Getting ready to downsize? Don’t go it alone!
|| BY Penny Catterall ON September 25, 2015
There are many events in life that can prompt you to move or downsize to a smaller, more appropriate-sized living space. Some of them, unfortunately, are fraught with stress: divorce, death of a spouse, and increasing frailty are just a few examples. Combine this stress with the logistical and emotional struggle involved in sorting through a lifetime of treasured possessions, and you have the makings of a truly unpleasant experience.
That is why if you are considering downsizing or moving, you should bring in a professional to help you deal with all these potential problems.
A move (whether it is to an apartment or to a smaller house) usually involves getting rid of a lot of personal belongings that may not have a place in your new home. Deciding what to keep and what to sell or donate can be both physically overwhelming and emotionally traumatic for many people. Bringing in a professional organizer – someone who can help make clear, objective decisions about what to keep and what to part with, as well as find the right resources for donating or selling the things you no longer need – can take a huge burden off your shoulders.
Another area that some professional organizers specialize in is paper management. In getting ready for a move, you may come across years of accumulated files that are out of date and no longer needed as you transition to your new home. A professional organizer can help you decide which papers you need to keep, which ones you can scan, and which ones can go straight to the shredder or recycle bin. The last thing you need to be doing is packing and moving boxes of useless paper!
Professional organizers can also help you plan the logistical aspects of your move and provide both physical and moral support on moving day (sometimes taking the place of a son or daughter when they can’t be there to help a parent). A professional organizer can help supervise the move itself, and then on the other end make sure that everything gets unpacked and organized into the right spot, so that your new place feels like home right away. Starting out with “a place for everything and everything in its place” can make moving to a new apartment or home that much easier.
Finally, consider a mental health professional as an essential part of the equation, especially if your move is due to a major life change. My colleague, Elizabeth Goll Lerner, LPC, ATR-BC of E.G.L. Inspired Choices (whose valuable coaching skills I have experienced myself) specializes in helping people work through this kind of transition. She has the ability to help you through the mental and emotional turmoil that accompanies life-changing events such as divorce, illness or other loss, and make you feel at home in your new life.
There are many experienced professionals who can help you navigate these choppy waters – don’t go it alone!
Tackle Your Office in Style – Parade Magazine
|| BY Penny Catterall ON July 20, 2015
Penny was featured in Parade.com’s article on office organizing, talking about how to “Tame the Paper Monster” using the Fujitsu ScanSnap. Read the article to see how the author uses her ScanSnap, and to check out Penny’s top three tips for getting rid of paper in your home office.
Family Emergencies: Organize Your Life To Keep Your Career On Track – Forbes Magazine
|| BY Penny Catterall ON July 19, 2015
Penny’s tips on which essential family documents to keep on hand (especially if you have older parents or younger children) and how to store them both physically and digitally, are outlined in this Forbes magazine article here!
Organizing Emergency Documents
Storage Units: Do you really want to go there?
|| BY Penny Catterall ON July 2, 2015
What should you do with all the extra stuff in your house that you don’t have room for? A lot of people deal with this by renting a storage unit and dumping everything there. But is this really the best solution? Consider the experiences of two of my clients:
- The first is a lawyer who, for several years, has been renting a $250/month storage unit on behalf of his client, a writer and historian. The unit, which cost $250 a month, held only a few boxes of papers and an empty file cabinet. Sorting through the old papers revealed that most were old bills, receipts, and financial statements that were no longer needed. (However, if they had been important papers, a quick scan-and-shred would have reduced the pile of papers and eliminated the need for a storage space.) The remaining material consisted of diaries and research papers which turned out to have some historical value and were donated to the historical society of the town that they were written about. That way they’ll be available to those who have the interest and the expertise necessary to put them to good use – not sitting in a box! Amazingly, one of the last folders we looked through contained several thousand dollars worth of misplaced savings bonds! The client is delighted to eliminate the need for a storage unit (saving $1800 a year) and to recover valuable financial instruments.
