To put this in perspective, Kindergarten for us was 2006, right there between film cameras being stuffed in the back of the drawer and the complete acceptance of digital photography. Social media sharing also exploded around this time. Through this, the annual fall school picture day has still yielded an envelope of pictures that family loves to receive and display in their homes for years to come. Despite carefully posed selfies with clever filters that adorn Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and (insert 500 photo sharing sites here), the school picture is the annual avatar on the timeline of our kids' maturation.
I've never been the milk and cookies after school, June Cleaver type mom and I don't do a lot of the mom stuff in the traditional way, but I have done a pretty decent job at keeping pictures organized throughout my adult life.
I've shared my photo organization method with people over the years and it seems like a good thing to share here. While the above picture seems like chaos, it really wasn't. It was just one final organization step I had not completed yet in the overall system I use to keep pictures organized. It took me about half an hour to actually locate the photo I needed, and another hour or two to finish organizing this part of our photo archive.
The tips below are for the everyday folks trying to manage the day to day pictures. I'm not a professional....I'm sure they've all got a better system. One big suggestion as you embark on this process... when you are reminded of the story of the photos you see, jot it down on a piece of paper. Even if you aren't a scrapbooker, others seeing the photos later will enjoy the story if it's filed along with the photos. For digital photos, most photo management software allows for captions or notes or something.
I'm a scrapbooker and the first thing I learned years ago was start with today and stay current going forward, then catch up the past when you have time. Get your workflow down that works for you. Then apply it going backward, most recent first.
Start the new year off right and set up a folder in your picture section on your computer or the cloud of your choice for 2015, make folders for each month. That's where you will start January 1, 2015 regularly transferring pictures from your phone, camera, etc. I do this on average, once a week from my phone.
I use Dropbox as the in between, then transfer to iPhoto after scrapbooking, editing, deleting the duds, etc for permanent backup. My DSLR has a wifi feature and they get automatically dumped into my computer when I'm home, but the same process applies if you transfer off your camera via USB. Dates are embedded in the meta data (right click, properties) so there's no need to make weekly folders or daily etc...unless you are highly OCD, which I am, and I do, but it's more for my scrapbook workflow than overall preservation. By year, by month. Simple. Some photo organization programs use tags and facial recognition...if this helps you, go for it. I don't take more time to do that, plus I only have one child so it just became an unnecessary step for me.
This is the system I have used for digital pictures since digital started. The same structure is on my computer, my onsite backup drive, and the backup drive that I recently sent with my parents to put in their fireproof safe. If you don't have your digital pictures on a backup drive, please please do this. Been there, done that with a crashed hard drive and days of waiting to see if that last picture of me with my grandpa can be recovered. It sucks. I think this event was when I got as serious about digital photo organization as I had been my film photos.
The blessing of this effort: If I want to see my daughter's 6th birthday cake...I can find it in about 5 minutes. You'll thank yourself for this effort when it comes time to get that high school graduation slide show ready. Your descendants will thank you as well.
If you have a 10+ year mess of digital pictures on your computer (or phone, multiple cameras, multiple SD cards, CDs, etc) this is going to take some time so break it down into workable parts. Set up the years and months folders. Start dragging pictures and folders into them here and there. Then dig in year by year, month by month while you're sitting there watching TV, bored at the next family gathering, having coffee or a glass of wine while waiting for the kids at practice, etc. Don't forget to back up.
I developed the computer system I use from how I organized all my film camera pictures prior to digital after my daughter was born. Everything is sorted by year, then month and/or major event. If you can't break old pictures down by month, then do the best you can to get them by year or event, or decade if you have to. It isn't always easy to remember. My sister and I started this process with my mom several years ago and it was challenging so use other people to help if you can. It's really quite fun! We need to finish the job with her sometime and I'd venture a guess that the same thing needs to happen on my husband's side of the family.
Gather film photos in a central location over the next few months. Feel free to throw out duplicates, dud pictures that are especially common with film photography. It's ok. Really. You don't need 25 blurry pictures of Aunt Ethel...one or two are fine.
Get some photo boxes. Michaels, Walmart, Target, etc have them. The beauty of digital photography....I only have 4 big photo storage boxes on the basement shelf for my entire life...up to the mid 2000s.
Get index card dividers that you can label or just cut paper, card stock, or use envelopes to label with the years, months.
Dig in, make piles, write on the back of pictures, sort sort sort. Then file.
Professional family pictures, school pictures of your kids, your other kids in the family, etc:
The size and number of these made it inconvenient to store in the photo boxes, which is why I had the huge piles yesterday that were only partially organized. I use envelopes divided by year, child, grade.
My nieces and nephews school pictures go in envelopes...one envelope for my side, one envelope for my husband's side. It's their parents' job to organize those! haha!
When I started doing an annual album in the Project Life method these pictures became part of the album and are put in either digitally or placed in the large envelope stored in the album where I put greeting cards, etc.
Our cousins and their kids pictures are similarly divided...they all go in one envelope by family.
What about all that artwork the kids brought home through early elementary school?
Save a few favorites, take digital photos of the rest, and toss it. Then make a photo book on any number of photo sites out there or make it part of your annual album. I know when we moved this last time I got rid of so much of the artwork, but I photographed it for this purpose. Somewhere in the 2011 photo files are the pictures because that's the winter after we moved and when I did the big purge of all that stuff that was hiding in our closets for 8 years.
The job may seem overwhelming so take your time. Set a goal of a year or so to get it under control, while keeping the current year organized. It really is worth it to have this part of your life somewhat organized. Hope these tips have given some direction to the job. You don't have to scrapbook anything, just keep it organized. Post any questions in the comments.