We all have one lurking somewhere – in a corner on the kitchen counter, a basket in the home office, or perhaps in the children’s art area.  Wherever it may be, it has a mind of its own and can grow out of control if we don’t work to maintain it … it’s THE PILE!

The pile is that mélange of potential keepsakes we accumulate just by living our lives, daily artifacts of family experiences both special and ordinary. My pile happens to live in my kitchen and currently includes kids’ art and crafts brought home on the last day of school (and new ones from summer camp), those must-have $20 souvenir photos from vacation, school portraits from the spring session, and brochures, ticket stubs, and playbills from recent date nights.

As a photo organizer who helps others day in and day out, I pride myself on keeping my own digital photo organization caught up. I diligently and continually delete redundant and bad photos, and for the keeper photos, I add short descriptions to tell their stories before sorting them into specific events and categories every month. I love to integrate the items from “the pile” so that they too become part of our family’s digital story. There is magic in creating photo books and viewing digital collections that include photos and memorabilia together — notes from teachers to go with a class photo, a playbill cover next to a great selfie from the event, a special work of art created by my daughter on her last day of 1stgrade — when these items are organized together the possibilities are endless!


Here are the five steps I use to turn my pile into memories:

1.  Decide What to Keep

I have established a habit of going through the pile regularly to review any new items and decide what is worth keeping and what isn’t. For the keeper items, I choose the ones that will help tell the story of the digital photos that I know I’ve already taken. On the day an item comes in the house, it might be difficult to make that “keep or toss” decision, but once it’s been in the pile for a while, it feels a little less sacrilegious to toss something (like last week’s summer camp craft project). I try to do this weekly in order to keep the sorting session manageable.


Artwork & Memorabilia: Five Steps to Turn “The Pile” into Precious Memories | ThePhotoOrganizers.com

A cute cursive name art next to a class photo from the same year


2.  Write the Dates

Once I have the week’s “keepers” whittled down, I write the approximate date somewhere on each item before returning it to the pile. If it is artwork, I write it on the front in small print, along with the child’s name. If it is a school portrait or trip photo, I look at my calendar to see exactly when that photo was taken. Sometimes it can take quite a while for the pile to get big enough to archive, so recording the date while it’s still fresh really helps me not have to try to research when an event or activity took place.

[bctt tweet=”Don’t let THE PILE of artwork & memorabilia take over your kitchen counter! 5 steps to preserving the memories.” username=”photoorganizers”]


3.  Scan the Items

I could stop here and be very proud of reducing the clutter pile to a manageable amount, ready to be filed away, but my ultimate goal is to get these items out of my living space and into my digital archive. I scan all of the items, using a flatbed scanner for photos and an inexpensive document scanner for papers; everything is scanned as a “.jpg” file. If I didn’t have access to these scanners, I would use one of the many smartphone apps available that are designed to help you take a photo of your items at a reasonable quality, cropped and ready to save directly to your digital photo system. I do my best to scan a whole batch in a 15-minute session, but if I get behind, the remainders just become the start of a new pile.


Artwork & Memorabilia: Five Steps to Turn “The Pile” into Precious Memories | ThePhotoOrganizers.com

A printed souvenir photo and train ticket alongside candid photos from the ride


4.  Adjust the Dates and File Names

When everything has been scanned, I make two key adjustments to the new files before importing them into my photo library. Specifically, I change each file’s date and name, so that my memorabilia seamlessly blends in with existing photos in my library. Without this step, all my files would be lumped together based on the day they were scanned and with auto-generated file names like “Scan0001”.

When adjusting the date, I look at what I wrote on scanned items and for photos, I’ll recall when it was taken (an approximation is good enough for some items — in the case of school year stuff I use 9/1/yyyy for fall and 3/1/yyyy for spring). For adjusting the file name, I simply change it to reflect what the item is or what event it relates to. I love using a software called Photo Mechanic to make these changes, but you can also adjust the files using your scanner’s software, your operating system, smartphone app, etc. With new digital memorabilia file data updated, they’ll fall neatly in line with other photos and be easy to search for and locate.

The Name Game: Why File Numbers Matter When It Comes to Organizing Photos


5. Enjoy the Story!

The last step is to import the adjusted scans into my digital archive and move them into existing events and categories, so I can enjoy the storyline of my family’s life as told by both photos and memorabilia!

If you need help organizing and preserving your lifetime of photos, videos, and keepsakes, find a photo organizer near you at the Association of Personal Photo Organizers.

Don’t forget to grab your copy of Photo Organizing Made Easy: Going from Overwhelmed to Overjoyed from APPO founder Cathi Nelson.

Laura Woolsey of Memory ForwardLaura Woolsey is a veteran of the photo organizing industry and has a passion for preserving printed photos and memorabilia. She is the owner of Memory Forward in Austin, Texas, dedicated to serving all of her clients’ photo scanning and organization needs with careful attention to the details and stories that matter most.

Her background in computer science and web development gives her a distinctive ability to understand technology and create simple solutions from complicated photo problems. Laura is certified through the Association of Personal Photo Organizers and is a founding member of the APPO MasterClass.

Artwork & Memorabilia: Five Steps to Turn “The Pile” into Precious Memories | ThePhotoOrganizers.com