February 3, 2018

A Closet Full of Old Photos - Now What?

One small section of the photo storage closet

It takes a bit of muscle power to wrench open the closet door. Every square inch is packed, floor to ceiling, with massive photo albums, many 10 inches wide and weighing 10 pounds each. This is not a collection of a sometimes photographer, this is the repository of a serious shutterfly, my wife, Betty.

Taken over our 41 year marriage, as well as lots of photos of our parents and even grandparents, many of the color photographs are fading into a permanent greenish or orange-tinted hue.  The oldest black and white ones are morphing into a uniform grey.

There are so many photographs that digitizing them by ourselves is impossible. We won't live that long. Our kids have shown little interest in most of them; neither has any room to store one-tenth of them anyway.

The obvious answer is to thin out the duplicates or uninteresting blurry shots of trees, beaches, and random people who wandered into the shots. If there are 800 pictures from the 1992 trip to Maui, how many does it take to bring back memories of that trip - 400, 150, 75? 

Therein lies the rub. My answer is probably 75 or less; Betty's would be closer to 400. How do we agree to disagree on the photos needed to remind us of a particular trip and give our kids a sense of what was important to us? How do we throw away irreplaceable, but not terribly important, snapshots?

There is one fact staring us both in the face: at some point we will move into a much smaller living space at a retirement community. There is no way these albums can come with us. And, as noted, our daughters don't want all of them, nor can they give up a large closet either. So, a compromise is inevitable. 

After cutting down the raw number of pictures we have, turning those fading analog ones into digital files is the only answer. I found a company, ScanMyPhotos, that will convert around 1,800 of them for about $150. Or, for someone more like Betty, around 10,000 old photos become digitized for $800.  Considered we have at least 80,000 digital photos, suddenly even 10,000 doesn't seem quite so overwhelming! 

Is this a problem in your household: what to do with tons of old photographs that take up lots of space, are fading before your eyes, and may not be terrible important to others? Here are some more thoughts from a post of a year ago: Managing Your Photos.

Betty and I are still in the midst of negotiations about how deep to cut the closet collection, and when. Maybe your thoughts will help us solve this picturesque problem. 

Here's a short video that gives you three options if you are ready to take those old photos and digitize them:




Whatever you decide, good luck!

53 comments:

  1. I went through (and am STILL not finished), this process starting over a year ago. I won't tell you what you should do because I think you already know. What I will say is Betty might want to consider if you don't weed out the losers, you run the risk of all or nearly all of your photos ending up in a landfill someday. It's a daunting, tedious task but a necessary one if you want to preserve this important piece of family history.

    Since I'm old school, I didn't have any photos digitized but rather organized into life stages and placed in separate albums. The only ones I digitized were the ones I wanted to use in a video to be shown to the millions of mourners at my funeral ;).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a fact that the closet of photos can't be moved into a retirement community apartment. I think we will begin to tackle the problem this summer after Betty finishes a major commitment to our church and we return from a river cruise in Europe. Since it is too hot to be outside in a Phoenix summer, that is a good time to tackle this type of job.

      Delete
  2. We are in the same predicament, but are not only trying to downsize but also trying to preserve memories that could be lost to natural disasters. We live in St. Augustine, Florida and hurricanes Matthew and Irma water came 12 to 18 inches on the outside of our home, but luckily through well placed sandbags did not enter. One thing I am doing is scanning old family pics to entries on ancestry sites, making albums for other family members (distribute the wealth!), and placing extremely old tintypes, zip drives, etc in safety deposit box. It is a chore to say the least, but hopefully family will appreciate. It does not help to be an only child and the recipient of so many family photos!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, I hadn't thought of climate change and living near rising water when i wrote this since that's not much of a problem here in the desert. But, now that you mentioned it, anyone living near either coast should think about what you've written. Rising water doesn't care much about memories.

      You have a well-organized plan in place. I hadn't though about ancestry sites but that makes sense.

