Getting your house organized: Family photographs

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Problem: Photographs may be one of your family's most prized possessions, but their preservation, organization and presentation is often in chaos. Crumbling photo albums and drugstore film processing envelopes full of unsorted memories are scattered throughout many homes.

Today's photography, almost exclusively digital, is often accessed only in multiple computer folders. Many households have not merged shoeboxes of photos with their online photo libraries because it's a complicated, time-consuming chore.

Expert: Judy Parkins has had her own Alexandria business, Gently Organized, for seven years. Her specialty is home filing systems. Recently, Parkins decided to round up all her family photos and make order out of them.

The fix: Parkins began by researching the best way to create a digital archive so all photographs would be accessible to her four grown children and other family members. Even though she owns a scanner, she thought it would take too much time to do it herself. She looked into photo-scanning services that would convert hers into digital files.

"I found that these are fast and affordable and ideal for uncluttering and organizing generations of photo memories," she said. She chose

Each scanning service gives you instructions for how to send your photos to them. Parkins unearthed her photos from bookshelves, closets and the attic. She emptied photo albums and placed loose photos together in stacks in a mailing box, as instructed. She threw out her old-fashioned magnetic albums; any albums that were reusable, she posted on

Parkins set up a workstation on a folding table in her office to allow her to do a little bit each day. Her 4,300 photos eventually were sent back on two DVDs. (You can also order books of all your photos printed out.) Parkins's original photos were returned, and they are sitting in two boxes on her office shelf.

"I'm so happy to have this done," says Parkins. "My children now have access to them 24-7."


1 Be ruthless when editing. Do not keep blurry photos. Do not keep photos of someone you don't recognize, or a vacation you don't remember.

2 Save photos by having three backup files at all times: One on DVD or an external hard drive; one on your computer hard drive and one with an online digital sharing service such as Flickr, iPhoto, Picasa or Snapfish.

3 Keep photo organizing up to date. At least once a year, go through your latest digital photos and delete anything out of focus or duplicates. Add the rest to your online digital sharing service. Parkins uses Flickr Pro. This job never really ends as kids and grandchildren can continually add their newest photos to your family's online archive.

Read on for more organizing tips: Junk drawer, Hall closet, Kids & paper.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company