Happy New Year! I hope the coming year is your best yet. If you’ve been enjoying the past month of holiday celebrations as much as I have, you probably have lots of photographs capturing the good times. The question now is what to do with all those photos. If your pictures are in digital format, you may choose to store them electronically on your computer or one of the many photo storage websites that are available (eg., Picasa, Flickr, etc.). But what about the photos you choose to print, as well as the mountains of old photographs you have stashed away in boxes and drawers? They may be your only way to remember family gatherings, vacations, holidays and other special moments. Here are some tips to help you organize those glimpses of the past:

Sort your backlog.

•Gather all your photos from everywhere in your home into one place. You may also want to pull pictures out of albums that aren’t photo-safe.
•Label individual shoeboxes, bankers’ boxes, lunch bags or shopping bags with each year that the photos cover – one container per year.
•Grab a photo from the backlog and determine if it’s worth keeping. Toss pictures that are blurry, duplicate (or pass the duplicate on to someone else who might appreciate it), uninteresting or unflattering (as long as there are other pictures of that person that you’re keeping).
•Put the photos you’ve chosen to keep into the appropriate year’s container.
•Keep the process going. If your backlog is as big as most people’s, you won’t get it all sorted in one session. Schedule blocks of “photo time” on your calendar – as little as 15 minutes a week will keep things moving. You might consider sorting during TV commercials, and making this a family activity.
Determine how you want to permanently store your photos. Typical options include photo albums, picture frames, and photo boxes. Another option is scanning them and storing them as you would any other digital photo. When considering which medium to use, it’s important to consider several factors:

Will you be showing the pictures to others, or are they for your own enjoyment? If they will be shared with others, photo albums or picture frames are viable options. If they're simply for your own enjoyment, you may just keep them in a box with tabs or dividers to separate each year or event.

If you want to use photo albums or picture frames, are you willing and able to invest the time and money necessary to complete the project? If not, consider paring down the scope (e.g., only the best 10 pictures per year will go into an album) or hiring someone to do the project for you.

Will the medium you've chosen protect your pictures from damage? Containers that aren't photo-safe, (acid- and lignin-free) may damage your photos over time. So will sun, heat, and moisture, so basements, garages, and attics typically are not good places to store photos.

What will you do with the negatives? I store my extra pictures (those that don't make the cut for my photo albums) and related negatives chronologically in photo-safe envelopes in shoeboxes. I label the envelopes with the time period covered by the enclosed pictures and a brief description of the events they chronicle. I save these pictures because my children or I occasionally need them for projects and I don't want to have to pull pictures out of my photo albums.

Set up a place to work on your permanent storage project. If you're lucky enough to have the space, set up your project in a location where you can leave it out and not have to set it up each time you want to work on it. The dining room table or a card table in a spare bedroom might be options.

Have all of the supplies you'll need on hand to allow you to work more efficiently. If you can't store the supplies near your project area, store them in portable containers. You can buy them from scrapbooking stores or re-purpose other containers such as fishing tackle boxes and tool boxes.

Cover everything with a sheet when you're not working on it so pictures and supplies don't get scattered.

Set up a schedule to stay on top of your photos. Just as I suggested for the sorting process, try to schedule regular photo time on your calendar to move your pictures into their permanent home.

Photos are a great way to capture the history of your life. However, once you start taking the time to organize them, you may realize you don't have many that are worthy of being framed or going into your photo album. If so, you may want to take a photography class, or simply take fewer pictures, but make each picture you do take one that is worthy of placing in a frame or album.

Author's Bio: 

Internationally known professional organizer, author, and speaker Sue Becker is the founder and owner of From Piles to Smiles®. She enjoys helping people from around the world live better lives by creating customized systems to overcome their overwhelming paperwork, clutter, and schedules. She specializes in helping people who are chronically disorganized - those for whom disorganization has been a lifelong struggle that negatively impacts every aspect of their life, especially people with AD/HD. Her hands-on help, as well as her presentations, have helped thousands of individuals create substantial change in their lives.

Sue is Illinois’ first Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization. She co-authored the book Conversations on Success, and has appeared as an organizational expert on NBC News and the national TV show, Starting Over. A CPA, Sue has an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management.