      Delete
  3. My problem is a little different but similar. What to do with all the old artwork. Some of it is from the 1970's when I first started painting. A lot of it is just bad art. So I am going through it with a critical eye. Many of them are rather large too. I am tossing them out. Yep. I am finally doing it. How long can you schlep all that art around. After all if I sold it it would be gone anyway right? Right. I think.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Betty has several older paintings of hers in a storage shed. Occasionally, she will find one she'd like to display in the house somewhere.

      I guess it wouldn't be that tough to take a photo of a piece of art and save it as a digital memory, just like turning analog photos into data bits.

      Delete
  4. I have my great grandparent's seven photos. I love them. I am thinking that I will go digital for about 10 a year- skipping some years entirely. I don't want my kids to have to toss my memories and not know which ones were the most special to me.
    As for art- the two kids have identifies their favorites. We will sell/get rid of the rest when we downsize. It turns out that their favorites are our favorites as well. But then I an not an artist, just a crazy collector!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Like a lot of planning for our eventual demise, getting important photographs in order now is one less painful hassle for our kids. That's nice that you and your kid's like the same artwork.

      Delete
  5. I give you credit for opening up a can of worms. It's one thing to work on improving ourselves. It's another thing to work on our wives. I've pretty much given up on my wife's clutter. If she dies first, I'll clean it up. If I die first, or if we die together, our kids will hire a service to empty the house. The good news for you is that it's just one closet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, one closet and about 80,000 digital photo files on several external hard drives of a few terabytes each! I gather your wife has more than one closet to deal with!

      Delete
  6. I didn't know you were moving again Bob, when will that happen? I am looking into a CCRC for when either Yvonne or I are left alone. That time hasn't come yet but still need to have some plans for when it happens.

    On to the photo problem, we didn't have 80,000 analog pictures but we had thousands. About four years ago I spent a couple of the dreary winter months with state-of-the-art digital tools to do the job. Yeah, I did cull them down by about 40% and just kept the ones that had memories. Maybe you need to do the same during your heat-of-summer months. I imagine the technology is probably tripled since I did mine so that alone should ease your burden. The real task is decided which ones should not be done. There might be a grandkid or great-great grandkid who would go through 80,000 but I kind of doubt even that. Just tell the story of your life as your legacy...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We aren't likely to make the move to a CCRC for another 8-10 years, depending on health concerns.

      You have identified the crux of the problem: which ones go into the trash? Even after serious thinning I'd rather have a company tackle the conversion and send us back a few shiny dics. And, yes, Arizona summers are a good time for an indoor project like this.

      Delete
  7. While we do not have a lot in the way of pictures, we have other things that will need to be cleared out that our daughter does not share an interest in. Deb has a large collection of music boxes and beautiful porcelain "things" (I believe the line or manufacturer is something like Lemogue) that are out in display cases. I have told her many are likely valuable so she needs to do some research and cull them down, before they are ultimately wasted.

    You have raised a good subject, Bob, since it sounds like most/all of us are likely facing a variation of your picture dilemma.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. First, a music box collection? That sounds beautiful..oh, maybe I shouldn't have said that..not helping!

      Any life, and especially a long-lasting marriage, generates all sorts of memories but not necessarily for those left behind. That's the problem.

      Delete
  8. I started taking photos of family pictures wth my phone a year or so ago (I have an app that scans them to a PDF) and saving them to the cloud (in this case, for now, Amazon Photos). My first step has been to remove anything not recognizable, blurry, or haphazard.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know Google has an app for doing exactly what you are talking about. The video in this post refers it that method. With massive amounts of pictures it doesn't seem practical, but for a reasonable amount it does seem simple enough, and cloud storage is a great plus.

      Delete
  9. We have old albums up in the attic but not nearly as many as you. We've given some to our kids. Most of our photos since the beginning of cell phones are digital and I've managed to transfer them to each new phone. I just got my new Samsung 8 and the camera is awesome and there's plenty of storage. Dave's phone is all about music, mine is about photos. You've given me a great idea, Bob. I think I'll sort through the old pics and take shots with the new phone camera. I'm pretty sure those will last forever!
    b

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I read about your new phone on Facebook. I have what you used to have, the Galaxy 6, and am wondering what is next. I guess the 8 should be considered.

      I gather the Google app, or others like it, do a very good job of this type of digital conversion and organizing.

