New Year’s resolution: How to sort through digital images on your computer

It’s that time of year again when people vow to exercise more, spend less and do something about their photos.

I’ve heard and seen a number of different photo-related resolutions this year. Scrapbookers are committing to using up the supplies they’ve already invested in before buying more. Cell phone users are promising to streamline all the images on their camera roll. Digital image fans are thinking about making some physical prints.

Yup, me too. I’m a photo organizer, and even photo organizers sometimes let their collection of photos get away from them. I committed to sorting through every folder on my computer hard drive to get rid of the junk. A lot of my folders are filled with boring Word docs and PDF files, but there’s that one folder that means the most and needs a little love: My Pictures file. I began my purge-and-backup project there.

I’m one of those unique cell phone camera users who doesn’t use her phone for storage. I move all the pictures I take off my phone to my desktop computer every week or two. I don’t just copy them, I move them over and delete the ones on my phone. First of all, I hate showing people pictures on my tiny screen. The truth is, people will take your phone and look at your pictures politely, but they don’t really get anything out of the exercise other than to acknowledge how much you care about the pictures. And second of all, I hate paying for iCloud storage for a bunch of pictures I don’t particularly care about, and the truth about your phone pictures is that about 90 percent of them are junk.

Protest if you must, but I’m just being honest here. If you’re truly a good photographer, you’re not using your cell phone to take pictures. And even a good photographer needs a good editor.

In any case, as consistent as I am about moving my photos off my phone to my computer, I’m not so good about consistent folder naming practices or sorting through the photos I want to save. If you’re trying to clean up a mess of photos on your computer hard drive this year, too, here are a few tips:

Be methodical

I started at the top level, and I’m looking at every photo in one folder before moving on to the next. I’m committed to doing one folder a day so I don’t get overwhelmed (I’ve already gone through 20 folders in four days, so I’m ahead of the game!). Keep notes so you remember where to begin again when you get back to sorting.

Look at every image

I look at most of the photos in “Extra Large Icons” size, but sometimes I open up a photo to screen size and page through them that way. If you just move folders around, you’re not doing yourself any favors. You need to look at the pictures to determine if they’re worth keeping.

Use a combination of sorting by years (or months) and topic

With digital images, it’s fairly simple to sort photos in chronological order. Just list by “details” and move blocks of photos to folders listed by year or month (if you use months, name them with the year first so they list chronologically, i.e. 2018.01 for January 2018). Think about how you might look for photos later.

photo folders

For example, in my Family Photos folder, I have folders of photos for 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. I also have folders for each of my stepchildren, my new granddaughter and my dog (and a couple of others). Where to put photos of my stepson’s graduation, for example? I decided to leave them in the appropriate year’s folder inside another folder named “Caswell’s High School Graduation.” That way, if I forget which folder they’re in, I could do a search for “Caswell” or “graduation” and find them again.

Adopt an attitude to delete

I’ve already saved at least three gigabytes of space on my hard drive by deleting more than 1,000 images in four days. To be sure, I’ve saved probably 3,000 images, but my point is, I got rid of a lot of pictures. This is important for saving memory space, sure, but it also makes it much easier to find pictures later in your smaller inventory of images. Here’s what I dumped:

  • Pictures of food (for some reason, I take a lot of pictures of food; there’s probably a psychological reason for this, but I’ll save that for a therapist). You might be obsessed with something else that no longer holds meaning to you like bouquets of flowers, birthday cakes or interesting cars you see on the street.
  • Blurry images.
  • Pictures of people with their eyes closed (especially me).
  • I encourage people to get rid of at least some of the pictures of sunsets (we tend to take a lot of these), but I gave myself a pass on this.
  • I got rid of at least two folders of photos that were exact duplicates. I never would have noticed this without looking at every image.

Consider a second or third pass

Take advantage of your intuition as you sort. Right away, I could see I had a lot of pictures of food that I no longer needed or cared about. I deleted without inspecting them. You might feel that way about 10-year-old vacation pictures or landscape pictures or pictures of a finished work project. Dump them.

But for some other photos might need more care and attention (we took an epic trip to Croatia three years ago–I’m not ready to delete any of these yet and they probably should be turned into an album at some point). Give yourself permission to go back through those at a later date, when you’re done with the initial sort. At that point, you will have seen your entire collection of photos and you’ll be better informed to prioritize your next steps.

Back up

I use Carbonite to back up the files on my computer automatically. Once I’m finished sorting, I’ll be moving the oldest photos to both an external hard drive and thumb drives.

Be kind to yourself

chloe smaller

The late Chloe

If you lost someone recently, don’t start with those photos. It’s just too hard to delete those images and it might even be difficult just to look at them. My dog died last February, and it’s taken until now for me to be able to look at those pictures without crying. And even now, I could hardly delete any of them, even the blurry ones. But every image I have of my dog is now in one single folder. I’m pondering my next move. I want to print some of the pictures. I may create a storybook for my granddaughter using the images, but I’m also thinking about creating some sort of framed picture or pictures. Whatever I decide, I share it here.

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Do you have more tips? Share them in the comments. Good luck achieving your photo resolutions in 2019!

If it’s the photos on your phone, instead of on your computer, that are making your twitchy, check out this post I wrote two years ago about “Good cell phone photo hygiene.”



Indispensable tool in sorting through your photos: The trash can

An acquaintance on Facebook ruminated this week, “I am trying to figure out the ‘let go vs. keep’ of stuff in my life. … Here’s the struggle: It’s not just one book or one piece of memorabilia, it’s the accumulation! I understand the ‘pick your favorites’ BUT each individual piece or book has it’s own significance or place. It is difficult to be objective.”

