How to Declutter your Photos in 4 Simple Steps

So….you’ve got a pile of photo albums, loose photos, photos behind frames and maybe boxes of slides?? And you’ve decided you want to get organised and free of clutter? 

Well, it’s as easy as “cull-scan-keep-chuck”.

But I lie.

It’s actually not easy. If it was, we would have got it sorted a long ago, right? 

So let me break it down for you into four “simple” steps.

STEP 1

First you are going to cull. If you are like most people you have just way too many photos to be able to do any meaningful organization. So, you are going to have to start by culling. And yes, it might take you a while, and yes it might be emotional, and yes it might sound just too overwhelming to even attempt, but I want to tell you – if I can do it, you can do it!

My wife and I had – no joke – around 25-30 photo albums between us. Now we have about 4. We had around 5000 slides. We had over 100 mini DV video tapes and every other possible type of media you could imagine, both physical and digital – and that was just our OWN stuff. Then we had stuff that had passed on from our parents. 

The problem with all this stuff was three-fold: it was taking up valuable storage space in our house, it was susceptible to damage, and we never really got to enjoy it because it was like finding a needle in a haystack. We had to start with culling. 

I want to tell you a few revelations about culling. Are you ready for it?! Windsor castle in 1995 looks very much like it did in 1955 and very much like it looks right now! I’m not talking about getting rid of all your pictures. I’m talking about trimming your photos down from tens of thousands to a couple of thousand. If you are anything like me, 3/4 of your photos can just be thrown out and you wouldn’t miss them (and no one else would either!). I’m serious – out they go! All those multiples, very average looking scenery shots and a whole bunch more. You have to be the one to decide, but if you are ever going to win in the art of photo management you have to start with culling. In fact, sometimes its easier not to think, “what am I going to throw out?” Instead, think….”what’s worth keeping?” And then just pull out the good stuff and put it to the side and throw out the whole album.

Now, one thing. You might need to talk to your significant others about this. How would they react if they saw you getting brutal with that out of focus photo from university days? Oh, they wouldn’t care? Then throw it out! If in doubt, speak to your kids, or your partner.

A quick note here on slides and negatives. It is very difficult to tell the value of a slide or negative unless you can scan it or project it. Looking through each one is very time consuming. So you might want to skip the culling step for these and go straight to the next step.

STEP 2

So NOW, you’ve got your photo collection down. You now have the memories that you want to preserve. So you are going to create digital files of all these photos. If you’ve got the time and the expertise and you want to scan them all yourself, go right ahead. That’s what I did, and that’s what many people do….but do yourself a favour…and do 3 things:

  1. Buy a decent scanner, expect to pay $500 or more for a mid range scanner (Epson V550 or V600), and $1000 or more for a higher end model, such as an Epson V800 or V850 Pro. 
  2. Learn the software – there are lots of tips and tricks to get as close to the original colours in the scan. This is particularly true of slides. So spend the time learning, reading forums and trial and error. It’s worth it.
  3. Use a high resolution. On photos I suggest 600ppi, either in jpeg or tiff. For negatives or slides I suggest at least 2400ppi, and 4000ppi is even better. Less than those numbers is compromising on quality, and higher than those numbers is a waste of time, because there is simply not enough data on the image to extract any more pixels than that. A scanned picture will normally be around 5 or 10 megabytes. If it says 192kb or something, you are doing something wrong.

After scanning you are going to create a complete backup of all these files. And maybe even a back up of the back up. I’ve done articles about this you can read.

You can even take the “best of” and create photo books. More info on that can be found HERE

STEP 3 – KEEP! Yes, KEEP! Keep what? Well, that’s up to you. But here is what I have kept:

  1. Photo albums that are themed photo albums: a wonderful holiday we had on Lord Howe Island, my daughters first year, my sons first year, and our wedding album. You get the idea. 
  2. Antique or heritage photos. Maybe not all of them, but some of them are iconic in the way they were printed at the time and the 3rd and final instance where you would keep is where

If you are not confident that your scans (in Step 2) are of a suitable quality, then you should keep your photos until the quality of the scan can be verified. Too often I’ve seen people get all enthusiastic to scan their photos. They scan them, chuck out the originals and later discover that their scanning job was below par 🤬 

STEP 4 is CHUCK. Let’s say you started with 10,000 physical images. After “step 1” (culling) you got it down to 2,500 physical images. So in “step 2” you are scanning 2500 physical images and you now have 2,500 digitized photo files. In “step 3” you are going to keep to one side that small pile of  physical photos you feel you need to keep. NOW, in STEP 4, you are going to chuck the majority of these 2,500 physical photos. This assumes you did a back up of all the digital pics! Those beautiful photos have been scanned and secured. So, why keep them? It’s ok, go ahead and chuck!

So that’s it. Your 4 step process to photo sanity. You can do it, and you should do it. The next generation will thank you, because I guarantee when you’re gone one of two things will happen. EITHER, all the photos in your home will just be gathered up and all thrown out, or some poor child or grandchild will feel indebted to keep it all and not know where to start. As I like to say, ‘leave a legacy, not a mess’. 

Would you like to see a 5 minute video on this topic? Go here for a look.  

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