Minimalism – What to do About Photos

Chef GinaPosted by

A rare Foodless Friday post.

Before SD cards and digital photos, there were rolls of film… rolls of film which were developed in an actual dark room to produce stacks of photos. If you were a lover of photography, you probably had piles of rolls… so many rolls… and many stacks of photos, probably in duplicate for sharing, putting into albums, and for “just in case” something happened to the single copy.

With enough photos, you needed photo boxes. Stacks of photo boxes. And more albums. More storage space. Whew!!

Life became so much simpler with the advent of SD cards and digital storage. No more worries about degrading yellowing photo paper, expense of photo development, or fire or water damage… provided you have all your digital files backed up or in the cloud. No need for all the storage space. So much better! Still, many of us are left with all those photos, envisioning ourselves trying to decide what to save in case of an emergency of some sort, especially if you live in hurricane, tornado, or earthquake zones.

Solution and Perks

Scanning my photos and saving them to digital files has been a project on my to-do list for years. The most intimidating part of this, honestly, was just getting started. I worried about things like choosing the wrong scanner, and finding the time to complete the project once started. Finally, after jumping in, I am elated! So many little perks come from this process. If you have been putting this off, delay no longer. You will not regret it.

Why digitize?

  • Photo preservation
  • Free up storage space!
  • Digital photo albums are so much easier to make than physical albums, and require no dining room table space.
  • There is something cathartic about taking bad memories, tucking them away on a digital file, and tossing the photos from one’s living space.
  • There is something beautiful about selecting those precious photos from the bunch and elevating them to a treasured place of honor.
  • If you have many years of photos, this process can provide a nostalgic emotional cleanse.
  • And did I mention… SPACE! You need less real estate and are free to go anywhere and not worry about loss… as much.

If this is on your to-do list, to follow are a few simple tips, and hopefully motivation. You CAN do this!

Choosing a Scanner

It is well worth the investment to purchase a decent scanner. You will want one that will process photos quickly (a relative term) and will create good clear images. I worried about this way too much. During all that time I spent worrying about choosing the “right” scanner that will preserve my precious photos, my precious photos were degrading!

Based on reviews and pricing at the time, I chose the Epson Perfection V370. I have no connection to Epson and there are probably many other photo scanners out there that are well up to the task. This one allowed me to also scan negatives. This was a good feature for me because I have some old negatives inherited from my dad from his Vietnam days, and our first meeting when he came home, as well as many of my own negatives. This scanner worked well for various negatives sizes, and gave me digital files that looked better that the yellowed paper photos.

A few quick tips on scanners:

  • Avoid using an MFP scanner. A separate piece of equipment that only scans without all the printing, faxing, jumping through hoops, bells and whistles, will more likely provide better efficiency and quality.
  • Auto mode is a very good thing if you have tons of photos to scan.
  • Generally, you do not need to set your photo resolution over 300 dpi (dots per inch) or pixels per inch. I tried a higher resolution; it did not really make any difference but it took much longer to run each scan. At over 12,000 scans, those few seconds matter!
  • Check out reviews. Look for user-friendly scanners if you do not wish to spend a lot of time learning features.
  • Consider spending a little more on the scanner, and then selling it when you are done.

Check out this article for more great tips.

There! The hard part is done. Now comes the time-consuming part.

Most Important Tip

Tip One: If you take nothing else from this post, please take this: Make peace with the fact that this project will take a lot of time. Pace yourself. You will be sitting by your scanner for a long time, if you have a lot of photos.

For me, 12,308 photos scanned.
Averaging about 85 scans per hour (with steady flow) = 145 hours over 28 days.

Make a pot of coffee or tea before beginning a session. Find some light reading you would like to catch up on. Make Netflix your photo scanning buddy. Do not choose anything that will take your attention away and make you forget your steady scanning pace. For me, old Star Trek episodes that I have already seen, food documentaries, listening to NPR games shows, and reading online articles, kept me entertained and moving forward. Find what works for you and get comfortable.

About sitting comfortably… this is no joke… if you do not use good posture, you may end up with shooting pain through your back and scanning arm that wakes you up in the middle of the night. Please take care!

Being self-employed, there are extremely busy months in my year and slower months. I chose to tackle this during the slow time. I also kept my food preparations very simple and let the house go a bit, focussing most of my time and attention on the project. It certainly helps that my kids are self-sufficient, and I can channel my inner OCD side.

My starting point. This is MOST of my photos. Those albums in the back are full and there were a couple more boxes. Final count was 12,308.

More Tips

Tip Two: You may experience unplanned trips down memory lane.

If you are fine with extending this project over time, then enjoy taking the sideroads and enjoying the memories. You may even wish to do some journaling. However, if efficiency is your goal, hang tough and remind yourself that you can enjoy reminiscing any time you want after the project is complete.

Tip Three: Anticipate the possibility that this may be an emotional experience. 

After about five days in, my heart found a nice comfy little spot on my sleeve. If you are working with decades of photos, there will no doubt be joyous memories, births and graduations, vacations and adventures. But there will also be reminders of loved ones lost and less happy times. There may be photos that make you laugh and those that make you cringe with embarrassment. If you are working quickly and not taking time to process any emotion connected to the many photos, you may find yourself on a roller coaster.

