Easy Upgrades: Organizing Old Photos (Numbered Albums)

Maybe it’s the whole organize-everything-because-it’s-spring thing or even a bit of last minute nesting, but lately I’ve been all about whipping things into submission. As in, finding a place for every last paperclip and utensil… even putting every single one of our photos into coordinated leather albums and chronologically numbering them. Yeah, it’s a little crazy but I’ve always been a nerd for organization. And looking at those nice little hand-numbered tags just makes me smile. It’s the little things, right?

The first stage of the project was to go through all my mismatched old falling-apart albums (and stacks of sad album-less photos) and put them all in chronological order. Then I grabbed some nice-enough-but-not-bank-breaking albums from Target and filled ’em up. I could have stopped there but I wondered if they might be hard to differentiate and sift through since they’re all so similar looking (which I like for consistency, but it’s not as easy to remember as “the moving photos are in the yellow sunflower album”).

And so the idea of numbering the albums was born…

One trip to Office Max and a few dollars later I came home with these metal-rimmed white labels. They actually were meant for labeling valet keys or something (so I removed the little key loops) but the loops would actually be handy for hanging them off of baskets in a linen closet. Gotta love a multitasking accessory like that.

Anyway, I just scribbled a number on each one using a regular old ballpoint pen and relied on a loop of scotch tape to secure them to each album (a dot of Liquid Nails would probably hold them in place even more securely). What do you think? Does it make you want to slap me? Or does it make you want to organize something? I’m one of those people who watches other people clean their house on TV and immediately wants to clean mine. Here’s hoping my obsessive organizing rubs off on a few enthusiastic storage freaks like me!

And since many people write to us to ask how we organize and store our photos on the computer along with our hard copies, here’s more info in that regard. We keep a folder for each month on the computer (since all of our pics are digital) and we dump them into the right month as we take them. Then every few months we go thought a few months at a time and pick the ones we love and get them printed at CVS on the cheap and stick them (chronologically) in our newly-matched-and-numbered albums. Then we toss the rest into the computer trash and hit “empty.” We definitely like editing down our photos (instead of printing every single one that we take). And burning the remaining photos that we thought were good enough to print at the end of the year on a CD labeled as “Photos 2009” gives us a nice little photo backup system that’s easy to maintain (we’re left with one small CD of annual pics to store in our fireproof safe, while the identical CVS prints are displayed in our numbered albums).

So that’s what works for us. And speaking of organization, what have you guys corralled or chronologically arranged lately? Any junk-drawer-clean-outs going on? What about paring down clothes or donating all those unused cans of food in the backs of your kitchen cabinets? Do tell. You know we live vicariously through you guys, right?

Psst- Wanna see other “Easy Upgrades” we’ve implemented? Here’s one and here’s another.


  1. Christine says

    I kinda want to slap you a little – but it’s pure jealousy! I am NOT an organizing freak, although I like things to be organized. Go figure. It’s really a tragic dichotomy. Maybe you should start a side business of organizing other people’s stuff…I call dibs.

  2. says

    Slap you? More like pat you on the back! I’ve always loved organizing things as well, but this nesting business has really put the instinct into turbo drive. Haven’t tackled the photos yet, but I was just dealing with paperclips….

  3. Stephanie says

    It doesn’t make me want to slap you, but it kind of makes my stomach hurt thinking of 6 years of photos I’ve got stored on my computer. Time is a precious gift that I have none of…Love your site :)

  4. says

    Love it! A few questions for you – did you index the contents of the albums too? In other words, did you create a document that states that photos from 1995-1998 are in album 1 (or topical or whatever) or do you just know that 1 is the earliest and 10 is the most recent? Also, and more important for me to know: where the heck do you store the albums? I have a bunch of these myself (and two kids with their own albums). We have a tiny house and storage is at a premium. I hate to toss the albums in a storage closet … but there really isn’t a place where I can keep them out.

    • says

      Hey Shanna,

      We didn’t but it’s a total possibility. We’re pretty good at looking at photos and remembering if it’s before or after a certain experience so it’s pretty easy to flip through things and find what we’re looking for. Hope it helps!


