A declutterer’s guide to storing photos

girl photographers
Photo by Jeremy Hall

Reader Vicki asks:

“I am truly flabergasted at what to do with ALL the photos and videos of our little guy, especially since we are hoping to have more children in the future. I love to scrapbook, but now have very little room or time for it. How do you organize your photos, what do you do with them all?”

A good question, Vicki, because even though the digital world makes photo storage so much easier, it can still cause clutter build-up.  In fact, digital photography can cause both physical clutter and mental clutter – it’s so easy to take hundreds of photos in one sitting, but then you have to decide among them all which are the best for printing.

I tried to scrapbook because I love so many of the supplies, and it quenched some of my creative thirst.  But I discovered two problems for me – one, the cost of supplies really added up; and two, I just didn’t have the time to do it well. Being a recovering perfectionist, if I can’t do something well, I’d rather not do it at all.

We, too, have tons of photos of our kids – I suppose that’s a universal issue for modern-day parents.  And it’s challenging to whittle down to the absolute best ones (who wants to delete their kids?).  But like home decluttering, it’s cathartic to delete all but the best – I promise, you won’t miss the blurry ones, and you’ll better appreciate the ones you do keep.

Here’s our family’s basic system:

• As we download photos from our camera to the computer, we store them in files labeled by the month and year.

• I sort through them and delete the unusable ones.  This is often where my husband and I part ways – he’s more inclined to keep more than I’d like.  But since it’s not a major issue for me, I default to him, and leave a photo if in doubt.

• I upload a sampling of the best photos to our family’s Flickr account.  When I have time, I edit them in Photoshop first.

• At the end of the month, we burn the month’s photos from the computer’s file on a CD, label it by the month and year, and store it in an ongoing CD book.  If the entire month’s worth of photos won’t fit on one CD, we use a DVD.

• From time to time I print a photo for framing.  We now have a good printer  at home, but when we lived in the States, we sent the files to Costco or CVS via the internet.  If I found a “free shipping” coupon online, I’d have them sent to us.  (Another benefit to that is that you can send additional copies to other addresses, always a crowd pleaser with the grandparents.)

Photo Books

We didn’t want to take any original photos overseas with us, so before we moved, we made a few photo books.  These are bound books made by services that publish your photos in a high-quality, coffee table book-like format.

You could easily make these chronologically by date, but we had four made by themes – our wedding photos and our daughter’s first year were two of them.  We’ll make another one for our son’s first year, and then after that, we’ll most likely make annual family photo books.

I used PhotoWorks, which allows you to easily design your books online.  Plus, it’s easy to find coupon codes from them around the internet (head here for free shipping, in fact).  I’m happy with the way our books printed, but there are plenty of photo book services online.

So, Vicki, that’s what I do – nothing revolutionary.  A basic five-step process:

  1. download photos from the camera to the computer
  2. upload some of the good ones to Flickr
  3. burn all the photos each month to a CD or DVD
  4. occasionally print one for framing
  5. make a photo book annually

There are other options as well – digital scrapbooking has really taken off, and it can really fuel your creative juices without taking up as much room for supplies as the traditional method.  But while it’s easy to find free supplies online, the cost can add up.

For more photo inspiration, Rachel at Small Notebook wrote about her organizing system awhile back, and Heidi from Mt. Hope Chronicles also wrote a good 101 article for novice photographersDigital Photography School is also an excellent blog with more photography tips than you possibly have time for.

Please chime in, readers – how do you organize and store your photos?  Know of a great resource we should all know about? I’m looking forward to learning more good ideas.

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. Funny you should mention printing photographs today, I actually printed my first set of photographs in almost eight years today. It actually felt funny holding the prints. I usually relegate my beautiful photographs to a life stored on my computer, the camera or a disc when I get around to cleaning out my computer. Printing was fast and cheap and I am already the proud owner of a box of unused albums. I just have to keep that whole clutter thing in mind and print responsibly.


