; finished sorting

    Box #2 - completely random, in terrible shape from being stored without a top in garage; have set aside favorites that need scanning and restoring, and piles for family to look at before throwing away

    Box #3 - includes family milestone photos; aim to go through before Denise’s bridal shower, so we can make photo book in time!

When you get further into sorting thematically for storing in photo boxes, then your accounting of what is in each pile can get more detailed. In that case, you are labeling for posterity.

4. Follow up on projects.

  • Don’t let your “A” photos languish—do something with them.
  • Scan your favorites so they are backed up digitally.
  • Enlarge some pictures for framing, and hang them in your home and at work.
  • Frame a small photo for a loved one or friend for no reason other than you know they’d appreciate it!
  • Find a story arc or theme and let us help you put together a most special photo book.
  • Scan a pile of black-and-whites and put them in a #TT folder on your computer, where they’ll be accessible when Thursdays roll around.

5. Be inspired to move on to part-two of your spring cleaning project.

Seeing your beloved photos displayed on the walls of your home, or reading the warm comments from Facebook friends on your latest nostalgic share, should provide the inspiration you need to keep going.

Remember: Spring cleaning starts in the spring, but it’s easiest when maintained all year long. Then “spring cleaning” isn’t even a THING anymore. You’ll feel liberated and empowered once you get your old photographs under control.