- The second person has a storage unit full of stuff that she doesn’t use (and doesn’t have room for in her house) but isn’t quite willing to part with. In an effort to reduce clutter where they live, the family often relegates unwanted items to the storage unit – then rarely, if ever, thinks of them again. The storage unit costs $300/month – and is filled with things the clients cannot part with, but have little value: they are neither immediately useful nor precious. Yet, neither partner is able to let go of them. Over the last 5 years, the family has spent $18,000 to store items they don’t use or need.
When you have to rent a separate space outside your home to store all the stuff that you can’t fit inside, it’s a good sign that you have TOO MUCH STUFF! It’s one thing if the need is temporary (for example, when your house is being renovated, or if your job takes you to another city for a limited time), or if you truly have no room in your home for seasonal items, but some people rent storage units for years and years in order to hang on to things that are worth less than what’s being spent to store them. Better to sell them, donate them, or throw them all out! On the off-chance that someday you discover you actually need one of the items you previously discarded, it’ll probably be less expensive to buy a new one than to keep the old one (and all your other junk) in storage in the intervening years.
And if you have something in storage that really is valuable to you (sentimentally or otherwise), how about honoring it with a place in your home, where it can be appreciated? If you don’t have room for it, chances are there’s something else in your home that you could get rid of and never miss. Keep the things that you use and enjoy, and live for today – not for the “someday” when you think you’ll need something that you don’t want or need now.
My top ten home office organizing tips
|| BY Penny Catterall ON March 12, 2015
Bet you didn’t know that March 10th was Home Office Organizing Day! Just about everyone needs a little help organizing their home office, so here are my top ten tips to help you get that important part of your home functioning at full speed.
- Create a landing zone for all mail and other paper that comes into your home, and get rid of junk mail before it even has a chance to make it to your home office. Keep a recycling bin right there to make it as easy as possible.
- Take a hard look at the rest of the paper you have coming in and decide what is really worthy of your attention – use the ART system for deciding what to do with your paper – Action, Reference, Toss.
- Unsubscribe from magazines, catalogs and junk mail using the app PaperKarma or by going to http://www.optoutprescreen.com.
- Sort your Action items on top of your desk in a desktop file holder. Use basic filing categories like To Pay, To Call, To Do, Calendar and most importantly, check them at least once a week.
- Put an attractive recycling bin and shredder right under or next to your desk to get rid of unneeded/unwanted paper on a regular basis.
- Prune your files at least once a year – shred old credit card statements, health care reimbursement statements, personal bank statements and the like after one or two years if you still get them in paper. If you get them online, they are usually avaiable for a year or more. Check out this article at Bankrate.com for some specific guidance on financial records retention.
- Keep all your vital documents (birth certificates, marriage license, etc.) in one place – preferably a fire proof safe in your house or in a safe deposit box. Scan the originals and keep them in a secure cloud-based storage system like SafelyFiled.
- Keep things uncluttered by storing your office supplies in attractive bins or containers, or in desk drawers with shallow organizers for different items. Store like items with like and be realistic about how many desk or office supplies you actually need – don’t buy Costco-sized containers of things if you are just shopping for one or two!
- Use a label maker to label the outsides of bins or drawers so you can easily identify the contents.
- Use your wall space for organizing – put up a beautiful linen pin board to hold your invitations, favorite postcards, photos, or notes. Or for a more modern look, check out the new Urbio magnetic modular system from the Container Store which can organize everything from office supplies to cables and cords.
What part of your home office needs the most organizing? Let me know – I’d love to help you come up with a solution!
40 bags in 40 days de-cluttering challenge
|| BY Penny Catterall ON February 17, 2015
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Tuesday, February 17th is Mardis Gras (“Fat Tuesday” in French) and the end of Carnival and a season of excess. For many, a season of excess can mean too much clutter. This is a great time to sign up for White House Black Shutter’s “40 BAGS in 40 DAYS De-cluttering Challenge” starting February 18th. (It lasts until April 4th, and you get Sundays off – just like Lent.) Thousands have participated since 2011 – check it out here!
