Confessions of a photo organizer

“The cobbler’s children have no shoes.”

Since I am a photo organizer, you’d expect I’d have my photos perfectly organized.

But you’d be wrong.

What I discovered about a photo organizer’s collection is this: It’s not the photos but the accrutrements to organize the photos that is the problem.

As part of a home office redecorating project recently, I undertook the onerous task of organizing my scrapbooking supplies.

For years, scrapbooks were my primary method for organizing my photos, and I have 28 finished scrapbooks in my collection. Part of my obsession stemmed from my corporate stint with Creative Memories, widely known as the world’s biggest scrapbook manufacturer.

Well, it was when I was working there. Creative Memories fell on tough times after my departure (though I’m sure I wasn’t the only one keeping the plates spinning), and it declared bankruptcy twice since 2008. The company is attempting to re-emerge as Ahni & Zoe by Creative Memories with a line of memory preservation books, but they aren’t the traditional scrapbooks for which they were known in the ’90s and ’00s.

In any case but especially in light of changes at Creative Memories (which I have long believed manufactured the best quality stuff in the marketplace), I needed to inventory what I had accumulated over the years.

I like to scrapbook and the hobby requires, ahem, a lot of stuff: Paper, adhesives, scissors, paper cutters, decorative stickers, ABC/123 stickers, die-cut shapes, templates, punches, pens, refill pages, page protectors and oodles of bags, boxes, files and organizers to store everything. In recent years, I took up stamping, too, so I have stamps, stamp pads, card stock, envelopes, ribbons, lace, glitter, daubers, brads and buttons.

What a mess.

What a mess.

I rooted around in my home office, my closets, the basement, and put all the boxes, bags, files and containers in one place: The dining room table. For those of you with more photos than photo organizing supplies, I recommend this first step for a big collection of printed photos, too: Get it all in one place so you can see the volume you have.

In the process of collecting scrapbook supplies, I gathered up all my photos, negatives and memorabilia. With 32 albums (including four printed albums of digital images), fully 80% of my photo collection is safely organized in books. Even my loose photos from 2003-2007ish were mostly organized in rough chronological order in a photo box, but I found a lot loose negatives and stacks of greeting cards in all kinds of files and cubby holes in my office, the closet and the basement.

I started there: With the photos and negatives. After less than an hour of sorting, I now have one large box of printed photos, one file of memorabilia, two boxes of negatives (stored separate from the albums and photos) and a box full of pretty greeting cards and warm greetings with which I couldn’t bear to part — and I don’t have to because I’m using a cute linen box decorated with my own photos to store them. However, I threw away a large paper bag of Christmas cards and photos from the past five years. I used to scrapbook Christmas photos from friends and family, but I’ve decided the meaning of those greetings ends when the season does.

Step 2: Sort by item. I made piles on the dining room table of adhesives, cutting tools, paper, stickers, albums, pages, page protectors, etc. (If you’re organizing a bunch of photos, now’s the time to sort into themes.)

I learned three things:

unfinished albums

One, I have nearly a dozen unfinished 12×12 albums (which is plenty of potential for the photos I intend to scrapbook) and enough refill pages and page protectors to complete them.

organizers on table

Two, organized people hoard organizer products. I found several unused organizing containers, which I promptly filled with my piles of stuff. In fact, I didn’t invest in any new boxes or bags.

A whole document box fulls of pens.

A whole document box full of pens.

I must have a fetish for pens. I am a writer after all. I have entirely too many photo-safe writing utensils in every color of the rainbow. And I couldn’t bear to throw away any of them (what if I need them?!).

As with my decorative supplies, once you have your photos sorted into themes (including one “theme” for “trash can,”), now you stack them up and place into suitable organization devices.

Just like properly organizing one’s closet which requires three destination piles, I kept the best stuff, donated the things I won’t use (my mother and the local scouting organizations benefited) and I threw out a lot of useless junk. Whew! I felt so much lighter.

finished organization

In the end, the mess of boxes, bags and loose tchotchkes consolidated into a dining room table’s worth of stuff. It’s still a lot of materials with which to organize one’s memories, but it’s half what it was and now I can actually find and use all the fun supplies I’ve accumulated over the years. That’s empowerment. And I prescribe it for anyone in need of absolution.


4 comments on “Confessions of a photo organizer

  1. Nicole says:

    Looks like a great thing to do! I am not sure all my stuff would fit on my dining room table though. 🙂

  2. sagescenery says:

    I make cards with my photos, and that drawer of stuff is pretty organized…next I need to gather the photos from my computer to order more…Ahhh..there’s the rub!! I’ll be off from work Thanksgiving week..I’ll tackle it then!! Thanks…you’ve given me inspiration!!

  3. Laurie Neumann says:

    Love this post, Monica! I’m relieved to know I’m not the only photo organizer whose own photos are not perfectly organized! Just like any other organizing project, it needs to make it to the top of the priority list to make it happen.

  4. Suzanne Harris says:

    Great post, Monica! At least I now know I am in excellent company! Hope Ahni & Zoe makes it…..

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