A plan for organizing your printed photos

Old photos and photo equipment

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.

RachelJenkinsRachel 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 rachel@scrapmypix.com or 443-226-9801.

Organizing, storing and sharing your digital photos

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For many of us, taking pictures on our smartphones and digital cameras has become so easy these days that we often end up with thousands of photos “piled up” in our computers and hand-held devices. To keep them from disappearing into the digital ether, these photos need to be carefully sorted, organized and saved. There are some basic steps you need to take to ensure that this is accomplished properly.

First, make sure that the photos are ones you actually want to keep. Not having to use film anymore makes it ridiculously easy to take as many pictures as you want. However, this doesn’t mean they all need to be saved. If you take a lot of photos on your smartphone, go through them judiciously and get rid of ones that are blurry, crooked, unflattering or downright silly (unless you like silly!) – you don’t need to be cluttering up your phone’s memory with all these unnecessary pics. The same goes for any photos you download from a digital camera’s SD card.

Once you’ve decided on the photos you want to keep, I recommend first backing them up to an external hard drive dedicated solely to that purpose. Hard drives of 1TB usually cost under $100 and are well worth the price for the piece of mind they bring. All you need to do is locate the photo files (JPEGs, TIFFs, PNGs, etc.) that you want to back up, and then drag and drop them into the external hard drive while it’s plugged into your computer. Many hard drives come with automatic backup software that can be scheduled to run when you want it to.

While a local backup device is great, you may want to back up your photos (and other data) offsite in order to keep them safe in the event of a home disaster. There are many options for online backup services, including Carbonite, iDrive, BackBlaze, and CrashPlan, which can run as low as $4 a month. This option is especially important if you have a large number of photos stored on an external hard drive that is right next to your home computer – if one of them goes up in flames, the other one would likely meet the same fate!

Next, there are some great websites dedicated to organizing and sharing your photos (which is really the whole point of taking them). Some of the most popular include Flickr, Photobucket, and Shutterfly. These come with great photo editing capabilities, excellent organizational tools, privacy options, and (often) the option to order prints. You can download as much as 1TB worth of photos for free on Flickr, and then share them with photographers all over the world.

Finally, the most common way of taking photos for the amateur photographer – on your smartphone – is also probably the most commonly used way of storing and organizing them. Apps like iPhoto/Photostream and Google+ Photos (formerly Picasa) are a quick and easy way to keep all your photos organized and available at your fingertips (literally). Each has its pros and cons, but it really comes down to whether you are a Mac/iPhone user or a PC/Android user, and whether you are comfortable with using Google+ (you do have to have an account to use their free Auto Backup system).

So it’s really not too hard to organize your digital photos. Now if you could only get all those physical photos lying in boxes in your attic or basement organized…but that’s the topic of my next blog!

The importance of a home inventory

House Items

I never realized how important it was to have a good home inventory system until earlier this month, when two days of torrential rains in the DC area overcame our sump pump and French drains and we ended up with four inches of water covering our entire basement. Everything on the floor was soaked, and we had to move the entire contents of our basement to the back yard while we frantically tried to drain the water out. Not fun! We were lucky in that nothing really valuable was destroyed (except for a few sentimentally valuable things like some art that our sons made when they were kids), but we still had a lot of accounting to do in order to get reimbursed by our insurance company for the cost of replacing the numerous items that were ruined.

That’s when I wished I had kept better records of all the purchases, both large and small, that we had made over the years. Up to that point, I had been meticulous about keeping receipts for our big-ticket purchases such as electronics, large furniture (sofas, armchairs, etc) and artwork, but not so much with smaller things like area rugs, less expensive furniture, and other accessories. If numerous smaller items are destroyed in a fire, flood, hurricane or other home disaster, the dollars can really add up when insurance reimbursement comes into play.

Nearly 1,000 homes burn down every day (mostly due to kitchen fires), and other disasters strike on a regular basis. Most people (including myself) would not remember what they had in their homes – especially under the duress of a catastrophic event.

The simplest way to do a home inventory is to start by walking around with a smart phone and videotaping or photographing the contents of each room. If you have purchase receipts for any of these items, go ahead and scan them into your computer. Then save them in an application like Dropbox or Evernote, along with the photos you took and any other notes (such as serial numbers).

