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What To Do With Photos When Downsizing

OMG – SO MANY PICTURES!

What Do You Do With All Those Photos?

In the last two and half years of traveling, one of the biggest questions we get has been about stuff and how to downsize. Some of the most sentimental things are photographs. What do you do with hundreds, maybe even tens of thousands of photos, negatives, and old family heirloom photos? This is something very possibly our children will never have to experience. With everything digital now, everything is kept on small storage devices from the beginning. But back before digital, I had film, negatives, tin type and slides. 

I (Stacy) was raised by my grandparents. So there was a generation gap there. I was left with thousands of old photos, slides, and pictures. A lot of people I’d never met. But never the less part of my past. Then I got married and had 2 beautiful daughters, traveled for 20 years on active duty military, and took thousands of pictures on film. Meaning I had thousands of negatives. 

Here are some helpful tips on what worked for us!

Should You Get Rid of Your Pictures? 

What is this?

Yes and no! Going through pictures took me a solid 4 months. I devoted many weekends to sitting down and dividing pictures into two piles. Keep, and throw away. Yes, I threw some away. There were pictures I had no idea even what it was, let alone what it was supposed to be when I took it. I remember thinking Why did I keep this? Pictures of my thumb in the way, or what looked like a TV in the background at a weird angle (possibly the camera sitting on my lap was accidentally clicked). I would get them developed, put them into a box and that’s where they stayed. How many of you can relate?

After weeks of going through picture by picture, I then had one big pile of keepers. I then started this process all over again. Five pictures of the same thing wasn’t needed. I carefully would pick out the best one (maybe two) and again my pile got smaller. 

Storing the Pictures You’re Keeping

So now what? You have a big pile of pictures too big to carry with you in an RV or store in a small space? So after you read the above sentence, you’re probably thinking I had very little pictures now right? Wrong! First off, I love photography, and second, I’m a mom, and third I’m a “daughter” who was left hundred and hundreds of family photos. So what did I do? I packed them all in a box and shipped them to Scan Cafe to be scanned. Yes, this can be done yourself, but how many hours and hours do you really want to spend scanning one photo at a time? Both Justin and I worked full time, had our last daughter still at home very active in school sports, plus we were still trying to go through and sell 99% of our household items and the bottom line was, we simply did not have time to do this ourselves. I do not have an affiliate with, nor am I paid from Scan Cafe. I’m just a very happy customer. I know there are several companies out there that do similar scanning but after quite a bit of research I loved the fact that every old, faded photo was corrected and color fixed for free! In about 6 weeks from when I mailed my first box of negatives and pictures, I received a link to view them online. I then went through them all one more time and picked the ones I wanted to be saved in high quality on discs, and sent back to me. They even returned all the original pictures and negatives. 

So what’s the point if you still have all those pictures and negative?

There really was a point! I’m now organized, and I’ll bet I threw away hundreds of photos the were similar to the ones above, of something I couldn’t even recognize. I don’t know why we keep some of the things we do. But I personally could not throw these originals away. We threw away, donated and sold 99% of our stuff. Pictures was not in the deal! Ha But I sure had a whole lot less, and now I have them saved digitally as well. That was a pretty big accomplishment in my book! Someday, down the line, I will leave these to my girls and my grandkids, and I’ll let them figure it out. I won’t be leaving them a huge house of “stuff” to go through, just a few boxes of pictures that I hope bring a smile to their face. But with them all organized, and now on discs saved digitally, I felt I could now carry these discs with me in my fire safe box. 100 years of pictures saved on discs that I can fit in my fire safe box? WOW! 

What did I actually do with all those originals I did keep?

I organized them yet one more time into sizes, and bought some of these very durable, sturdy, plastic photo storage boxes. (Please do yourself a favor and don’t buy the typical paper/cardboard boxes I see out there to store these precious photos!) These photo storage containers hold so many photos!! I bought six of them. Yes six! One of them I took out all the dividers and put all the larger pictures inside. These boxes are acid free, and though I don’t know if they claim to be completely air tight, I do believe they are pretty safe in these. These also come in a pack of three (here) if you’re ordering them in bulk.

Pictures were definitely the hardest thing for me to let go of. Once you decide you’re going to start this process, take it slow! I know for our over scheduled weekends, I would pull out one box of pictures early on Saturday morning when everyone else was still in bed, and I’d go through pictures while drinking my coffee. I can tell you those were precious times too! I smiled. I cried. I laughed. I remembered things I had forgotten. One box at a time. It will get done. 

How Much Did This Cost Me?

First let me say that before I decided to send my items out to be scanned, I weighed all the options. I looked at scanners, negative scanners, at least five different companies online, and ultimately this was the best option for me. I also started this process very early in the timeline of downsizing. So I had time. This was something I could do on weekends when it was raining/snowing, or early in the mornings when there were no other plans going on. Below is a screenshot of what my costs were. You may have more photos. You may have less. I did mine in 3 different stages with Scan Cafe. Also keep in mind these were prices a few years ago (dates on screenshot).

I’d love you to share your ideas for preserving your photos!

Here are a few more blogs I think you’d love to read!

4 thoughts on “What To Do With Photos When Downsizing”

  1. I took our favorite family photos and scanned them in myself and then printed them on iron-on material and made our bedroom curtains into a “photo album” We didn’t have any kids at home so all of the hardcopies were divided up between the kids. You can see pictures of the curtains here, https://thewanderingrver.com/2017/03/11/taking-it-all-with-us-or-not/
    I can totally relate to going through pictures and thinking WTH. Every photo trip seems to include several blurry pictures of the floorboard of the Jeep. I’m glad I didn’t ger serious about photography until after digital!

    1. Awesome project for curtains. Love your idea!! Thank you for sharing! And yeah, I had the photography bug during “film” days. LOL SO. MANY. PICTURES!

  2. Thank you so much for that write up, Stacy. It is very helpful as we have been putting off this task for a while. Haven’t been sure how to start, it seems so daunting. So, this will be our winter project as the Spring will surely be ridiculously busy with our other final preparations toward fulltime RVing, including getting our house sold.
    “…I can tell you those were precious times too! I smiled. I cried. I laughed. I remembered things I had forgotten. One box at a time. It will get done…l” Oh, but, here we go……

    Erik & Jeanne

    1. I’m so glad this helped you!It’s definitely a tedious job, but if you take it slow, one or two hours at time, you’ll realize how fast it went. Good luck!

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