5 steps using ScanSnap to get organized for taxes
|| BY Penny Catterall ON February 15, 2015
It’s already mid-February, and one of the most frequent requests I get from my small business clients is to help them get ready for tax season, which is just around the corner! Here are 5 easy steps you can take to get ready for April 15th with the help of a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner.
- Scan all your business receipts and save them directly into a Dropbox folder called something like “Business Expenses (Year)”. I like to subdivide my business expenses into folders following the categories used by the IRS on a Schedule C, such as Meals/Entertainment, Supplies, Parking, Contractors, etc.
- Using the new ScanSnap Receipt software recently released by ScanSnap, you can export the data from your business receipts directly into Quickbooks (if you are using the Windows version) or into a .CSV file (if using a Mac), which is compatible with several accounting software systems, including Quickbooks.
- If you have email receipts for business expenses, save these as PDFs into the same Dropbox folders using the same categorization method.
- As your 1099s and other miscellaneous tax forms begin to come in late January and early February, scan them as well and put them in a Dropbox folder called Tax Back Up (Year).
- Share your relevant Tax and Business Dropbox folders with your accountant – no need to send in shoe boxes of receipts! He or she can only see the data that you have shared with them and nothing else.
That’s it! During the coming year, just make sure to scan your business expenses as they come in, and recreate the same folder categories for the current tax year as you did for last year. You’ll be one step ahead of the game come next tax season!
Evernote: The Power of the Extended Mind
|| BY Penny Catterall ON December 21, 2014
This month, I am extremely privileged to have Ray Sidney-Smith as my guest blogger on the topic of Evernote. Ray is a bonafide Evernote guru, who uses it to enhance his productivity on many levels. Read on to see how he uses Evernote as his “extended mind”.
The Brain, Memory and GTD
In the late 90’s, long before Evernote was ever conceived, I became interested in the fundamentals of the human mind. I sat for hours rapt in books about the brain’s structure, human and animal behavior, and many of the theories of cognition (the brain’s performance capacity). “Did you know that your brain consumes 20% of your body’s oxygen and blood?” I wryly asked a coworker. “You have taste receptors in your brain,” I practiced repeatedly in the mirror to keep a straight face. I was waiting for just the opportune time to tell a friend at lunch as she put a morsel of food in her mouth. The factoids were endless. I was obsessed with the brain. And more importantly, I was intrigued more by its great limitations. Is it because the brain is made of up 60% fat? Probably not. But the search for why and how to solve this unique problem would plague me for years.
The Development of Cognitive Neuroscience
Specifically, our brain’s short-term and long-term memories need just the right methods of input engaging with as many different kinds of senses (especially targeting our visual cortex) for us to take things from short-term memory and place them into long-term storage for recall. While I have always had a better-than-average memory, I always wanted it to be better. I studied dozens of different memory techniques, like the memory palace method, but I realized at some point that my mind wasn’t designed for memory in the way that I had imagined. I became fascinated by research on distributed cognition and the possibilities of a technology-facilitated extended mind. I took to writing everything down: in checklists, in journals, in text files on my computer, and calendars. I felt like I was onto something, and I was. Nearly two decades later, I read Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, in which John Medina writes about the sensitive environment needed for the mind to remember things. It confirmed my research. At the same time, it took me back to my concern about the fragility of the brain and its capacity to remember only in the most ideal circumstances. I wanted something more dependable. And, I needed a system for being able to support my growing number of tools and places that now made up my extended mind.
In 2001, I happened into a Barnes & Noble and purchased the personal productivity bestseller, Getting Things Done, by veteran coach David Allen. The book’s title spoke to me and so did the first few pages of writing. He talked of externalizing your brain’s thoughts when they come to mind into a “trusted system.” That trusted system couldn’t be your memory, but one facilitated by an external storage–a place outside your head. That system could be paper or digital, but it’s all about getting the ideas out of your head. Why did he suggest this as a core element of the five workflow stages of the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology (see the diagram below)?
Simply, Allen said, your mind is for having ideas, not holding ideas. Your brain is really amazing at processing, but it’s really not so great at remembering what you think up and process at the time and place you need those memories. The common example the author gives in his trainings is that you realize the need for new batteries when the power goes out, you pick up the flashlight and it doesn’t work. While, you don’t remember the need when you are at the store after the power outage in preparation of the next, where you could purchase new ones.