  5. Patti says

    I totally relate to your need to organize. I just feel better when things are in their place. One thing I did recently … I was being overrun by music cds. I buy mp3s now, but I didn’t want to get rid of my older cds. I purchased a huge leather cd binder at walmart (made specifically for storing cds) and loaded all of them in alphabetical order by artist. Then I set aside some of the cd cover artwork that I liked, framed them (Ikea had the perfect sized frames for cd art) and hung them in the den. I saved a few of the cd jewel cases for use, but recycled the others.

  6. Marlene says

    Love it! As a fellow self-proclaimed organizing nerd I’m very impressed with the matching albums and you numbering system. Great job! I’m itching to organize our photos as well, but that will have to wait for a rainy day. Oh, what’s that? It’s raining right now?! Well it has to wait for another rainy day then…
    ps, also loving the Julie & Julia reference; “whipping things into submission” ;-) did you think it would go by unnoticed?!

  7. laura says

    Just in time! My finals are over tomorrow and a project that I planned on tackling this summer is our 7 years of photos since we started dating, to now being 1 year married. Our computer is stuffed with photos so I really like your idea on how to deal with that—it’s brilliant. Compacting them onto CDs and storing them in the firesafe box allows one to be able to keep their cherished photos safe–I never thought of it. Thank you so much, you may have just saved our memories!

  8. laura says

    oh, the hard part though, how do you choose which ones to keep–I know the obvious blurry ones, etc. but, I am very sentimental and so I keep everything, this is starting to hurt though–can you give some advice on how to break that way of being? How to not hold onto every little thing because it has some emotional or sentimental feeling?

    • says

      Hey Laura,

      We’re pretty good at paring down (our past of living in tiny NYC apartments really helps in that regard) so we just look at events where we have 40 photos and pick the best 5 to capture the day and eliminate anything that we won’t miss. Of course when it comes to our honeymoon or our wedding we have special separate albums for those events, but we don’t need thirty photos of our niece’s play- just the best three where we can actually see her on stage. Hope it helps!


  9. says

    I love the organized albums! I am really into organizing at the moment too. And I mean organizing everything. No junk drawer left behind!

    I was curious if you have any plans to scan your photos in and keep a digital copy. This is something I have often wondered about. If there was a fire or my photo albums somehow were damaged, I’d really like to have the option of printing more. But of course that would be a really time-consuming affair, and we also don’t have a scanner. Just curious to hear your thoughts.

    • says

      Hey Kristi,

      If you check out that beefy paragraph towards the end of this post it explains that we burn a CD of all the duplicate photos that we print for our album and store them in our fireproof safe as a backup. Hope it helps!


  10. shelia says

    ok. definitely love the look. Any suggestions on books that are already done to make them look more cohesive? all the same size just different patterns. Too many to start from the beginning! Thanks for the computer file tip!

    • says

      Hey Shelia,

      Hmm, my sister in law recovered her albums with fabric and a glue gun (sort of the same way you make paper bag book covers in school but with fabric) so that’s an idea. You could also attempt to unify them by painting or wrapping the spine of each book in something similar or identical so when they’re all on a shelf they look coordinated. Even something like adding numbers could tie them together like ours. Hope it helps!


  11. Kate says

    We just keep all our photos on the computer since we never end up looking at them if they’re printed. The only photo albums we have in the apartment right now are of our wedding proof photos, but we always end up looking at them on our computer anyway (I also have a ton of photo albums of family photos from the first 18 or so years of life, but those are still at my parents’ for now).

    I feel like we need some easy upgrades right now, but I can’t think of any to do! I think the biggest thing I need is some way to control all the papers we have. I have tons and tons and tons of papers that I feel I need to keep (mostly all my bills for the last 5 or so years) and I need to figure out what needs to be kept vs. shredded and a good way to control what I do need to keep.

  12. says

    I feel like giving you a hug…not slapping you! I’m one of those aforementioned “organization nerds”. I love the idea of putting together chronological photo albums. Just got put onto my looooong to-do list. I just straightened up my craft closet here…


    My next big organization project will be my son’s closet. It’s a total disaster. Makes for a good ‘after’ though. Happy nesting! And what’s with this starting to work on a new home office next week…aren’t you supposed to be having a baby??!!

    • says

      Hey Dana,

      Yup, I am still actively cooking my little beanette since she hasn’t decided to make an appearance yet. There are just 7 days til my due date though! We do have a feeling that I’ll go late (it’s a family thing) but whenever she decides to arrive we promise an update (of course!) when she’s here. Can’t wait!


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