If you, like my colleague, is among the people who resolved to finally do something with all your photos and memorabilia in 2014, the first act I recommend is to sort. And during your sort, make liberal use of the garbage can.

Hard to think about throwing away photos and papers that feel important to you or, at least, felt important to you once? Here are two resources for you:

  1. “Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui” by Karen Kingston: Part of her message is about how getting rid of stuff actually makes room in your life for good stuff to come into it. So for example, with books: If you get rid of some of your books, you’ll discover friends giving you books, books at the library, more books to buy — all kinds of good things come your way because you had the courage to let go of things that have already served their purpose. I would add this: Don’t feel like you have to get rid of all of anything. I have hundreds of books. But I gave away about 150 in the past year. The same can be said about pictures and memorabilia — maybe it has served a good purpose for you in the past, but getting rid of some of them might make room for new experiences and memories.
  2. And this blog post, written two years ago:

You CAN do it: Organizing your photo collection requires liberal use of the trash can

Ready, set, GO!

It’s GO month, as dubbed by the National Association of Professional Organizers. GO means Get Organized, and a lot of New Year’s Resolutions revolve around cleaning up, scaling back and streamlining every bit of clutter from clothes to collections and housework to paperwork.

A part of any organization effort certainly must include a trash can. As we sort through our stuff, we inevitably find junk we can’t believe we’re still storing or otherwise holding onto (unless you’re a hoarder who mourns every bit they’ve ever thrown away instead of the garbage they’ve still got).

Even if you’re not a hoarder, getting rid of emotionally charged belongings can be difficult.

Click here to read more of this post … 

Quick, before the resolution sets in, take some before photos

Life is full of befores.

It’s the time of year when New Year’s resolutions are as common as complaints about negative political ads. Unfortunately, negative advertising tends to be more effective than most resolutions.

Let’s make some of those resolutions stick. Now’s not the time to wait for a “good” picture. Take some “bad” pictures and use your before as inspiration. Honestly, who needs another photo of a kid blowing out birthday candles or a bride standing serenely at an altar. Time to get dirty.

Need some inspiration?

  • Resolve to lose weight? Commemorate your fat, unattractive self in pictures (hating this idea? remember, you don’t have to show anyone until you lose the weight). Click here for before and after pics of David, from his “Keep It Up, David” blog.
  • Resolve to get organized? Take pictures of your messy spaces and post them on your messy bulletin board. Or better yet, take a picture of your messy bulletin board, clean it off and post your inspiration photos neatly there. Click here for my messy desk before and my clean desk after from my other blog about a Minnesotan’s life in northern Illinois.
  • Resolve to remodel? I’m kicking myself for not taking more before pictures of the main floor of my house, which we are in the process of repainting. Click here for a kitchen remodel project that transformed an old shipping pallet into a kitchen backsplash.

Now, some before states are difficult to capture in pictures, but not impossible. Think creatively about what it is you want to change, and just the thinking might be inspiration enough to get to work changing it:

  • Stopping smoking? How about a shot of you shivering on the back step while you suck down that last cigarette?
  • Intent on adhering to a stretching routine? Tight hamstrings are tough to capture on film, but how about a shot of you reaching for your toes and only getting to your knees?
  • Promise to pray more? How about a shot of you looking in the mirror, pulling out your hair? If that doesn’t inspire you to call on the Great Almighty more often, well, I don’t know what will. The picture of your closed eyes and clasped hands will look positively serene in comparison.
  • Less Facebook? A shot of your expressionless face and hunched shoulders at your computer screen might inspire you to spend more time laughing with your friends face to face.
  • Resolve to eat healthier? Take some pictures of the empty crisper drawer in your fridge or a bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Might provoke you to aim for a colorful salad or a perfectly ripe pear.
  • Learning a new language? How about a picture of you in front of a blank white board. Think of the potential there, to fill the board with new words you learn.
  • Focusing on paying down debt? Use pennies to represent the hundreds (or, ugh, the thousands) of dollars in debt you are. Maybe get a shot of the pennies slipping through your fingers.

Just the very existence of those before photos will inspire you to take action and create some happily ever after shots.

I resolve to do something with my photos

Five New Year’s resolutions for making the most of your photos:

  1. Set the time and date on your digital camera:  This information becomes part of every photo you take. If you do nothing else, having the right time and date on your digital images will help you organize them, if not by subject, at least by chronology. I checked my camera, and it was set for April 10, 2043; no wonder I can’t find what I want when I sort by date. If you have no idea how to do this on your camera, type “set date on [your camera model]” into Google and you’ll probably be able to find the owner’s manual online.
  2. Vow to dump bad photos immediately: Delete blurry, dark, poorly composed photos of people with their mouths open, eyes closed and backs turned immediately. Don’t take up one byte of space with these images. Failing that, delete bad photos when you save them to your computer or storage device. Failing that, delete three bad photos a day from your computer. By the end of the year, you’ll have 1,000 fewer images to store and sort through.
  3. Back up, back up, back up: Cameras get lost and hard drives crash. A back-up ensures you won’t lose your photos, too. Back up digital photos at least three ways. Print images, store copies on a hard drive (check out or gold DVD and invest in cloud storage (Linea offers Pentagon-like security in the cloud for just $99 a year).
  4. Create at least one photo display: Make a calendar, create an album, assemble a wall montage or make and share a movie or slide show with your photos. You took them for a reason. Enjoy them!
  5. Get help if you need a jolt: A personal photo organizer is like a personal trainer for your photos. If you want to pare down your collection, bulk up your technical skills or strengthen your creativity, a photo organizer can help you with one session or ongoing assistance. Find one near you at

Happy new year!