Francis Heylighen and Clément Vidal, researchers at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University of Brussels), went so far in their paper, “Getting Things Done: The Science Behind Stress-Free Productivity,” to explain the psychological underpinnings of the core principles of the GTD methodology in 2007 (see the diagram below). Their findings purposefully outlined the faulty nature of the brain’s memory and the virtues of GTD in supporting your personal productivity. Brilliant!
But, this takes me back to my original conundrum about the brain and why it’s so important to your understanding of Evernote. Evolution provides us with a good, long time to develop rock-solid memories, no? Why would we forget things so easily and often? Well, I was pleased to learn that this is by design. You see, in the last decade, there has been the birth of a new branch of science called cognitive neuroscience–an interdisciplinary study of the brain, combining parts from neurology, psychology, biology and several other sciences. There is more we’ve learned about the brain since neuroscience has become a field of study than all the combined years of study of the human mind in history! And, one of the concepts we learned is that the brain changes (known as “neuroplasticity”); not just in early childhood development as we grow up, but throughout life and with some degree of control by us. Further, the Transfaculty Research Platform MCN, a joint project of the psychology department faculties at the University of Basel and the Psychiatric University Clinics Basel, has determined that forgetting is an active process in the brain, just as remembering is. We forget because of our ability to change our brain. If it’s not absolutely necessary right now, it’s dismissed. If everything was remembered, nothing could be forgotten. Your brain would become a fixed brick of knowledge and we know that what we know yesterday (“Santa Claus came last night, mommy!”) is not what we know today. Forgetting protects us from delusion and severe mental disorder, in a way. Now, that’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to push the boundaries of our memories. However, we shouldn’t try to remember things for which we only need a few times in our life, or that we can put someplace we’re confident we’ll look to find it when needed. My faith in our brains and our need for good systems for our extended minds is so much stronger today for this kind of research.
Brain, Meet Evernote
To live a productive life, we have to focus and that means we have to limit what we remember. Our brains know this by design, but we’ve been trying to force square knowledge into our roundish gray matter. And, that’s where technology can be help particularly well. It can take the stuff we don’t need to remember now–so we can focus–and let us recall that information quickly and conveniently when we need it. The brain need only remember where to access the information, not all the information stored via technology. Let’s take the best of our brains and the best of our technology and merge them together. So, what technology could we do that with? Enter Evernote, the elephant that never forgets.
What is Evernote to Me?
Evernote defines itself as a tool to “save and find everything that’s important to you.” That’s a tall promise! However, I think they do a great job of managing a great deal of the information you’d regularly want to offload from your memory. During the episode, “Evernote All-Star Panel Discussion,” of GTD Virtual Study Group, a podcast for GTD practitioners, each of the panelists were asked to introduce ourselves and define Evernote. As one of the panelists, I said “Evernote is a digital extension of your brain’s memory storage capabilities. If you can think it, Evernote has a way to store it for later and easy retrieval. That’s how I frame Evernote in my mind.” Evernote is a vast part of my extended mind, and hopefully here I can show you how it can be yours too.
The Basics of Evernote
Evernote is a giant box of peace of mind. Do you have a recipe you want to try for a holiday dinner with your family? Save it in Evernote. Do you have a blog post you’re writing with pictures and lots of links (like this one)? Write it in Evernote. Do you have an ebook you found on building a treehouse for the kids? Yup, put that PDF in Evernote. You can set that recipe to pop up a few days before the holiday so it can remind you to grab all the ingredients. You can have your task management system remind you daily to work on that blog post before it’s due. And, you forward via email that PDF ebook to your friend that’s an architect (with promises of copious beer and pizza for his assistance)! In these ways, and so many others, Evernote has you covered because it automagically synchronizes these notes to your computer, mobile tablet and smartphone so it’s with you when you need it.