    Tabs at Levnow’s last blog post…Is Opportunity Monopolized? – Science of Getting Rich Levnow Series

  2. We seem to have a similar filing system. Except I haven’t been able to rid myself of the blurry pictures! It makes me feel guilty that I’m deleting a photo of my child haha. Eventually I will start.

    I use to print pictures out until our printer started to lose quality. I waited so long to get any of our pictures on print that in June, I chose over 300 photos to be printed. I went through Kodak, had a coupon code for free shipping, and also was able to get my first 50 prints free of charge. We only paid $50.00 for all of those photos to be printed.

    I started a photo album for both of my daughters of their 1st year. My youngest is still being worked on as she is only 7 months. I did complete their baby books with those photos as well. It was nice to finally add in pictures other than the ultrasounds. I also purchased a large frame that would hold multiple different photos and used that to display some of our favorites. The others are still in their envelope waiting for use.

    And since I also keep copies of all of the photos on my hard-drive. I have them all listed by month and year. I have not burned them on to CD’s or DVD’s but my Father does that. I did not start organizing photos until the beginning of this year. I had quite a bit to organize, my oldest’s entire first year and my youngest 1st month. There always seems to be more photos of your childs first month than any other month. I would suggest to any one, to start organizing now. It took me days to organize all of our photographs.

  3. Thanks for sharing!

    One thought I failed to mention was simply having a blog for your baby book. You can upload photos and jot down thoughts, and family and friends can follow along. And if you want a bound book, Blurb.com will publish a blog:


    Simple Mom’s last blog post…A Declutterer’s Guide to Storing Photos

  4. I upload the photos from my camera/handphone on a bi-weekly basis. The photos are stored using Google Picasa and uploaded to the boy’s blog for family and friends to view. Normally I will put the pictures into meaningful collages before they go up in the blog. A copy of the photos /collages will be stored online in my Picasa Online Album. Twice a year we will burn all the Photos/Vids into a DVD and store it online.( I also have a 100mb external harddisk for backup) For older/ non-internet savy relatives we will print out A4 size collages and store them in a view folder which will be given to the Grannies as part of their annual Xmas present. Last year we compiled the top 100 photos into photo books for the extended family

  5. Hahaha I suppose it is because this is my first baby but I have had trouble deleting any pictures, even the blurry ones. We upload our about once every week or two on our Mac, upload them to an online album site, and email the albums out to our friends and family (especially great for those who do not live in the same state or even country).

    The first few months I would then order the best pics and have them sent to the house (I usually waited until they had a special sale or promotion to keep the cost reasonable) and put the pictures in a set of photoalbums I bought from target (same album in different colors). Needless to say, looking at the album I have a 3 month old son. I haven’t bought any in forever because there are so many to choose from! You gave some great tips that I will try to incorporate so I can enjoy my photos more.

    I think my problem is the problem of most mothers – my son is So cute and SO photogenic that I just can’t decide between all the pics 😉

    Lucie’s last blog post…Weekend Reflection: Mother and Friend – When Worlds Collide, Who Takes the Hit?

  6. The blog book is a great idea! I just never connected it with pictures of my kids. (I keep my kids off my blog for safety reasons.) But a person could always start a private blog. hmmmm….

    Avlor’s last blog post…Tuna is on the mend and in the clear

  7. THANK YOU!! Now I am finally motivated to tackle the task of getting years worth of photos in order. Fortunately I do not hesitate when it comes to deleting. Yesterday we bought an external hard drive becase it is not a matter of “if” our sytem crashes but “when”. After having read Small Notebook’s post I was contemplating online storage in addition to external backup. Dominique mentioned it as well in her comments. (Definately something I am interested in.) I also LOVE Dominque’s ideas on sharing disks & photos books with relatives at the holidays. I too am a BIG fan of Blurb for photos books. Thanksgiving is a very special holiday for our family. This spring we lost the “head” of our family (my children’s great grandfather). I have a book in the works of our last Thanksgiving with him and will have a copy made for each family to keep.
    As always….your posts inspire!! Thank you!!

