You wouldn’t think storing your old photos and memorabilia would be that difficult, but unless you’re Marie Kondo it’s surprising how disorganized they can get. So let’s talk about a simple, no-nonsense way to start organizing—and get it right the first time.
I recently helped a friend move, and in spite of her best efforts to get all of her boxes organized and labeled before moving I still found some boxes with two labels for totally different places. One label might say “the study” and the other label would say something like “tools-garage!”
So it’s very easy to get mixed up when you put things in boxes—especially cardboard boxes or colored plastic tubs, because you can’t see what’s inside. I had the same problem with my boxes of family photos. I could never really be sure if what the label said on the box was actually correct.
This box, for example said Bavarian China but when I opened it I found it was actually old letters—and not only that, the letters were a hodgepodge from different families! So at one point I must have thought it was a good idea to put ALL letters from multiple families in one box. NOT a good idea! Trust me, it’ll make a lot more work for you later.
So when I decided, “Okay it’s TIME to organize my boxes of family photos,” I had to come up with a BETTER system and that’s what I’m going to share with you right now.
First I purchased some inexpensive large and small clear tubs to replace the cardboard boxes. I wanted to be able to SEE what was inside AND I knew it would protect the photos better in case of flooding in the house.
This isn’t a requirement for organizing—You can skip it if you want—but for me it was money well spent and it wasn’t that expensive.
Separate Family Units
The next step was to make a rule: I could only have one family per box or tub. No mixing of families—uh uh!—that just gets confusing.
BUT, you might say, where do you divide the families? People usually span three to four generations, right? That’s a very good question and here’s what I decided to do that’s worked really well for me: When someone is young—from birth through young adult—their photos stay with their family of origin.
As soon as they meet and court their future spouse, get married and go out on their own, they get their own box. If someone never gets married they get their own box when they’re an adult on their own.
So that’s MY system—I only put one family group per tub and each family group starts when they meet their future spouse and get married or, if they’re single, become independent from their parents.
As you divide up your photos, here’s a BIG tip: Don’t stop to organize everything in a box before moving on. Get all the family stuff separated into its own proper box or tub and that will be a HUGE step toward feeling less overwhelmed and more in control. For me, organizing individual boxes comes later when I’m actually ready to work on someone’s family history and create something I can share like a book or slideshow.
Label Your Tubs
And finally, one more tip. I label the top and all four sides of the tub with the correct family name and I even color code it, giving each main family its own color, which is fun because I can look at a tub and instantly know the family just by the color. You don’t have to do that. A plain white label is fine. But I like the color coding so that’s what I did. And of course, I can also see the contents through the clear plastic which is very reassuring to me!
So if you feel out of control with YOUR boxes of photos like I did when I first got started, try doing this initial organization of all your photos, slides, negatives, and memorabilia and you’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes to your peace of mind.
If you’re interested in my full class on organizing your boxes of photos go to FamilyHistoryHero.com to find out more.
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