      Delete
    2. Most of the photos I've put on FB in the past few years were from my 6. The 8 is a bit more complicated and I'm gradually getting used to it.

      Delete
  10. Bob,

    I guess my question is (and one I have recently pondered), who are you digitizing the photos for?

    As a child, I was fascinated with old pictures and the stories they told of my family. Later, photos became touchstones for my own memories of moments and people of significance in my life and family times.

    I have been recently been sorting through old photos from my parent's collections and have asked the next generation of our family if they are interested in them or a digitized copy. I have been surprised to find that no one has any interest in them. "I don't know any of these people," is the common phrase. I think this is a result of our new "selfie" culture. Only pictures of your current reality are relevant. As a result of these repeated discussions, I am digitizing those pictures that are relevant to me and I intend to trash the rest.

    Another quick suggestion: On many of my parent's photo collections was information (usually penned on the back of the photo) of the who, where, etc.. This is so important for those who look upon them later. In our digital world this may be a problem, so I urge all who are taking digital photos to remember that when you are viewing them on your computer you can "right click" on the photo and bring up the "metadata." This will allow you to add the important information about the picture that will be helpful to future generations... if they have any interest.

    Rick in Oregon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Primarily, the photos would be culled and digitized for us. We can't move them to a smaller place when the time comes but we want to be able to still look at the best ones when we want to remember a particular time in our lives. Our children aren't that interested in a lot of them, though our younger daughter is likely to want the best of the best.

      Adding the extra information to a digital file is a good idea for those photos of past generations. I hadn't thought of that, but I use metadata on this blog so I am familiar with its uses. Thanks, Rick!

      Delete
  11. Hi Bob! Good question as usual. Through the years I've gradually whittled down the number of photos I have. Thom on the other hand could chuck the whole lot of them...I am much more sentimental. But I actually have a very good scanner of my own so bit by bit I'm going through and digitizing my own photos. It's a long process but is doable so that's where I'm at today. Thanks for reminding me to make it a bit more of a priority. ~Kathy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can see us self-scanning some of the older photos that have faded and need some restoration. The companies that scan for you will do that, but not a well as Betty can with her software program. So, maybe a few hundred need her special touch before being shipped off.

      I am more in Thom's camp, though not the full closet worth...if we can get it down to a shelf...is that good?

      Delete
  12. Photos!! A huge issue! We have a ton of boxed up loose pictures and some albums and I also have a ton of photos in google drive, on my Mac laptop too.I need to get it all organized somehow.Great idea to use hot Arizona summer .. will work on it this summer!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Between dips in your pool and watercolor painting, digitize!

      Delete
  13. I scanned all the old photos/slides and threw them out about 8 years ago. I am now reviewing my digital files and further reducing them\

    ReplyDelete
  14. A whole closet? I have one shelf of drifting packets of photos and feel overwhelmed! Fortunately, my dad did our family photo albums up for us one week on my kitchen table, so we have the antiques taken care of. For those, there's just nobody to take them when I go. Will have to look into that somewhere. But our photos are partly my husband's art and partly snapshots. Think I'll delegate the lot to him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Delegation is a good choice. Betty and I will look through each album together and come to some sort of compromise before we ship off the ones we want saved on disc. Of course, in 15-20 years no computer will be able to play a disc, but that becomes the next generation's problem.

      Delete
  15. One of my very first projects as a new retiree 4 years ago was culling through all those drug store envelopes in huge boxes filled with (mostly bad) photos. I threw out 2 garbage bags full. I then went through all the remaining photos as well as those in albums and created a book from birth to college graduation for each daughter. The album is divided into sections like pre-school, siblings, family, friends, etc. My girls appreciated the one album and I included a heavy duty plastic zip lock in case they end up shoved under a bed. I ended up with a shoebox sized box of loose photos plus the shelf of albums which is my next project. For the record, I am the opposite of a hoarder and always keep my kids in mind when deciding what to keep. Now that my husband has joined me in retirement, this is one more project we can do together as we prepare to downsize someday. My husband tweets you and enjoys that forum as well!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like that idea of one album for each child. That they could handle. The ziploc storage is a stroke of genius.

