Organize Your Photos: Non-Digital Prints

Welcome to two weeks of photo organization here at Almost Never Clever!

Summer vacation season has officially begun and cameras are going into overdrive.  I’ve put together a series of posts about how I organize my photo collection.  This system is what works for my Type A personality and will be full of tips!

35mm Photos

You’re thinking:  but wait, I don’t use 35mm anymore.  This doesn’t apply to me.

Do you have boxes or albums of 35mm prints in your closet?  What about boxes of old negatives?

I thought so.

I switched to a digital camera my last year in college.  I had four boxes of 35mm prints waiting to go into college scrapbooks.  Today, they’re nearly gone.  Nearly.  Loyal readers will know I’m almost finished with my last college scrapbook.

Here’s how I tackled the boxes.

Step One: Organize

Divide your photos categories:  You could sort them by year or by type such as vacations, holiday, etc.  I had one box for each year in school and then subdivided them by each event.

Label: Label each category and subdivision so you can easily tell what’s in the box when you look at it and when you open it.  I labeled the outside of each box with the year.  Inside the box, I cut up index cards and made little file tabs for each event.

Step Two: Scan and Back Up

Pick which photos to scan:  Not every photo is worth saving.  Go through photos and remove ones that you wouldn’t go through the trouble of scanning.  Because I used a home scanner, I decided as I went along whether each one was worth it.

Scan away:  I used my home scanner and scanned about 80% of the pictures in the box.  I scanned at 600dpi, which is a good quality setting.  Check your settings before you scan.  Most machines default to 200 or 300dpi.  The higher resolution, the larger the file will be.  Make sure you have enough space on your computer.

Consider using a scanning service:  There are services out there that will scan a box of photos for you.  This is a great option if you don’t have a home scanner or don’t have time to.  You can also use scanners at drugstores.  Most stores let you scan as many photos as you can fit on a CD for a few dollars.  Some examples I found online are ScanCafe and ScanMyPhotos.

Negatives and slides:  Many of the above-mentioned scanning services will also digitize negatives and slides.  If you are using a drugstore, talk to them about developing negatives to a CD.

Use Them!

Get them out of the box: If you are a scrapbooker, go ahead and start scrapbooking with the photos in the box.  If you aren’t a scrapbooker, consider putting your favorite pictures into albums.  Use the scanned photos to make lightweight photo books with MyPublisher, Snapfish or Shutterfly.  These are easier to show and manager than thick albums of 4×6″ photos.

Either way, try some format where the photos aren’t stored in boxes and people can actually look at them.  This may seem overwhelming, but if you begin to chip away at it, you’ll make real progress!

Share:  I upload a portion of the scanned photos to Facebook to share with my friends.  If you do this, make sure your privacy settings are locked down so you don’t share old photos with an unintended audience.   If you have a lot of old family photos, consider making CD’s and distributing to your family members so they can enjoy them.  This is a great option if there are other crafters in your family.


Whatever I don’t put in my scrapbook gets tossed.  There are a few small exceptions, but that’s it.  You have the photos backed up on your computer – this makes you free to purge the hard copies and regain your space.

Negatives:  Once you scan, one thing you really don’t need is negatives.  It felt fantastic to toss the box of negatives  and Advantix canisters (remember those?) I was saving for those just-in-case scenarios.

If you thought you could recycle:  I checked with my local waste authority during this process.  Photos are not recyclable.  It feels horrible to have to toss them in the garbage and I cringe when I think about how much I spent to have them developed.  This exercise will cure you from printing too many digital photos down the road.  This is a big reason why I only print as I go nowadays.

Leftovers?  Maybe some of the photos could use a new home?  I call this part sending my clutter to other people sending pictures to friends.  It’s really fun getting something from a friend in the mail.  I include a note telling them they aren’t duty-bound to save them if they don’t want to.

Phew!  Who knew I could write this much about purging pictures?  It really is easy and worth the small one-time commitment in exchange for more space in your home.

Stay tuned for more posts about photo organization!


13 thoughts on “Organize Your Photos: Non-Digital Prints

  1. Thanks for inspiring me! I have been dabbling around with old photos and am overwhelmed by them. I like what you’ve done.

    • Great! I hope this helps you take the plunge! If you scan at home, I found it only took 2-3 nights of committed scanning to get through the collection that I had. If you have a system, it will go much faster!

  2. These are great tips! I do not have a big collection of prints anymore. I’ve scrapbooked most of them from my non-digital days and for any that I didn’t have the heart to throw away (and I have no problem tossing bad photos) but also didn’t want to scrapbook, I also put them in photo albums so they can be enjoyed.

    • I’m so close to that point I can taste it! I’ve already regained some space in boxes that used to hold pictures and it’s addicting!

  3. Scanning them isn’t something I’ve considered and I like the sharing idea. I still feel like I can scrapbook all of them (I know I’ll never have the time) and one of these days, I will purge, but until then, they’ll be in boxes in my closet and the attic.

    • I like having them scanned, especially old pictures for sharing purposes. Usually they are at least 10 years old and people really get a kick out of them.

      You can totally scrapbook these!! I had a mountain of prints a couple of years ago and have worked my way through it little by little. I’m almost done!

  4. There are also companies that provide photo scanning services for people who do not have the time and or equipment to do it themselves. Scrapbook Scanning 4 You ( can scan photos up to size 12x17inch and convert them to digital format on DVD.

    • Yes, thanks! I mentioned above some companies that provide this for folks that don’t have the time or equipment for scanning at home. Thanks for suggesting your company!

  5. OMG!!! My husband has been nagging me to get on with this project for 10 years! Yup! You read right…10 years… I have 8 beautiful, linen covered, 14’x14′ albums I had ordered from Martha Stewart way back when and only our wedding photos made it into 2 of them. The rest sit in boxes organized just like in your first step. But that is it.

    Thank you for insipiring me to do something about them. I will go through and pick the ones I like to get scanned and out source the scanning job. It will be costlier but at least it will get done! The rest will get PURGED and sent to unsuspecting friends 🙂

    The empty 6 albums might be used for more recent photos. Eventhough they take up valuable shelf space in our small city apartment I can’t toss them out! They are so pretty! So I will start a scrapbook for my sons photos and drawings he made. (hopefully!)

    Thanks again!

    • Wow! I’m really glad this has given you the impetus to do it! I feel you on the small apartment short on space. The boxes full of pictures gave me hives and I had to do something about them. Let me know how it turns out!

  6. another idea. My daughter’s friend decoupaged old family photos especially wedding photos all over the inside of a pretty hat box. the top is decorated with a thin string of pearls glued all around the top and c cute wedding gown cutout in the center. It was one of the most special wedding gifts she rec’d and it holds all the little souvenirs from shower and wedding.

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