Photos to Conquer? Start with Organization.

Being consistently caught up preserving your photos starts with organization.  If you have a lot of years’ worth of photos to catch up on, organizing them first is key.  How will you know where to start if you don’t know what you have?

3 Things You Must Do When Organizing Photos

I’ve held on to a great piece of advice I got a few years ago, which was that if any activity takes longer than 15 minutes, it should be on your calendar.  Otherwise, you never “find time” because you’re not making time.  So the first must-do when organizing your photos is to set aside time for it.  Then honor yourself by keeping your appointment with yourself.

Second, you may remember from When Photo Overload Becomes Photo Overwhelm that you really need to SORT your photos.  If you only have 30 photos of your grandfather, just keep them all.  That’s easy.  But if you have pictures of the ground or someone’s finger, if you have 45 pictures of decorating your Christmas tree, just choose your favorites.  You need to choose a manageable amount of photos to preserve.  (For tips on what to do with the extras, or tips on how to know what to keep, click here.)

Third, LABEL!  Everything needs to be labeled as you organize.  Make a note of dates at the very least–when was the picture taken?  Ideally, you should mark who is in the picture as well, but that can be part of actually preserving your pictures, so that’s not critical just yet.  Just keep in mind that a picture isn’t even worth anything if nobody knows who is in the picture.

Organizing Printed Photos

You can go one of two ways with photos that are already printed.  If you are going to preserve them in a scrapbook or album, just organize them in physical folders or envelopes.  Be sure you DATE the folders, though!  I suggest a large folder or envelope with the year, then smaller folders inside with months and years.  For example, label a large envelope “1994,” then label smaller envelopes inside “January 1994,” “February 1994,” and so on.  Put your photos in the smaller month envelopes.  Then you’ll know where to find everything since it’s organized chronologically.

Here’s what I did.  My parents were really good at putting photos in albums and writing a little something next to them.  However, before my mom died, she gave me boxes of mementos that included quite a few photos.  As I prepared to make her life storybook, I found photos I’d never seen before and lots of mementos that needed to be scanned so I could make the digital book.  I sat in the middle of the room and started organizing by decade.  Anything that happened in the 1970s went in one pile, the 60s in another, and the 50s in another, and so on.  After I organized by decade, I got 10 folders for each decade.  I put 1970 in one folder and marked it with a sticky note.  I put 1971 in another folder and did the same.  Pretty soon, I had all my mom’s 72 years’ worth organized!  I could find anything.

Now, you may decide that you don’t want to preserve the hard copy (printed) photos.  You may prefer to digitize them so you can preserve them in a digital book or scrap pages.  If so, you’ll need to first have them scanned.  Digitizing photos is a great way to share them, and digital books or scrap pages are an easy way to get multiple copies without extra work.  Scanning services can be hired out (I recommend West Coast Scanning), or you can do it yourself using several methods mentioned at the end of this post.  Once they’re scanned, you’re ready to organize your digitized photos.

Organizing Digital Photos

First things first.  If you don’t know how to get your photos from your camera or phone to your computer, be sure you read this article for some pointers.  Once you’ve gotten that far, you’re ready for the organizing part.

Digital photos add a little bit of an extra challenge because they’re files.  As such, they have file names, like IMG_0889.  Your computer will automatically alphabetize your files, which puts them in chronological order.  I actually don’t recommend you go in and change the name of your files.  Sure, you could change IMG_0889 to firstdayofcollege.jpg, but the problem with that is that when you go back to find it you may not remember what you called it.  And triptothebeach.jpg might be from 1999 or from 2017.

However, if you get a new camera or have some photos from your phone and some from your camera, your files will not automatically be listed by date since they have different names.

My suggestion is to keep the original name of the file, boring as it is, unless you need to add a little something to keep it in chronological order.  For example, my father-in-law and my sister-in-law and I always share photos after we get together.  My father-in-law’s come to me as DSCN_1234, and my sister-in-law’s come to me as 100_1234.  So in order to use my photos and theirs and keep them all in order, I will rename them all to fall in line, like DSCN_1111, DSCN_1112, etc.  Sometimes I will add a little something on the end if I am running out of numbers, like DSCN_1113a, DSCN1113b, etc.

