Monday, October 02, 2006

Tackling the Organization of Old Boxes of Photographs

By Christina VanGinkel

With digital photography all the rage these days, the issue of dealing with the storage of photos often turns to software programs. The thing is, we all have old photographs, the non-digital sort, some stored neatly in photo albums, but many likely jammed in a box somewhere.

I am not naïve, I knew I had some of the latter in a box that I had accumulated through the years, and both of my own taking and a few that my mother had given to me years before. Some of these photographs were in small photo albums that I actually received from the stores where I had the film originally developed. The albums were no bigger than the 4 x 6 photos they held, but the majority of them were in envelopes or worse yet, lying loose in the box.

The box in question has sat on the shelf of my closet for years. Every time I would develop a roll of film, I would place those that I did not use into the box. This might mean a partial envelope as some landed in an album or two, maybe a few strays found themselves inserted into birthday and Christmas cards to relatives. A couple was even used in the odd scrapbook layout here and there, this being long before I started to take my scrapbooking seriously. Often though, the whole envelope of pictures would be stuffed into the box after looking through the picked up roll of film to see what had developed.

To paint you a better picture, the box in question is the sort that paper is delivered to an office in. The lid lifts off for easy access, without having to rip the box open. Much like an oversized shoebox for those unfamiliar with this sort of paper packaging, oversized as in it would fit about six shoeboxes inside. In addition, every square inch of the interior of this box is filled with photographs!

Not too long ago, I had moved this box from where it had sat in my closet for years to the underside of the big table ion my scrapbook room. I reasoned that if I sorted through a few pictures at a time, I would eventually be able to sort and organize the box without too much work. The first time I popped the lid in this space I became so overwhelmed I did not even bother scrapping that day, I ended up sorting and looking through photos for hours, but not accomplishing much in the way of organization.

This week, my youngest son had to make a timeline for school. The timeline would be about him, from birth to now. I immediately thought of the box.

We sat down on the floor, no table in our house large enough to tackle the entire contents at once, and started going through envelope after envelope, stack after stack. Surprisingly, in no time at all, he had found more than enough photos to complete his project, coupled with a few new ones for his current timeframe that we printed from our folders on the computer.

I also learned something very valuable. The contents of the box were not as intimidating as I thought they would be. No, we did not organize the box completely, but it was possible to see the various categories that the photos could be easily separated into. As I had and still have a habit of taking photos of everything and everyone, often in group shots with only the occasional single person shot, categorizing my family photos by year will be the most efficient way to separate them and make them easy to find whatever I happen to be looking for. A photo safe box for each two to three year period of our family's timeframe should work well, with an additional box for the few older pictures that I have become owner of, passed to me from my mother. Another box for similar photos that are my husband's will help us sort the whole box in no time at all.

If you have a box or drawer full of pictures that seem overwhelming, the first step in organizing them should be deciding on how you plan to maker order. Before I realized that the box could quickly be sorted by simple timeframes themselves, I was greatly overwhelmed just looking at the outside of the box. Once I had a plan of action in mind, I could hardly wait to begin.

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