  8. Great tips! I do the same thing as far as storing pictures on the computer, I have a folder for the year, then sub-folders for each month. I have not saved each month to a CD however, I may have to do this!
    Each year I also make a book for each of my kids for that year, I’ve used several different programs.
    I also make a calendar for the grandparents for Christmas each year using pictures from the past year.

    Anna’s last blog post…CVS Scenarios 8/31 to 9/6

  9. Great post! Funny thing is that last week I wa JUST going through my file cabinet and located the many photo envelopes filled with developed pics as well as CDs and even discs of the kids over the past SEVEN years! Apparently I got too lazy between years 3-6 of their lives and haven’t either scrapbooked, checked out disc/CD contents or even printed the digital pics out! LOL Over the past year i’ve just been posting online or e-mailing pictures out and on a rare occasion do I actually print them out! I’ve been thinking about using a company like Photo Works since I appear to enjoy online layout decisions, why not do it with pics and then have a more professional look than if I did it?! Who knows…You’ve INSPIRED me! LOL I’ll probably do an excerpt of your blog post in my mom blog…so thanks!

    Farrah from…

  10. Great ideas, but can I make one suggestion? Don’t wait until the end of the month to put the pictures on a CD/DVD. Do it immediately. I lost 4 months of pictures, including all the last days of school because my hard drive went out before I had made a backup. I was so sad. I cried for weeks. Just trust me. All it takes is once loosing pictures to learn your lesson. Learn it from me!

    Camille’s last blog post…Lightbulb update

  11. @Camille – Yikes! I’d cry, too.

    Simple Mom’s last blog post…Link Love :: the FINALLY Time To Relax edition

  12. This came at the perfect time for me!! I’ve been trying to figure out a way to store my photos. Thanks for the ideas and links to other ideas. Perfect timing!

  13. Good suggestions! And for those less inclined to be creative with their photos, the traditional photo album is still a good option.

    Many photo albums now come with a space in back for a CD so you can keep a copy of everything on the CD and only print out your best pics to put in the album. You can buy and fill a photo album for about $35 including tax. Our goal is to fill one album a year. (I wrote more about this here for anyone who’s interested.)

    Great post!

    LivSimpl.com’s last blog post…Write in my journal

  14. Just like your monthly CD, I upload my pictures to an online picture site- Shutterfly- it is the only one I’ve found that has UNLIMITED space and never charges a fee. Snapfish requires one purchase per year, but that is usually just a hassle so I stopped using them. I try not to let my computer’s space get full with pictures- so I don’t even download them.

    Lindsey Pierce’s last blog post…My POV- Sarah Barracuda or Bare-minimum Barack

  15. @Lindsey – Thanks for the Shutterfly tip, Lindsey!

  16. Great tips on keeping photos organized. I too love to scrap, but have only one up to month 3 of my son’s baby book (he is 16 months old).

    I know they are pricey, but if you are tinkering on the fence of buying a mac, iPhoto make managing your photos such a snap.

    You can publish to a personal Web site/blog with iWeb without any HTML knowledge at all, and I love how easy it is to make calendars, albums, and cards etc.

    So, if your on the fence, come on over. The grass really is greener on the Mac side.


    Martha @ Better with Less’s last blog post…Tough TV love and $500 in my pocket

  17. Great article! I haven’t done as much scrapbooking in the last year due to moving and storage/time/energy/money issues, and although I am good about saving and backing up the digital photos, I do save too many questionable ones.

    @ Camille — I know how you feel, while in the hospital giving birth to my 3rd and final child…hubby mistakenly reformatted the SD card. Goodbye photos in the OR, first pics with siblings & grandparents, kindergarten graduation from earlier in the month, etc. I was crushed. Hubby was crying when he told me. From my hospital bed, I called a local camera shop who told us to bring it in for recovery…and they did it! Truly a miracle. No more crying. But lesson learned. It’s likely too late for you, but if you haven’t overwritten the prior photos you may still be able to recover as well. It was a minimal cost, maybe $15-20, including saving the recovered 300+ photos to CD.