Evernote starts with signing up for a free account by visiting http://evernote.com. Therein, you get 60 megabytes of transfer credit per month to start putting parts of your extended mind into Evernote. You do that most fundamentally by creating a new “note.” This looks similar to a clean sheet of paper, but more functional like a new document in a word processor. You can type (and style, number and bullet-point) text, record audio, drag-and-drop files and pictures, draw freeform, scan business cards and other documents, and clip Web pages with the Evernote Web Clipper browser extension (like you’d clip newspaper articles out of the Sunday Washington Post) into Evernote. The choices are all yours.
A quick review of the account shows how much you’ve used Evernote for the current month, points you to your Evernote “Email Notes to” email address (so you can email directly into Evernote new notes and files), and other functionalities.
When you visit the Evernote Web interface, you can see that Evernote has given you your first note and provides some helpful instructions. There are three vertical panes to the current Evernote Web interface and from left-to-right the two right panes show your notes and currently-selected note, respectively. Evernote Web beta is currently being tested so this will change the interface but the fundamentals of what I’m discussing here won’t. Here in the rightmost panel, you can manage your individual note. Back in the center column, you can select several notes (i.e., control/cmd+click for multiple, noncontiguous notes, shift+click for a series of connected notes) to manage together. If a note is like an individual sheet of paper, the next level of management would be to put those sheets of paper in a notebook.
In Evernote, the leftmost pane you’re given the ability to create shortcuts and tags (which I won’t get into in this article), but more importantly to create notebooks. So, keeping with our examples above, I could create new notebooks called Recipes, My Blog and Treehouse. One represents a library of culinary knowledge, another an ongoing workspace for new blog entries and underlying research, and the final is a repository for a specific project that will end where I might put blueprints and supporting documents to share with others. Upon account creation, you have what’s called your “Default Notebook.” If you email something into Evernote via your “Email Notes to” email address, this is where it will go. And, you can direct an email into another note by simply adding “@Notebook” (e.g., @Recipes, @My Blog, or @Treehouse) in the subject line of your email bound for Evernote.
Evernote Notebook Stacks
So, with several notebooks at your disposal you can now drag one or several notebooks onto another to create your first Notebook Stack. Similar to a physical set of notebooks sitting in a pile, you can create five different notebooks, such as Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert and Beverages, and drag the last four onto Breakfast to create a “Recipes” notebook stack. While you don’t necessarily need stacks, it is one additional way that many Evernote users appreciate the ability to organize their extended minds quickly and easily. One Evernote management tip: if you plan to have project-based notebooks in Evernote, once you have a few completed projects create an “Archived” notebook stack and that way you can tidy up your current view of Evernote. Those completed project notebooks can be pulled out of view, while still be easily accessible for future reference (or as a template for future projects).
But, the power of Evernote doesn’t stop at Evernote Web. As I noted earlier, Evernote is available on the major operating systems so you can install it wherever you need your extended mind.
Platforms supported include:
- Microsoft Windows 8,
- Microsoft Windows Phone,
- Apple iOS (iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch),
- Apple Macintosh OS X,
- Hewlett-Packard WebOS,
- Web browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari all work well), and
When you are using Evernote to clip Web pages, you can do so by selecting specifically-highlighted text, as well as the whole Web page, article, simplified article and several other filtering options, using Evernote Web Clipper. This fantastic browser extension works in all the aforementioned Web browsers and adds a cool additional benefit of displaying searches of your Evernote notes alongside your Google searches. But Evernote knows how to outclass its competition; it doesn’t end at its own functionality on all your devices.
Extending the Power of Evernote
With an ancillary corps of applications that work with Evernote, you can support different areas of your extended mind easily. From saving articles to read later with Evernote Clearly to managing your contacts in Evernote Hello, these additional apps are all available from Evernote. This is not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Evernote’s integrations within the Evernote App Center; if one of the above-pictured Evernote apps doesn’t fit your needs there’s likely one in the App Center that will. There are scanners, Evernote Moleskine weekly paper planners, Evernote Post-It Notes and more in the Evernote Market that are excellent solutions if you have a need in those departments.
