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Ask the Organizer: How do I organize boxes and boxes of photos? Without dying from boredom?

by respaced on November 6, 2011


The Legacy Print Box from

Question: I have become an organized person. However, years ago that was less true of me. My biggest organizing failure has been with our family pictures. We have boxes of pictures that are all mixed up and most are not labeled. I know that a certain picture was taken on the first day of school, but have no idea which year or how old the kids are. Very frustrating!

This is an overwhelming job that I have been unable or unwilling to tackle. Where to start? How to sort? What to cull? How to store the keepers? Any suggestions that you could offer would be greatly appreciated!

Answer: Ooh, I feel your pain! Sorting through years and years of photos can feel so overwhelming and tedious! Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy way to organize boxes of photos, but there are some techniques I can share with you that will make it go more smoothly for you.

1. First of all, I’m assuming you are talking about printed photos in boxes, not digital photos on your computer that you need to organize. Please correct me if I am mistaken.

2. Next, recognize that you are embarking on a project, which means you need to work on it in chunks at a time. If you tell yourself that you aren’t going to leave your table until every photo has been gone through, you are setting yourself up for burn-out and failure. Instead, set aside an hour every few days to go through your photos. See if you have a family member who is willing to help you, as that will make the sorting go faster and be more fun.

3. Get yourself some archival-quality photo boxes along with some dividers for the insides and labels for the outside. (Organizing pictures into photo albums is nice, but unrealistic for 99 percent of people.)

4. Set up your criteria for which photos you keep and which photos you toss (sorry, you can’t recycle photos). I would recommend tossing any photos that are damaged beyond repair, blurry or feature people/subjects with their eyes shut, with red eyes or not centrally featured (you know, pictures where the person’s head is turned and/or almost out of the frame.) I would also consider tossing duplicates or giving them to other family members. Finally, I would toss photos of people whom you don’t remember.

5. Decide how the photo boxes will be organized. You could try to allocate one box per year, which works well if the photos are fairly recent and you can figure out what year they were taken. Or you could organize boxes by event such as Christmases, birthday parties, summer vacations, new house, etc. I don’t recommend organizing photo boxes by person, because often you will find more than one person or family in a photo.

That picture of the first day of school featuring your kids at an indeterminate age? Don’t sweat it. Just set up a box for grade school years (or middle school years, high school years, etc). If you don’t have that many photos of that time period, you could set up a box called School Years and have dividers labeled “Elementary School,” “Middle School,” etc.

6. Once you have your keep/toss criteria and photo box categories set up, put on some good music, pour yourself a cup of tea, and start sorting photos into the proper boxes. If you find yourself getting distracted, try setting a timer for 15 minutes. Give yourself permission to take a break every 15 minutes. Try to focus on what you have accomplished, not on how much you have left to do. Have faith that if you keep chipping away at it a few times a week, you WILL finish getting every photo sorted!

Thanks for the question!

Have a question about organizing or time management? Email it to or leave your question in the comments. I will answer it in a blog post just as soon as I can!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen November 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Thank you MaryJo for your very rapid response to my question!
After reading your suggestions I was gratified to see that I was doing some things right; photo boxes and choosing my criteria, but I got stalled by trying to sort by person. I am encouraged to try and sort by some of the categories that you suggested and hope that I will soon be able to make some serious progress!
Thanks again,
Karen : )


respaced November 22, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Karen, let me know how it goes. I’m really glad that you found it useful. And did I mention that photo-sorting is best done with a glass of wine (or maybe the whole bottle) nearby? 🙂


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