I created a tutorial video last fall just for Evolve readers about organizing digital photos.  I show you my actual system, which works like a charm.  And the video allows you to see my computer screen and watch me in action so you’ll get what I’m talking about in a snap.  If you missed it, be sure to watch here:

Organizing My Photos (How I Stay Caught Up, part 1)

Once You’re Organized

After you’ve organized your photos, you’re ready to preserve them–you’re ready to save them in a tactile way that people can see, hold, and love.  This allows the photos to be interacted with, and that’s how memories are preserved and connections are made.  This is the only meaningful way to store a photo.

Just don’t forget that after you’re done patting yourself on the back and jumping up and down now that your photos are organized (which you should do!) you need to keep doing it.  Don’t let the photos you take this month and next month stay on your camera until 2027.

There are a lot of options for preserving your photos in print (publishing them).  I’ll be a broken record again and just say that you MUST use a high-quality way to preserve your photos.  You don’t want your book or album falling apart in 5 years.  And you MUST find a memory-keeping method you actually enjoy doing.  It makes preserving photos and memories so much easier!

One of my favorite methods is a digital family yearbook, which you can learn about at this link. Because of the way it’s organized, it just comes together very quickly.  I’ve listed other high-quality methods here, both digital and physical.  Storybooks are another beautiful, high-quality way of preserving photos and memories or stories.

The PLAN For Catching Up

I hope you saw the Two-in-One Plan I posted a couple of weeks ago.  I taught a short online class about how to catch up preserving your photos, and it included a Plan.  If you missed it, you can find the recording plus a printable of tips, tools, and the Plan at this link.  They’ll give you a way to move forward and be the memory-keeper you’ve been wanting to be–once and for all!

Make 2018 your year.  Conquer those photos.  Calendar your plans.  Commit to yourself.  It’s a gift of wellness of heart and soul, both to you and your loved ones. 

All products pictured were created here.



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  2. West Coast Photo Scanning. (2017). Retrieved from
  3. Wise, Jennifer. (2017). Evolve. Retrieved from
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  6. Wise, Jennifer. (2013). Life Tales Books & Personal Publishing. Retrieved from
  7. Wise, Jennifer. (2016). Life Tales Books & Personal Publishing. Retrieved from
  8. Wise, Jennifer. (2017). Life Tales Books & Personal Publishing. Retrieved from
  9. Wise, Jennifer. (2018). Life Tales Books & Personal Publishing. Retrieved from
  10. Wise, Jennifer. (2018). Pinterest. Retrieved from

Jennifer Wise

consultant at Heritage Makers
I'm Jennifer, and I'm passionate about connections.I enjoy helping people discover the very real benefits of preserving stories, photos, and memories because of the impact they have on children, families, and individuals. I blog weekly at sharing tips, ideas, solutions, and inspiration, and I'm over at, too. Learn more about me at the "About" tab.

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8 thoughts on “Photos to Conquer? Start with Organization.

  1. I absolutely love that you said to label the photos with names. My 4 sons all have light blond hair, blue eyes and were about the same build and wore the same clothes and looked alike until age 2 1/2! I may remember who is who now, but will I when I am 75?

    • Exactly! Who knows what we’ll remember 20 or 50 years from now? And those who don’t have the benefit of remembering the photo in the first place (like the babies in the photos) need the information written. Glad that was so helpful. 🙂

  2. Oh my goodness, thank you for the great tips on organizing digital photos!! Pure gold. It’s so relieving to know that you don’t recommend changing the file names (that has always seemed so overwhelming to me). I take so many photos for my business, and they’re all so disorganized at the moment….now I’m more motivated to start tackling that org project haha! 🙂 #heartandsoullinkup

    • I’m so glad to have been of help, Shannon! Yes, some people do recommend changing the file names but I feel like unless you have a wicked amazing system, it can be easy to get too many “Ben’s birthday” labels and just make things harder on yourself than they have to be. “Pure gold” couldn’t be a better review of this post–you’ve made my day. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by. Miss you!

  3. Great tips! I am great about labeling the photos and putting them in albums but I really need to start labelling the albums. When I want to find a certain photo I often find myself going through ALL the albums.

    • Yes, definitely–labeling the albums really helps. If you have a system that works, go for it. I personally like the year-by-year system. It’s often easier for me to narrow down where to look that way. Glad you enjoyed the tips here. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

  4. I really do need to put this job in my calendar. I’ll admit that I’m years and years behind with digital photos. I’d like to get them in an album so we can enjoy them!

    • You are not alone! A lot of people are years behind–I would say MOST. Putting it on your calendar is the biggest thing. Yes, getting them in an album is how they’ll actually get seen and loved–which is the whole point of photos, I think! 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by and for the comment.