There are also some great free apps out there to help you catalog your possessions. One example is Know Your Stuff, provided by the Insurance Information Institute, which is available for both iPhone and Android. Several insurance companies have their own apps, including Allstate Digital Locker, State Farm HomeIndex and Liberty Mutual Home Gallery. Each of these apps can be used even if you’re not one of the insurance company’s customers. There are numerous other home inventory apps – many of them free – including ones designed specifically for cataloguing books, clothing, wine and more. Whatever system you end up using, it is vital to have your inventory stored in the cloud: in the terrible event that your entire home is destroyed, you will need to have access to that information from somewhere other than your home computer.

While the task of creating a home inventory may seem daunting, just take it one room at a time and try to get it done over the course of a few weeks. You will thank yourself if the need ever arises – which I hope it won’t!

Making password management a breeze

LastPass

Passwords are a necessary burden for anyone who sends or stores sensitive information on the web – and in this age of hackers and internet viruses, using the same password for everything just doesn’t cut it anymore. The more complicated the password, the more secure it will be. But the more complicated it is, the more likely it is to be forgotten!  Statistics show that 73% of people use the same password for multiple sites, and that it takes 3 minutes to crack the average password.  That’s why it’s so important to have secure passwords, and to change your passwords every 6 months or so.  But how can you keep track of them all?  Should you use spreadsheets? Coded documents?  Hidden notebook pages in a file drawer? All of these work up to a point, but you still have to remember to write the new password down when you change it, and come up with something secure as well.  I have found a solution to all of this with my favorite password manager, LastPass.com.

LastPass is an extremely secure password manager that can do so much more than just store passwords for you.  It also generates new passwords, manages profiles for online shopping sites, and enables you to create secure notes for just about anything you can think of, from your driver’s license number to your insurance policy account details to your home WiFi login info to … well, you get the idea.

To get started, go to LastPass.com, download the free software and create a username and password.  This password is the only one you will ever need to remember.  But you absolutely need to remember it, as LastPass does not have access to it.  Fortunately, you can save a password hint which LastPass will email to you upon request.

Once you set up your account, LastPass will appear as an add-on in your browser, and any passwords you already have stored on your computer can now be imported into LastPass. These passwords are then stored in your unique and secure web-based LastPass vault.

When you go to a password-protected website, LastPass will prompt you to save your username and password; then it will autofill this information when you return to that site (although it will always ask first if you want to have that information autofilled).  The LastPass password generator appears when you’re creating an account or updating an existing one, so you can have unique passwords that follow best security practices. LastPass also alerts you to weak and duplicate passwords as you’re logging in to your accounts, so you can generate new ones immediately.  If you use more than one computer, just download LastPass on each computer and log in with the same account. Your data is securely synced automatically, so you always have access to your latest updates.

One of my favorite Last Pass features is the ability to create secure notes for information like credit cards, insurance policies, memberships, WiFi logins, passports, driver’s licenses, and more.  You can even attach documents and images to your secure notes, and LastPass backs up your files automatically, so you always have a secure digital copy.

If you want to have your LastPass information also available through an app on your smartphone or tablet, you can pay $12 a year for their Premium service – well worth the money in my book.

When news broke recently of the wide-reaching security vulnerability known as the Heartbleed bug (which affects OpenSSL, used by a majority of websites to send and store data securely), I was greatly relieved to learn that LastPass was safe from this virus.   I have been using LastPass for over a year now, and I honestly don’t know what I would do without it – there are only so many passwords anyone’s brain can keep track of!  Start using LastPass now, and you’ll never have to memorize another password again.

Are you ready to go paperless?

Paperless creative sign

“Going Paperless”…it’s such a catch phrase these days.  Everyone talks about “going paperless”, but what we really mean is going paperless, not paper free.  We will never completely get rid of paper, nor should we.  Paper is useful for so many things and still has an important place in our world, but the wrong paper can completely distract you from the important things that need to get done.  Think about your desk  at home or in your office – is it covered in paper?  Is non-essential paper like catalogs, receipts from the dry cleaners and fast food joints, and credit card offers covering up important paper like bills that need to be paid and school forms that need to be filled out?

If:

  • Paper comes in faster than you can process it;
  • You don’t know what to do with the paper you have;
  • You can’t find what you need when you need it;

You may want to think about moving towards a more paperless lifestyle.

Just some of the benefits of going paperless include:

  • Increased productivity (stop wasting time looking for lost paper)
  • Cost savings (in terms of printer ink, toner and paper)
  • Helping the environment  (the average American uses up 6 40 foot tress a year in paper!)
  • Peace of mind (less paper means less to deal with!)

Start by reducing the amount of paper that comes into your home in the first place.