  18. Here I was so hoping for a new idea, and ironically, you described the exact process I’ve pretty much fallen into myself. There are always more that can be deleted, I swear, but I do my best. I do upload the best to Flickr, and I recently decided that our Christmas gifts for family, in addition to the annual calendar, will be a photo book they can enjoy. That’s something that fits our budget that also shows off all the time and effort I put into taking those photos. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Tana’s last blog post…Grow Where You’re Planted

  19. I don’t know if any one else has mention this or not….but Stacy Julian (founding editor of Simple Scrapbook magazine) has a book called Photo Freedom. It’s geared towards the scrapbooker but I think it still would have some great tips for others as well.
    Also, I agree keep only the best shots.
    Thanks for sharing another great post!

    Jen A’s last blog post…Summer Feet?

  20. I just wanted to say that scrapbooking doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. There is an awesome book called Photo Freedom by Stacy Julian that gives a breakdown of an easy to maintain system both of organizing your photos and sharing your memories (not necessarily the same thing). She has another book I love called Big Picture Scrapbooking, and a website where she teaches online classes (www.bigpicturescrapbooking.com). Her philosophy has changed the way I scrapbook and the way I view a lot of other things too. I hope this helps someone!

    Deanna’s last blog post…Jack Johnson

  21. So what happens if your house burns down? I’ve been debating what to do…we have a firesafe box I could put backup cd’s in for storage but I’m afraid they still might melt from the heat. So then I was thinking of a safety deposit box (what a hassle! but inexpensive) or sending copies to a relative to store at their house. Or buying an external hard drive and keeping it at a nearby relative’s and just uploading pics to it every so often when I’m over for a visit, or connecting to it online and copying photos over. And what about the quality of cd’s? I recently read that the lower quality cd’s can start to degrade in just a couple of years. I’ve looked at various online storage options, I need to be able to restore my picture files if I lose them, not just print them (like on a photo storage site). Backup type online storage costs $$. Any ideas? I’m paranoid I will lose all my pics!

  22. Thrilled to see this post!! I really struggle with keeping up with all of the digital pictures we snap. It has gotten much worse since we now have a little one. I’m lovin’ all of your posts, but this has by far been the best for me!! Thank you!

  23. This post is a keeper.

    We are thinking about downsizing to an 800 sq. ft. condo and the photos are one thing I can’t figure out how to manage. Any tips on what to do with the dozen or so large scrapbooks I’ve completed?

    I think going forward, I’m going to need to go digital. But I hold those books and watch my kids drag them out every time a new friend comes over and I hesitate…

  24. A great website for those wanting to get into digital scrapbooking is
    It offers FREE scrapbooking kits and tutorials as well as an online gallery to help fuel your creativity.

  25. Thanks for the inspiration. When I was downloading and doing some quick edits on photos this morning, I deleted the blurry or otherwise unusable pictures as I went. Seems like a no-brainer now, but I’m never quick to delete any photos…

    Barbara’s last blog post…Wow, wow, watermelons!

  26. I enjoyed this article. I have largely the same process you do (download, dump crummy ones, upload to flickr, print selectively), but we also have a file server that houses all of our photos rather than doing DVDs (it has disks in a RAID configuration so they get backed up automatically). I also enjoy using the new software that came with Vista to make photo montage DVDs to play in a DVD player. They’re very inexpensive to make and a huge hit with the grandparents as well.

  27. Photobooks have replaced scrapbooking for me. It’s much faster and incredibly cost effective! I do a 24 page book every 6 months. I’d say they almost replace albums for us too. I like shutterfly and Albelli’s quality.

    Julie’s last blog post…Time for a pet?

  28. personally, I love Snapfish. I order at least once a year so I have no worries about them canceling on me. As soon as I upload the pics, I “share” the album online with friends and family and they can print what they want. I’ve also had great success with enlarging my digitals with Snapfish. I’m not naturally organized, so as long as I label my album, I can always find the pics I need 🙂

    Beth Young’s last blog post…You know, a tag.

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