As our hearts are filled with old memories, many of our houses are filled with old photographs. And while you can never have too many memories, you can definitely have too many photos. Sure, they’re a great way to commemorate the past, but if you can’t keep track of your favorites among all the clutter, what’s the use? Even worse is when photos start to decay due to old age. Keep your eyes on the big picture with these five steps:
First, get all your pictures together. That means digging through those dusty boxes in the attic and pulling out those overstuffed albums in the closet. While it can be a pain remembering where you shoved everything, the more thorough you are now the easier it’ll be to keep things organized later. Consider making a list of major life events that you might have photos from, such as birthdays, weddings, graduations, holidays, family vacations, and friendly get-togethers. That way you can quickly see what you have and what you’re missing.
Next, start categorizing them in whatever way makes the most sense to you. For example, you might organize them as a timeline, with the oldest pictures at one end and the most recent ones at the other. Or you could separate them based on who is in them or where they were taken. Maybe you want to keep all the pictures of your children in one pile, or all the pictures from a previous house you lived at in another. It might also be a good idea to label your photos as you go. That way if anything gets mixed up it’s an easy fix.
This is the hardest step but also the most crucial. Sometimes you find a photograph and wonder “Why did I ever snap this?” You might keep it around thinking there must have been a good reason, only to take that same photo out years later and do the exact same thing. The truth is, if a photo doesn’t jog your memory then it’s probably not that important. Conversely, for moments that mattered a lot to you, it’s not uncommon to find several pictures of the exact same thing. It’s important to honor your past, but not to cling to it. Figure out which images capture the memory best and get rid of some of those doubles, triples, and quadruples.
Whether they came from a vintage Polaroid camera or the best photo booth money can buy, all photographs deteriorate. A good way to make sure your cherished memories aren’t lost is to digitize them. Scan them into your computer or take pictures of your pictures (you read that right) with a digital camera. As long as you have a backup you can always reprint aged or damaged photos, and keeping copies online is a lot easier than storing old negatives. For photographs or negatives worth that extra effort, keep them in acid-free archival sleeves and store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
You’ve organized all your pictures, whittled them down to a manageable number, and preserved the most important ones. Now comes the fun part: showing off. Take time to pick out your favorite images and hang them on your walls in snazzy frames. Or make a series of themed photo albums and assemble the pictures so that they tell a story. In the end, photos are made for looking at, so display them proudly and don’t hesitate to indulge nostalgia for a life well-lived.