Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Pack Rat's Guide to Getting Organized Part 3: Picture Perfect

April is over, school will be out in just a few short weeks, and I realized suddenly that I hadn’t done much spring cleaning this year. I used to be a religious spring cleaner. Starting in January each year, I would methodically go through every single file cabinet, desk drawer, closet, pantry, and dresser until I had decluttered everything. The end result was usually a huge pile of trash, a garage sale, and a lot of shredded files.

Over the past few years, life made some sharp turns and I just wasn’t getting the cleaning done like I used to. So a few weeks back we had a little scrapbook garage sale to get rid of some of that old stuff and to make a little money on the side for our September cruise. Christen and I wound up reorganizing a closet, several storage bins, a shed, and all the Crafty Neighbor merchandise we had in stock. Whew! Of course, that meant we had to change the sales on the website (something we’ve been neglecting for a while) and that reminded me about a blog series I had started last year about this time…a series I never quite got around to finishing (can you tell I’m easily distracted?). The blog topic? Spring Cleaning…what else?

Since it’s been a year, I thought it might be nice to revisit the first two articles in the series, and pick up where I left off. So without further adieu, here is Part 3 of “A Pack Rat’s Guide to Getting Organized”, better known as, “A Picture Paints a Thousand Words, but I Can’t Hear Mine Because They’re So Unorganized!” And don’t miss Parts 1 and 2 below!

Picture Perfect

It's a terrible feeling when you finish a beautiful scrapbook page only to suddenly find more pictures or memorabilia that you should have included. I can't count the number of times I've had to rearrange a page or even add another page at the end just to accommodate something that absolutely MUST be included. That's why getting your photos and memorabilia organized is so very important.

Store photos in archival boxes. 

As I told you in a previous blog, when I first started scrapbooking, my photos were a mess! They were stored with no rhyme or reason. I'd shoot twenty rolls of film at a NASCAR race, and send the film off to be developed. When it came back, I’d slap it in a shoebox and never give it a second thought. Sometimes the negatives wound up in the same box; sometimes they didn't. Nothing was labeled either. 

The problem with this type of organization is that you never really know what you have and what you don’t. I actually did a whole scrapbook page based on photos that I thought were from one year only to find that half of them were from a different year. Wow, was that a mess to straighten out! I had to pull all the "wrong" pictures off the page and find something else to fill the space. I wasn't nearly as happy with the result as I had been the first time around. Even worse was the time my daughter cropped the only existing pictures of a high school dance thinking that I had a duplicate set somewhere as well as the negatives. Unfortunately, it was the only set and someone else had given us the photos, so there were no negatives that we could use to print more.

All photos and negatives should be stored in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight and protected from dust and other potentially damaging elements. Sunlight can damage photos faster than just about anything on earth except water. Shoeboxes are not acid-free, so choose an option that won’t leach dangerous chemicals that will damage your photos. Photo storage boxes are available for a very low price at just about any hobby store. They are made of materials that will protect your photo prints from dust, sunlight, and other environmental hazards. Go with the plastic version, and your photos will be at least semi-waterproof. Or take it even a step further and make digital archives of all your photos (see below).

Store your photos on end, not lying flat. Humidity in the air can cause the emulsion layer on film to become sticky. If your photos are stacked flat on top of each other, the weight of the stack may cause your precious photo to stick to the back of the photo on top of it. Once that happens, you will never be able to safely pull them apart.

When choosing a storage option for your photo prints, make sure it meets all these qualifications:

  • Is it photo safe? Will it protect my photos from the elements and from damage?
  • Will it allow me to sort my photos by date or by subject (or both)?
  • Is it stackable or can I expand it/add to it if I acquire more photos?
  • Is it attractive? Where will it go in my house? Will it look nice on a shelf or in my closet (and does that matter)?
  • Is it accessible? How hard will it be to get to my photos once they are stored properly?

Negatives are important too!

A lot of people ignore their negatives and just throw them in a box somewhere. I confess, I used to be one of those people – until the day that I actually needed one of those negatives and couldn’t find it. You never know when you might need to reprint a photo because the original was damaged or maybe needs a little touch-up. Or what if you just need to reprint your favorite picture in a bigger size? Either way, if you took the picture on film, you’ll need the negative. So be sure to keep your negatives stored safely and in a manner that you can easily retrieve them whenever you need.

My favorite way to keep my negatives is to store them in archival plastic sleeves in a three ring binder. The sleeves protect the negatives from dust and fingerprints, and I can tuck the binder into a closet or shelf to keep it out of the sun. I have my negatives sorted by date (simple index tabs separate them by year), and I marked each sleeve with a brief summary of the photo contents (Christmas, Birthday, Prom, swimming pool, picnic, etc.). It makes searching for specific pictures a synch; whenever I need to find one, I just flip to the approximate date and I can view the negatives through the plastic sleeve without ever touching them! An inexpensive light box (available at any craft store) and a small magnifying glass help me identify subjects in the photos. A pair of white cotton, lint-free gloves (available at any camera store) allow me to handle the negatives themselves without leaving fingerprints.

