Thursday, August 6, 2009

Photographs among the clutter

I have been finding some common themes that are addressed in every book I have read on the subject of clutter. One common theme is how to deal with photographs. I suspect that photographs occur in everyone’s collection of clutter. Dealing with photographs is time consuming even for the most organized person because you have to deal with storage systems, format and retrieval. I think this is a subject that is worth exploring in this blog.

The biggest hurdle when dealing with photographs is selecting a system for storage. There are many options available, from scrapbooks, which have become a significant pastime for many people; to photo albums, boxes or binders; or to one of a myriad of electronic storage options. Every book agrees that the best system is the system that works for you personally and making that determination will be worth any time and effort you dedicate to it in the long run. You might assume that whatever system you may have attempted in the past has not really worked if you find that there are photographs mixed into your piles of clutter. The criteria you should consider when evaluating these systems are ease of use, cost of purchasing and expanding the system, and ease of retrieval and the bottom line on all of these considerations is keep it simple!

Unless you are looking for an enjoyable yet time consuming and often expensive hobby, scrapbooks should not be your primary system of choice. Even if you are a dedicated scrap-booker, you should have a method of storage and retrieval that can handle photos from the start quickly and easily; you can always move the special ones to a scrapbook at some time in the future. Photo albums are the easiest way for people to casually glance through snapshots, but the photos in the albums and the albums themselves need to be organized and labeled in some meaningful way. Making guests rummage through page after page of dull photos is a sure fire way of insuring that your friends will think twice about coming to visit you in your home!

The first task is to sort through the photos and throw away any repeats or multiple shots of the same view. Keep one (or two) at the most of each view and only keep the best. Get rid of most of the negatives as well. There are very few photos that you will go back years later and have reprinted from a negative; making copies of actual photos is very easy to do these days. Keep negatives only for prized photos and truly meaningful events. For those that you do save, they should be stored in their own envelope, labeled as to the content, or in archival polyethylene transparent holders and in a different location than the photos themselves. Neither photos nor negatives should be stored in the attic or the basement.

The second most important task is to label all photos as soon as possible with as much information as you think will be necessary for future recollection. There should at least be a date and the full name of anyone who appears in the photo. If the location or the action of the photo isn’t obvious to any causal viewer, you should include that information as well. You should never write directly anywhere on the photo itself; use an acid-free label applied to the back of the photo or write the information on the album page. Use only albums with acid-free paper; albums with “magnetic pages” or black paper are not safe for the storage of photos. Use only archival adhesives. Albums are easier to store and flip through than looking at stacks of photos in photo boxes, unless you are very good at sorting and making section labels for the box. Also, putting them in albums makes you consider more carefully which you should keep and which you should send to a friend or relative or throw away.

Your final task before relegating photos to a storage system would be to sort them into some usable and logical order either by date, location, activity or person (either the subject of the photo or the one behind the camera.) You should select the sorting categories based on how you might imagine you will want to use the photos in the future. Consider if you are more likely to want to take a trip down memory lane by date (as in what we did in our 20’s), by location (as in what countries have we have visited in Asia), by activity (as in let’s compare all of our Christmas trees) or will you want to have all of the pictures you have of your brother or all of the pictures taken by your daughter all in one place. This may or may not be possible and exceptions can be made, but the clearer your method of sorting, the easier it will be to put photos away in the future. You also may be organized to have several different types of storage systems and a heirarchy of sorting, but the more decisions you have to make, the less likely you are to always get your photos stored.

And whatever system you decide on and whatever method you use for sorting your photos, this should be done as soon as possible after the photos are taken and developed or printed. Don’t set them down somewhere to do later…do it right away…and knowing that this will be your goal; create your system with this in mind.

Tomorrow I will look at electronic storage of photos.

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