A week or so into the project, all those images became fractured in my dreams and there were nightmares of the borg assimilating my children when they were small. I cut back on Star Trek after that. But when our Monday 21, 2017 path of totality eclipse experience was drowned by clouds and rain, I sunk into depression for a few days and became rather  miffed at the universe for its betrayal.  It’s okay. The Universe and I are working through our issues. 🙂

If you experience anything like this, remind yourself that this is temporary and worth it! You have control. You can keep in your physical space those memories that bring you joy. And file away for safe-keeping, in digital files, everything else.

Tip Four: Choose Your Organization and Scanning Methods

If you have kept your photos organized over the years, you are golden! Your job will be less time-consuming and relatively easy. If, however, there have been many hands in your photo boxes over the years, they may not be in chronological order; you have the task of conquering the chaos. Your photos have been used and enjoyed over the years. No need to feel bad about a bit of chaos. It will be manageable.

Two basic approaches:

  • Method One – Organize all your photos first so you spend less time scanning. This is the smart way. This is not the way I chose.
  • Method Two – Scan everything fast and mindlessly, in no particular order, so as not to become sidetracked. Don’t even make eye contact with the photos. Organize them later.

I do not regret starting with Method Two because I got a lot done fast and was able to maintain motivation because the momentum was so good. But about halfway through, when I grew so tired of sitting at the scanner, I switched to Method One, sorting and organizing, removing any double copies that were mixed in.

There is no right or wrong way to sort your photos. Do this any way that makes sense to you. Create groups of photos by year, or years, such as “middle school to graduation” or “the 1980’s” – which will be easy to identify because of the big hair and all. Or sort photos by events, or locations, whatever floats your boat.

If you sort your physical photos before scanning, then you will not need to do much once they are in files on your computer. Just put them in files labeled anyway you like.

Give yourself rewards and breaks between each batch. Each batch is an accomplishment. Feel good about it!

Tip Five: Mindlessly multi-task

Sitting at a scanner for hours can become oppressive. So give yourself something to do while scanning. It should be relatively mindless. If you become too intrigued by the second task, it can become a distraction and slow you down. Some ideas: binge watch on Netflix, scroll social media, do meaningless quizzes, read light articles, plan life, make lists, organize, sip coffee or tea, compile recipes to make later… give yourself a variety of side tasks to keep you moving.

And then get into a scanning flow. Try to avoid letting seconds go by between scans. Seconds add up.

I realize that if you have small children, this is asking a lot. I simply waited for mine to grow up. If you have cute little distractions, accept the possibility that this may be a longer term project. No need missing current precious moments to preserve old ones.

Tip Six: If you need a break, take it! Do not allow yourself to burnout.

Tip Seven: Keep your end goal in mind. How will you or your family benefit from your success? What will you gain by simplifying? Let that goal move you forward.

Tip Eight: Label and stack as you go. Manilla envelopes are not photo-safe. They can be used for purposes of temporary sorting. Sticky notes will allow you to reuse the envelopes after your paper photos have found their new homes.

When you have finished organizing and scanning, and you know what you want to keep, purchase photo-safe sleeves for compact and organized storage. I like clear sleeves so I can see my pictures and grab the ones I need when I need them. You can order these online, any size you need!

Tip Nine: Backup your photos! It would be heart-breaking to do all this work and then somehow lose your photos. I had scanned 1000’s when my computer glitched. Trying to unfreeze the thing, I kept clicking and almost deleted every photo I had scanned or ever taken! … including all my blog photos, and family digital photos with no copies anywhere. One more little click and they would have all been gone.

You can buy an additional hard drive to put them on, use sd cards, used a paid storage fee service, make albums on facebook and on Shutterfly, share copies with friends and family… just get them backed up some way.

Tip Ten: Enjoy the digital photos and as many of the paper photos as you would like to keep and Rehome everything else.

  • Ask family and friends if they would like your paper copies. If they want them, they get first dibs. Package them up neatly and give them away.
  • If you are a craft person, use photos in collages, picture frames, or under a glass coffee table. Pinterest probably has no shortage of ideas for this. Sticky pages from a large photo album, no longer needed, can be used to assemble framed photo groupings. If you are honestly never going to do this, consider rehoming a different way.
  • Some photos, and postcards by the way, can be donated to school art rooms. Nature photos, flowers, trees, animals, can be repurposed by creative little hands.
  • With your photos all saved to digital files, and backed up, it is also okay to throw paper copies away. You have already preserved them, and paper copies will eventually degrade anyway.


All the old packaging, envelopes, and albums with yellow pages, get to be gently tossed! Many of my photos were rehomed and will be properly treasured. It was so good to get rid of all this mismatched storage!

Besides having peace of mind knowing that all my photos are safely stored and physical real estate (shelving) is freed up for other purposes, I now have so many ways to enjoy my photos.

A facebook group just for family allows me to share my photos, and for family to share with me! I get to enjoy photos I have never seen before, old photos that have been tucked away by family members from many locations, all together on one page. With all the old photos come old stories and connections with loved ones. It is a good thing.

Some photos have been around for a very long time. These REALLY needed to be preserved, shared, and treasured.  Now they can be!

And this…

Shutterfly and sites like it, can do some pretty cool things with your digital photos. Putting together an album at your computer requires no table space. You can work on it any time you like, clutter free! And you can pick and choose the most meaningful photos.

I absolutely love this! Here is a little album made using Shutterfly and gifted to someone very special.


Btw, if google translate is accurate enough, the Chinese script should say “Live long and prosper”.




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