Evernote Premium and Evernote Business
Speaking of departments, once you have invested in Evernote personally you’ll see how much it starts to support you in your professional world as well. I just started tracking the hundreds of business cards I receive every year in Evernote, because I can annotate each person’s note that I meet for later recall when I’m on the phone with them, or right before I’m about to meet them for lunch. In this way, Evernote starts to amass far more monthly data than the 60MB transfer limit can provide, and that’s where Evernote Premium steps up to the plate. With unlimited uploads and the ability to save notes offline (should you not have Web access available on a regular basis), those are just two reasons you’d want to upgrade to Evernote Premium. And, if you start to convert Evernote users in your company, you might want to upgrade to (or pitch your IT and C-level executives for) Evernote Business so you can work with teams in Evernote.
Final Thoughts on Evernote
While my pursuit of living the good life leads me down an endlessly-intense and thrilling research path into the inner workings of the mind, I hope you don’t have to work so hard. If you want to learn more about the depth with which Evernote can be invested without all the toil, check out Evernote Essentials: The Definitive Guide for New Evernote Users by Bretty Kelly, or How To Use Evernote: The Unofficial Manual (which is freely downloadable in PDF and ePub also) by MakeUseOf.com. They’re definitely great resources to get started.
As we come to a close on this journey from studying the mind to forgetting purposefully into Evernote, I leave you with a warning: don’t become a digital hoarder! Create a framework for what is worthy of being saved, and therefore remembered. Not everything deserves saving. Your mental organization, or disorganization for that matter, is what controls your physical world. Typically your physical world will start to show signs of your mental world when it’s either in emotional or logistical turmoil. And, Evernote will reflect that as well. Evernote is part of my extended mind in my trusted system, and I hope that it will be in yours too.
Ray Sidney-Smith is a personal productivity and GTD enthusiast, and the blogger, podcaster and organizer-facilitator behind Two Minute Rule, #ProdChat, ProdPod, Productivity Book Group, GTD-DC Meetup and GTDNYC Meetup, among many other productivity-inspired projects.
The latest, sweetest little ScanSnap
|| BY Penny Catterall ON October 9, 2014
So I couldn’t imagine what else Fujitsu could come up with to surpass their already amazing line of scanners, when lo and behold, I got an advance sneak peak at their latest product, the iX100 Mobile Wireless Scanner. Yes, mobile AND wireless! This wonderful little scanner (only about 11 inches long, 1.5 inches tall and 14 oz) combines the portability of the S1100 and the wireless capability of the iX500 in one compact package that I can actually put in my briefcase and use anywhere I feel like scanning, including my local coffee shop.
It works like this. The iX100 has a lithium battery that can power the scanner for up to 260 single sided scans. (You can charge it any time by plugging into a USB port or USB charger.) That means no cords at all except when it’s charging and for the initial set-up. In the set-up, which is made extremely easy for both Mac and PC with the included software, the installer will ask if you want to enable wireless scanning. You definitely want to do this!
By turning on the Wi-Fi switch at the back of the scanner, you’ll be able to access your local network. Just follow the software screen instructions and when that is completed, you should be able to scan documents directly to your computer, smartphone or tablet with out plugging in a single cord or wire. You do have to download the free ScanSnap app for your iPhone, Android or other device, of course. And if it can’t find a wireless access point, the iX100 will set up it’s own through something called the Direct Connect mode (don’t even ask me how it does this!) This scanner is also really fast, scanning at 5.2 seconds per page, two seconds faster than the S1100, and almost as fast as the ScanSnap S1300i.
One feature that I was very excited about with the introduction of this latest ScanSnap was the new ScanSnap Receipt application that accompanied it. This has been a long time coming for ScanSnap, and is one of the only things its main competitor had that it did not. Now when you scan a receipt, ScanSnap will recognize it as such, and using OCR, extract the relevant information such as the amount, date, vendor, and even categorize it. It is fairly accurate, and in the event it is not, it is pretty easy to edit the content. All the information can be exported into a CSV file which can be very handy at tax time to hand over to your accountant, rather than a shoe box full of illegible receipts!
