Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Last Word on Photographs from Jamie Novak

The following information is summarized and quoted from Jamie Novak's Get Organized Answer Book (Naperville, Ill. : Sourcebooks, Inc., 2009) Some is similar to the information I gleened from other Clutter Control books and sumarized in my last two posts. If you haven't spent some time with one of Jamie's books, you are missing some great motivational and factual information. Her books are full of practical advice for every kind of organizing challenge. Thanks, Jamie for your expertise!

First, Jamie suggests that you gather all of the photos you can easily find into one place; don’t go digging for them to get started, just work with the ones that are easily accessible. You will eventually need to get all of the undeveloped photos developed, including disposable cameras. Sort by event, person or chronologically. Have envelopes handy in which to send photos to other people, particularly duplicates. Don’t keep more than one copy of a photo. If there is no one to send them to, dispose of them. Don’t hold onto photos you don’t like.

Don’t do this in one marathon session and this is true for all clutter control projects. If you do too much, you may burn yourself out and cause you to lose motivation. Sort in front of the television; make it a family project or have friends come over with their photos and do the sorting together.

Once you have sorted all of the photos, then you need to decide how you are going to store them. Use whatever system works for you; if it isn’t easy for you to use, you won’t use it. You can enjoy photos from a box as easily as from an album. Precious photos like wedding and new baby photos should be kept in a disaster-proof box for safekeeping. This is also where you should store important negatives but the photos and the negatives should not be stored together in case something happens to one or the other. Use acid-free photo-safe boxes and store them away from direct sunlight, extreme temperatures and moisture. Standard photo-safe boxes hold about 1000 photos and have tabbed dividers. Negatives should be stored in acid-free envelopes or polypropylene pockets. For easy retrieval later, clearly label each storage “container,” whether you use albums or boxes. You can also use a combination of both – most photos stored in boxes with a few themed albums for vacations or other special events.

Don’t damage photos by:

  1. Storing them in the basement or the attic. Extreme temperatures can cause irreversible damage.
  2. Don’t store them where the humidity is over 70 percent (they can mildew) or under 40 percent (the can become brittle).
  3. Don’t expose photos to direct sunlight.
  4. Don’t place photos on magnetic pages in photo albums; the glue will ruin the photos.
  5. Don’t adhere photos to black photo pages. These pages are not acid-free and can damage the photos.
  6. Don’t write on the back of photos with a ball-point pen. It breaks the emulsion and can bleed through. Use a photo-safe pen instead.
  7. Don’t leave photos in a jumbled mess. Work in small yet consistent blocks of time to organize the piles of photos.

Digital Photos

Deciding to digitize your photo collection still requires a great deal of organization. To store and retrieve digital photos, you need to develop a system. Make it a habit to download your photos the same day you take them, no matter what. (If you don’t know how to do this, get help. Digital camera manufacturers often have toll-free numbers you can call for assistance.) As soon as you download the photos, delete the ones that are not so great. Better, yet, delete them as soon as you take them!

You can store photos in your computer in folders with the name of the event and date. You can group like events together in a large folder labeled with a time frame such as a year, or a season and the year, such as Fall 2009. Within the main folder you can create sub-folders for each of the events that you documented during that time frame. Name each photo with a recognizable caption. You can also group photos into folders by person, location or activity such as Mom’s Photos, Photos at Home or Company Picnics. The key to the success of this, or any, system is consistency. Whatever file naming system create, follow it regularly.

If you prefer to store and share actual photos, you can print them on your home printer; you can bring a flashdrive or disk to the local on-site digital printing facility such as your drugstore or variety store like Wal-Mart or K-Mart; or you can upload them to a photo publishing website like,, or

To store photos somewhere other than on your computer, you can burn them onto a CD. Then once you have labeled it, store the CD in a CD case. Again store like photos together, and make a CD of the same type of photos. Try not to burn photo of a wedding and a holiday onto the same CD. Make duplicate copies of CD’s containing special photos, and store them at someone else’s home or in a disaster-proof storage box. Also, make sure to back up your computer. If you don’t back up the files, your photos might be lost in the event of a major crash.

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