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What To Do With Photos When Downsizing


What Do You Do With All Those Photos?

In the last 6 + 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 before digital, I had film, negatives, tintype, 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, 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? 

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.

What is this?

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 them. 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 photos of the same thing weren’t needed. I carefully picked out the best one (maybe two) and again my pile got smaller. 

Storing the Pictures You’re Keeping

So now what? Do you have a big pile of pictures to carry in an RV or store in a small space? So after you read the above sentence, you’re probably thinking, I have very few pictures now, right? Wrong! First off, I love photography, and second, I’m a mom, and third I’m a “daughter” who was left hundreds 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 pleased 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! About 6 weeks after 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 negatives?

What’s the Point?

There really was a point! I’m now organized, and I’ll bet I threw away hundreds of photos that 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 were 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?

What Did I Do With All Those Originals I Kept?

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! In 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 airtight, 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. Those were precious times for me! I smiled, cried, and laughed. I remembered things I had forgotten. Think in terms of one box at a time, and it will get done. I promise!

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. I could do this on weekends when it was raining/snowing or early in the mornings when no other plans were happening. 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, remember 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!

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16 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,
    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!

  3. Your article will help me and my sister. It’s been 5 years since our mom died and we are still trying to get together to organize negatives and pictures. (We live in adjoining states) we have divided half the photos up by sibling families where applicable but there are those that are ancestral and I wasn’t sure how to deal with them. These ideas will make my life easier and less crowded.

    1. My heart goes out to you! It was truly one of the hardest things I had to do. I kept reminding myself that getting them into a digital format was going to make it so they were never lost due to fading or fire or water damage (I keep my digital photos in a fire safe box). It’s a long long process! You’ll feel accomplished when you are done, but just divide them up into reasonable amounts of time, and you’ll get there. Good luck!!!

    2. wow this is just awesome information. I been doing this slow and writing down what the photos are and will invest in what you did. I love organizing and having a well efficient home and i dig down deep with decluttering things .

      1. So happy this helped you. It really is a super service to use. Please check back and let me know how things went.

  4. I took the time to put many photos in albums but there were still many that didn’t make it into
    O one. My solution has been to turn family phots into Christmas tree ornaments. Some were cut into circles mimicking Christmas tree balls. Others are simply tucked into branches which also helps to fill in some “holes” in the tree

    1. Great idea for sure! My only concern is that those photos will eventually deteriorate and you may lose them to future generations. Love the idea of enjoying them during the holidays though … that’s awesome!

  5. Great idea. I was going to make scrap books with all of my photos, but I thought who wants to or can store all those books. They take up so much room.

    1. I have tons of scrapbooks, and they are amazing but you’re right, they do take up a lot of room and sometimes kids and grandkids don’t really want all those books. Making a few with special family stories/pictures might be worth it but not every picture. 🙂 Glad this was helpful!

  6. I can relate all too well with your story. I’ve been hauling around “stuff” for 20 years. Pictures and Korean mink blankets seem to be the hardest thing to let go of…even in the TX heat.
    Thanks for posting your ideas on downsizing pictures. I have more sorting to do but love the thought of sending them off to be scanned.
    Cheers & Safe Travels!

    1. Do what you can, and what feels comfortable. The last thing you want is to have regrets. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words!

  7. Thank you so much for this article. I really need to get on this. I’m ordering the bins and will use your link.

    1. You’re very welcome! Thank you, and I’m so glad you got some suggestions from us. Have a wonderful day!

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