All in all, I am very excited to introduce this latest scanner to my business-organizing clients who work out of the office and need to scan documents and business expense receipts on the go. The iX100 is a very welcome addition to the ScanSnap family and I am looking forward to putting it through its paces over the next few months. If you would like to purchase this scanner or any other Fujitsu ScanSnap, you can do so through my Amazon Shop page here.
A plan for organizing your printed photos
|| BY Penny Catterall ON September 5, 2014
This month, I’m very pleased to have Rachel Jenkins, Founder of ScrapMyPix, be my guest blogger on a topic I get asked about a lot – organizing your printed photos! Rachel is my go-to gal when it comes to photo organizing, and I thought she would be the perfect person to give my readers some advice on getting started on this monumental task.
The hardest part of organizing your printed photos is getting started. It’s one of those nagging tasks that most avoid until they end up wasting hours searching for that one photo for an event or for a school project. And if that’s the precipice that motivates you to organize those plastic bins, let’s make sure you’re investing your time wisely.
I’m going to give you a few tips to help you get started. First off have a large enough work space to lay it all out. I suggest a dining table or large folding table, and don’t worry – you don’t have to leave it all out till the project is completed. Although for some that might be a motivator.
Collect your supplies….you’ll need a few to make your task a little easier. A pad of sticky notes, maybe some 4×6 index cards, a photo-safe pencil, an archival box to store your organized photos, photo-handling gloves if you want to avoid fingerprints, and a garbage and/or recycle bin. Check your local recycling requirements. In some counties photos are recyclable, and in some they are not.
Relocate all your boxes, envelopes and drawers of photos, framed photos and albums to your work area. If you’re not planning on taking apart old albums to include in this project, you can leave them where they are. The albums I would consider disassembling are the old magnetic ones. Those are the old albums with the sticky pages. They are not archival products and could be damaging your photos.
The next step that goes a long way is a little planning. Think about what you want the end to look like and develop a plan to guide you toward that goal. Do you want to create albums or a photo wall? Or are you looking to digitize your printed photos so you have a backup or a slide show perhaps?
With the end game in mind, you can now create your categories. Will they be chronological or theme-based? This is a personal decision. Chronological order can take longer if you’ve got decades of photos, but if that’s how you recall, it might be your preference. One of the simplest methods is to organize by theme. Again, it’s about how you recall your memories. Theme-based organizing makes it super easy to find a picture of Aunt Jean later. Make your list of the themes that make sense for your family. For instance, one for each of the members of your immediate family, a vacation you take each year, or a holiday you know you’ll have pictures from each year.
Once you’ve got your themes, write each category on a sticky note (sticky surface at the bottom) and spread them out across your workspace. This is where you will start placing your sorted photos. These will also serve as your temporary tab dividers when you’re done sorting for the day. As you process each handful of photos, consider whether it’s a photo worth keeping. It’s okay to throw out photos that are overexposed, underexposed, blurry, duplicates, have people that you can’t identify, or are redundant photos of landscapes from vacations. It’s also okay to add additional themes, remove themes, and combine themes as you work. Organizing your photos is an evolving process.
As you’re sorting, you may want to include identifying information on your photos from the envelopes from which they were removed. Don’t rely on your memory for dates and places, and even people. Use your photo-safe pencil and not ink.
Once you’re done with each session, make another set of sticky notes with your categories for next time. This allows you to file your initial set of photos into your archival box and have a set of stickies to lay out at the start of your next session. Use that first set of stickies as your tabs to divide your photo categories.
A few additional tips I’ve gathered over the years is that everyone has a threshold for productivity and attention. You know your own limits, so set a timer and don’t overdo it. Otherwise you may not be motivated to go back and finish. Ask for help. Family members are a useful and free resource! Just be careful you don’t get caught reminiscing over every photo as it will really hinder your progress. There will be time for that once they’re organized. If you prefer professional assistance to get organized, feel free to contact me to discuss your project and determine if you’d like my help.
Rachel Jenkins is the founder of ScrapMyPix, LLC, serving MD/DC/VA and virtual clients. She provides photo organizing services specializing in preserving both printed and digital photographic materials.She is a Certified Member of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443-226-9801.