  • Think hard about what unnecessary paper you bring in yourself (flyers, coupons, receipts, etc.)
  • Unsubscribe from magazines you don’t read or read them on your tablet or computer.
  • Use apps like PaperKarma to unsubscribe from catalogs and websites like www.optoutprescreen.com to get off junk mail and credit card offers.
  • Switch to paperless billing and online bill pay.
  • Download your user manuals to PDF from sites like Retrovo.com
  • Save documents as a PDF instead of to paper (save yourself paper and ink!)

Next, you may want to invest in a dedicated document scanner. There are quite a few out there now, but my favorite is the Fujitsu ScanSnap, which comes in several different versions. All are easy to use, work interchangeably with Macs and PCs, and scan directly to apps like Dropbox, Evernote, GoogleDocs, and a lot more. They even scan photos at 600 dpi resolution directly to iPhoto.

Start by scanning all the new paper that comes in that you don’t have control over – medical bills and records, car service records, and school reports.  You can also use your smart phone for scanning smaller items like business cards and receipts on the go.  All of these can be saved into cloud-based services such as Dropbox or Evernote, or onto your hard drive in the Documents folder. Just be sure to back up your computer regularly if you keep your files this way.  Then, just recycle the paper or shred if it has any personal information on it.  Of course, keep the original of anything that is considered a vital document of course, like birth or marriage certificates, citizenship records, or Social Security cards!

Once you stop and really look, you will find that so much of the paper that comes into your home or office is extraneous and distracting.  With the powerful combination of the internet, easy-to-use scanners, and the cloud, you can get rid of your piles, and start focusing on the things that really matter.

Spring Cleaning: Refresh Your Life and Home on RadioMD

I was very happy to be the featured guest on RadioMD.com with Dr. Pamela Peeke and Michelle King Jobson on March 27th, 2014 discussing ways to declutter your home for spring!  Click here to listen to the interview.

RadioMD_medium

 

Using a tomato to manage your time

Il_pomodoro

Managing our time is often one of the most difficult tasks we have today. Distractions and interruptions can constantly occur, especially in this age of instant communication.  Emails, phone calls, Facebook posts, Tweets and so many other diversions can make it extremely hard to stay focused on the task at hand and complete the work that you know has to be done.

One time management method that has worked well for me is the Pomodoro Technique, invented by Francisco Cirillo in the 1980s. Named for the Italian word for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer, the Pomodoro Technique breaks down work into 25-minute intervals separated by 5-minute breaks. The theory behind the Pomodoro Technique is that focusing intently on a designated task for specific periods of time, while taking short, scheduled breaks in between, both minimizes distractions and prevents burnout from working too long on any one thing.  It also helps eliminate multi-tasking, which has been shown to lower the overall quality of work produced. The soft ticking that comes with most Pomodori apps, including the Pomodoro timer itself, acts as a sort of white noise that helps keep you focused on the task at hand.

There are six basic steps to implementing the technique:

  1. Choose a task to be done and decide to devote yourself fully to it for 25 minutes with no distractions.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer to 25 minutes and make a promise to yourself to stick to your task.
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings.  If, during that time, you learn of or remember something else that needs to be done, jot it down on a piece of paper so that you can come back to it later.
  4. When the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper and congratulate yourself!
  5. Take a short break (3-5 minutes) – walk around, have a glass of water, meditate, or do something else relaxing (no reading email!)
  6. After every four “pomodori,” take a longer break of 20–30 minutes.  This gives your brain a chance to assimilate new information and rest before the next set of pomodori.

 

To learn more about how the Pomodoro Technique works, visit their website here. Think about all the other ways you can also use this method to accomplish a long-delayed goal: get a household chore done, clean out your closet, have your kids clean up their rooms (followed by a fun break time), pay your bills, file a stack of papers – whatever you can think of that you have been putting off!  It’s only 25 minutes – you can do it!

Phone Negotiation

Learn some simple phone negotiation tricks that can save you hundreds over the long run!

Money Saving Phone Calls: How to Optimize Your Car Insurance Rate

Swifty Menubar

Swifty is a super fast menubar item for Macs that gives you access to your email, Twitter direct messages and Facebook messages in seconds. You can also send out message from this menubar app.

Swifty Sends Email, Twitter DMs, and Facebook Messages in a Flash

Fuel Your Run

For the avid runners and marathoners, a great app to use while out on your runs is the Fuel My Run app. You input your exercise information into the app, such as distance, and then the app will remind you when you need to drink water in order to maximize your run.