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Organizing Family Memories

I recently spent an evening in a frame shop known for it’s custom shadow boxes. These are high quality, custom designed presentations to memorialize family history with amazing collections of photographs and objects that tell a story.  They asked me to speak to their guests about how to organize their collections of family items that may or may not be stashed in multiple places in their homes.  In a nutshell, this is what came from our discussion:

  1. If it is worth keeping, it is worth treasuring.  There is nothing more heartbreaking that discovering a soggy cardboard box full of family memories in a hot and musty garage!
  2. If it is worth treasuring, it is worth displaying.  Invest some time and money in selecting pieces from your treasures that can be displayed in a way that honors your family story. (In Houston, we are fortunate that Bradley’s Art and Frame delights in helping you make your selections and create the shadow box.)

The problem with most of us is we have collected things over the years that have ended up in boxes and drawers all over the house. They have become one of those nagging things on our list of things we plan to do “one of these days” — for years!

It has been Clip art photographsmy experience that people start organizing their photos again and again, but they stop because they find the process overwhelming.  I have lived this!  I finally realized that I was complicating things by trying to be too detailed and too chronological in my sorting.  The solution for me was to think in much broader categories.  This allowed me to be able to do a “quick sort”.

Everyone will have labels for categories that make sense to them — but I set up a box for each of my daughters and filled them with photos where they were the main character in the photo.  I also set up a box for “sister shots” and filled it with all of our group photos of them.  I had another box of photos that included all of the family together and one box for just my husband and I as a couple.  I set up two more boxes that included extended family — one for my side of the family and one for my husband’s side.  

If you never do anything else, at least now your photographs are sorted into large categories.  Some families have other special ways they like to further subcategorize, like “vacations” or “birthdays” or “Christmases” — but I still recommend doing the first layer as a “quick sort” with broad categories. Having fewer categories makes it possible to think less and sort quickly.  This way you have “organized” boxes to pull from if you choose to create a subcategory.

Once you have your photos sorted, it is a good idea to store them in boxes designed to help preserve them. is a great resource.  Ellen Brown can also help you take memories that are stored in old formats (videotape, movie reels, slides, negatives, prints, scrapbooks, photo albums) and digitize them.


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