At one point in the not-too-distant past, I had more than 1,000 pictures on my phone and another 3,000 on my computer. It got to the point that some time after the birth of my third child, a boy, I stopped organizing and dumped them all into one folder. I knew it was bad when I started telling him that the baby pictures of his older brother (born three years earlier) were actually him. This summer, I vowed to get the digital chaos under control. But where to begin? And once I had organized the pictures, should I print them? And what was the point of all this anyway?
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"First, think about why you even take the pictures," advises Renee Kutner, founder of Atlanta-based Peace by Piece Organizing. "Do you just want to know you have them so you can pull one if ever needed, or do you want to look back at them regularly and enjoy the memories they represent?" Once you know what your goal is, then you can decide which option is best.
Whatever you choose, the first step is to organize your pictures digitally. If going backward is too overwhelming, start with your most recent images. Use a program that will automatically upload the pictures from your phone to your computer (like Dropbox, or its picture organizing system, Carousel) and get started. Once the pics from the last day, or week, or month are in a folder on your computer, you can start sorting. You can organize them chronologically or by event ("California Honeymoon Trip"). If you have five minutes extra to give every time you do this, you can also sort through the pictures and quickly delete the extra 24 shots of the family pose you got at today's trip to the zoo. All you need is one, and deleting the extras will save you time (and space) later.
Then, once you have a good system going, spend an hour every weekend (or 15 minutes a few times a week) sorting through all the other pictures (and deleting unnecessary ones) you've dumped onto your computer in the past. Now that you have a system in place (and you've backed it up, either to a hard drive or a cloud storage service), the question remains — to print or not to print?
For some, having a catalog of digital memories may be enough; for others, having the hard copy to reminisce from time to time is also important. If taking up the least amount of physical space is your priority, then a photo book documenting each year, or each season, or the year's vacations may be the way to go. It's usually not the most economical and can be time-consuming to design. So what to do? Once you have an account on a photo book site (my favorite is Mixbook), you can start creating a book and save it as you go. That way, you can add a couple pages each month without having to wait until the end of a year to create it. Also, you can leave the book in your shopping cart and delay ordering it until the site has a sale. (Some sites will even email you a coupon if they see you have items in your shopping cart you still haven't purchased.)
If space isn't an issue but money is, you can print regular prints and slide them into good old-fashioned photo albums when you have the chance. Remember, the more you delete as you go, the less time you’ll have to spend later picking the best shot to print — or wasting your money printing multiples of the same shot. A good photo organization system — digital or not — will not only allow you to show each of your children authentic baby photos, it will also let you enjoy your memories for years to come.