      I think this will be an interesting project to work on this summer. I'm not sure it will be a lot of fun (!), but necessary. If we approach like you did, two garbage bags sounds about right, at least for the first two shelves.

      Delete
    2. Maybe because I have only sons but I have found my offspring to not only be completely disinterested in ancestors but not interested in their baby/childhood pictures or ANY of the things I hung onto for years thinking they, and their wives, would treasure. The few things I have pressed onto them seem to have disappeared. I am actually throwing away baby albums. I know that seems awful but nobody wants them.

      Delete
  16. Wow! Thanks, Bob! Your video was perfect timing. I just found a thumb drive in my desk drawer that contained years worth of digital photos that had been saved from an old computer, but not in the cloud. I just spent a day uploading those photos, so now my cloud storage is nicely organized back through 2015. But, like you, what about all of those albums in the closet from the late seventies on...I decided to choose the ones that I'd be most crushed if they were ever destroyed in a fire, and have started with those. Our wedding album will be my first project, and I'm using Google PhotoScan, which as your video says, does a really nice job. And, as I'm retired, I guess I can find the time. Thanks! ~ Lynn

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please let me know how the Google app works. Now, every picture we take on the phone goes to the cloud and is organized by date. But, that leaves a ton to decide how to handle.

      Glad the video hit the spot!

      Delete
  17. Betty will not like my answer! I went through photos several years ago. I ended up throwing out trash bags full of photos. The ones that were only meaningful to me--out they went. I had a box for each kid and separated the photos as I went along. Now every kid has their own box. Once everyone started taking photos with cameras, the kids took over recording their own lives, so I let them take over that.

    Caveat--I did keep photos of me when I was young and at different times in my life if I thought the kids would like them.

    Other caveat--I am NOT the caliber of photographer that Betty is, so I would NEVER suggest that she follow my example. I'll leave that to the two of you to sort out!! She could publish books of photographs and y'all could enhance your retirement savings! I've never known anyone who has so many claims to fame as Betty does.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a Sweet thing to say! We will be super purging this summer. I want to save all of the families photos such as the grandkids great, great, great grandparents and all of their Birth, Death, and Marriage certificates etc... I have a lot of genealogical stuff that includes pictures, and I know of at least one grandchild that will continue to preserve these treasures. I've always thought of making some coffee table books but just haven't had the time.

      Delete
    2. Of course you don't have time, Betty, because you are too busy creating more beauty!

      Delete
  18. What software do you use to restore photos? If you keep discussing what to save, things may further deteriorate. I only have a Rubbermaid tote full of photos, but they seem insurmountable to me. Also, what kind of scanner is best for photos? Do you know what to use for slides? I have years of those. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Betty uses Corel PaintShop Pro X2 or X8 to restore photos. The Epson scanner mentioned in the video above is probably the best for speed and ability to fix faded photos. But, at $550 or so, it isn't cheap. Any flatbed scanner will work. Set at 300 dpi instead of a higher number and things will go more quickly and use less memory.

      We don't have slides but the company noted in the post above can handle slides.

      Delete
  19. Rob has started scanning photos of his kids’ childhood. He is making an digtal archive for each of them. I, on the other hand, am years behind on organizing my digital photos, and refuse to even think about the albums and boxes of film prints.

    Jude

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The project can be overwhelming, can"t it!

      Delete
  20. We started this project last year with a company called Southtree we got our pictures on dvd and sent them a flash drive to put them on too! We still have more to go! We also made some digital albums We also had large pictures digitized! Too !Good luck with your photo journey!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! It will take up most of our summer. Getting the end product on both DVDs and flash drives makes sense since so many never computers don't include a DVD player anymore.

      Delete
  21. When my parents were downsizing, my mother bought five small photo albums and then spent months going through all the old photos to create an album for each of her five children that documented their lives form infancy through adulthood. We each got an album for Christmas that year, and since the photos were focused on *us* we were delighted to have them. We spent lots of time at the family Christmas gathering that year passing our albums around and comparing notes. Many years later, I still treasure mine (especially since these are the only photos I have of my childhood). -Jean

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Betty has done this for our daughters with the old analog photos. But, the albums are too large to be practical and the photos are fading. So, each will have to be digitized.