The protective envelopes your photos/negatives come in work great, too, if you combine them with a photo-safe storage box in a cool, dry place. However you decide to store your negatives, you’ll want to make sure it:

  • Keeps your negatives safe from the elements
  • Allows you to sort by date or subject
  • Is easily accessible in case you need to retrieve a negative for a reprint.

Get those digital pictures off the camera! 

Back up your digital photos to CDs or DVD data disks and give a copy to a friend or family member for safe-keeping. We've all heard stories of people who have all their phone numbers stored on their cell phones and then lose everyone's phone numbers when the phone breaks. Or people with great photos that they never download from their camera and then the camera breaks. Computers break, too. So don't ever rely on one as your only method of storing and preserving your photos. Always back up your photos to at least one other source, be it CDs, DVD data disks, or a simple thumb drive.

My son went on a very expensive but wonderful trip to England with the Boy Scouts for the 2007 World Jamboree. It was the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouting organization, and he had a great time. I got a lot of great pictures from the event, too--some from him, some from the other attendees, and some from my own camera as the boys went through security at the airport and returned two weeks later through the Customs and Immigration lines. One of my very favorite photos was of one of the boys hugging his mom on his return. Mom was crying, the boy was beaming ear to ear, and everyone was really glad to see each other. I fully intended to email that perfect photo to the boy's mom, so she could remember just how precious that moment was. And then I had a major computer malfunction. I lost everything. I was really fortunate that a lot of my photos had come from other sources, so I was able to replace most of them. And I had posted many of the photos on our troop's website, so I was able to download some low-res copies from there, but not that photo. That picture was gone forever. 

The lesson I learned was that everything must be backed up to disks or thumb drives or something. The more places you can store it, the better. And never leave pictures on your camera. I could write a whole blog about reformatting your memory card vs. just deleting pictures you don't want! The bottom line is that you should download all your photos frequently (I do it after every photo shoot), and then reformat that card. Using and reusing a card or memory stick without reformatting is like brushing multiple colors of paint one on top of the other. Eventually it's going to be a big caked-up nasty mess. Reformatting your card helps to ensure that the data is clean and that there are no artifacts left over from previous photos to corrupt your files.

Go digital!

While you're sorting and organizing, make digital archives of your favorite photos. Have you ever heard the dental saying, "Only floss the teeth that you intend to keep"? Well the same thing is true of making digital archives of your film and print photos. Twenty-five years ago, my parent's house burned to the ground, including every family photograph, memento and treasure that I hadn't taken with me when I got married. And even though friends and family members came out of the woodwork to offer copies of their precious photos, much of what was lost were unique, one-of-a-kind snapshots that can never be replaced.

When I got my first scanner, one of the first things I did was start to archive all of my print photos and negatives. It was a very long process (I have literally thousands of photos and hundreds of rolls of film). When I was through with my own photos, I started to scan my mother's as well. The result is a huge collection of photos to choose from when scrapbooking, and I can rest easily knowing that the photos exist in multiple locations, and will never be lost, damaged, or destroyed ever again. Just be sure to back up your archives to CD or DVD data disks, and give copies to friends and family for safe-keeping. I'll cover the techniques for making good digital archives in a future post.

Don't forget to sort the memorabilia

Prize ribbons, participation patches, and test scores are just a few of the non-photo items people often included in scrapbooks. I had tons of little goodies like this stashed here and there in boxes, hope chests, and old photo albums. When I started scrapbooking, I wanted everything together in one place--easy to access when I wanted to work on a particular subject or event.

Some of the same principals apply to storing memorabilia as photos and negatives. Always put your items in archival quality storage and keep it in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. I have memorabilia stored in basically two places: a hope chest and a file cabinet.

The hope chest is for larger items that are too big or too bulky for scrapbooking. Some of the more delicate items are further packed in plastic boxes and wrapped in archival quality tissue paper. Check with organization stores like The Container Store or your local dry cleaner for this paper. If you don’t have a hope chest, there are various styles of plastic boxes and totes that will work just as well.

Anything that I think I might want to use in a scrapbook goes into my file cabinet. There I have used hanging file folders to sort school papers, certificates, larger photo prints, awards, ribbons, and anything else that might fit. My own files are sorted by person and then further divided by topic. For instance, I have a file for my mother and father. Behind that I have a file for their wedding and another for their 40th anniversary a few years back. For my children, I have a general folder for each of them, plus additional folders for school organizations, individual sports, birthdays, report cards, artwork and compositions, etc. Obviously, some things apply to more than one person. For that reason, I have also added a few other folders for things like Christmas, pets, pressed flowers from my garden, etc. Keeping all these items together in one file cabinet makes it easy to just grab a subject file and start scrapbooking—no more hunting around for that Honor Roll certificate that I put in a “safe place”.

Well, that’s all for this week. I hope I’ve helped you get a little bit closer to your ideal of organization and if not, then at least you’ll have a good place to start. Just remember to go slowly, set small goals, and work on a little bit at a time. Next week, we’ll talk about clutter and the excuses we get trapped into.