      Delete
  22. I have this problem too ! I have many hundreds of family photos from my parents, grandparents and great grandparents, letters, and documents I need to go through. In addition to this, all my childhood photos, and my children's childhood photos ! It can be overwhelming. I did go through them a few years ago and got rid of many that were blurry, repeats or unrecognizable but I still have hundreds.
    Several years ago, my DH (my second husband) and I decided to do photobooks using Snapfish. I believe Shutterfly and other companies do this as well. I make an album of highlights of the year, birthdays, trips, graduations, visits with family, grandkids and of course us and send it off to Snapfish and within a month receive a very nice bound album which is easy to store.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We have used Shutterfly before, uploading digital photos to make an album to celebrate something. But, a company like the one I listed in the post that will convert thousands of old fading photos will have to be our choice for the closet pictured above.

      To this point, even getting rid of the bad photos has been a chore that has been too long neglected.

      Delete
  23. Along about the end of December, 2015 we decided it was time to sell the house that was home for 38 years and we gave ourselves one year to get the house ready to sell and move into a 2 bedroom apartment at a local 55+ community that we fell in love with. We met our goal of listing the house in January, 2017 and sold for last time (2 deals fell apart before we ever got a closing date) on November 2, 2017. We had actually moved into the apartment mid-April of last year and the secret to unloading everything was that we would ask ourselves, "What's more important to us, making the move now, or holding on to more stuff that neither of the 2 sons are at all interested in and miss our move in date?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That type of question puts a decision like the one we face into perspective. If many of the photos are unwanted who are we holding them for? And, when it is time to move do we really want the pressure of doing a rush job?

      Thanks, Dave.

      Delete
  24. MY wife and I made her Dad and our kids a set of electronic photo albums for Christmas 5 year ago or so. We bought the frames at Costco and each will hold about 100 pictures. Plus each frame can use a plug in jump drive for other pictures. We spent the summer and most of the fall that year sorting out and picking out 100 or so pictures and then scanning then digitally so we could load them on the frames. It was hard long work but we selected only the ones we wanted then to keep and display in their living room. The kid and her dad loved the pictures and frames and still use them.

    We also made a frame for us. Then recently we added two jump drives with more pictures so we can show more pictures automatically on our frame.

    You might try something like this while you can still down select. Get Betty to do the work of picture selection. Then you can do the digitizing and loading to the frame.

    https://www.amazon.com/NEXGADGET-Digital-Resolution-Electronic-Slideshow/dp/B075GGP4PX/ref=sr_1_20?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1518455384&sr=1-20&keywords=photo+electronic+frame

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Digital frames that rotate through a series of photos is something we have never considered, but, I like the idea. After a while, no matter how good a photo is in a frame or printed on canvas it becomes invisible, you no longer "see" it. With constantly rotating pictures that can be changed that wouldn't be a problem.

      Great idea.

      Delete
  25. The other thing we did with each photo frame album was "target the pictures" to each person. So her Dad got baby pictures of my wife and her brother and some pictures of his wife and her grand parents. Then some of them and us together and so forth. Likewise the frames we gave to our kids had pictures of them as babies and then pictures of us and them together and then pictures of both sets of grand parents and then other pictures of them as kids and teenagers.

    Now my wife is after me to sort and digitize a big box of "oldie pictures" of my Dad and all the old relatives. I am thinking I will do the same thing. Only keep 40 or so of those old pictures and make them into a picture frame dongle. Then I can give one to each of the kids for Christmas.
    I am hoping that by doing this my kids can have pre-loaded set of pictures that they will keep and cherish. Plus they will not need to go crazy sorting our pictures when we pass. I know my wife and I went crazy with her dads stuff when he passed and we just digitized everything rather than sort it. So we have a huge set of his pictures that we will never look at.

    Good Luck.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I talked this idea over with Betty and she is all for it. Plus, we can dedicate one of the frames to whatever is our most recent vacation/trip and then update it with fresh photos after the next one.

      Delete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted