Guest post by Moni ~ Photos

A few years ago I began the task of digitising our family photos. I used a service to digitise our negatives and was making great inroads arranging our photos in year and month folders, when I ran into two problems.

One, my external hard drive was knocked off the desk by the cat and all was lost. Fortunately my brother-in-law had copied about 3/4 onto his computer while preparing a digital photo frame for the grandparents but I have the tedious task of working out just what is missing.

The second problem is that around that time my decluttering unearthed two shoe boxes worth of photos that could be duplicates, copies given by friends, ones removed from the original photo albums and even envelopes of photos obviously unopened after being developed.

At the time the project was interrupted and I decided to focus my attention on my decluttering over the household rather than a storage bin filled with photo boxes, negatives, CD’s, albums etc.

Over the last two years this storage bin has been relocated around the house a number of times, awaiting a time when I could re-visit this project uninterrupted. I’m not entirely sure that time is now, but I do know that the storage bin is now sitting in my garage beside my computer desk.

I’m confident that when I re-begin this project I will be thorough and eventually we will have all the photos sorted and a digital set for safe keeping but in the meantime it really is a disorganised muddle.

What I am not so sure about is what happens to the originals – I don’t think I want them destroyed. But on the other hand I don’t want a library of albums either and I am not keen on scrap booking or decoupage. I’m confident my teenagers won’t want their baby and childhood photos displayed around the house. I am also a bit cautious of relying solely on technology.

Now that the negatives have been digitised onto CD’s, can the negatives be hiffed?

Our photos include a few copies of great grandparents and the odd great great grand parent, I am thinking of having those made into a photo book so information can be saved for future generations. However the bulk of our photos are of our children up until the advent of the digital camera.

I am interested in knowing if any 365ers have tackled a similar project and what gems of wisdom they could share with me or any clever advancements in technology that could help.

Today’s Mini Mission

Grab a file of paper that needs sorting and take care of that while watching television. You could also use this time to sort printed photos.

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” — Unknown

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Moni, This is a struggle many people have and the decision of what to do is personal. I have a few suggestions for you to think about. One I would be sure that I was saving them to two external hard drives (or at least two sources – maybe EHD and the clousd) every time I did some scanning. Technology is not perfect and I wouldn’t want you to lose them again and start over. Once I digitized the negatives I would not bother saving them. With the actual printed photos I would go through and save the hard copies of the ones that I loved the most. The ones that were just OK you have scanned if anyone wants them. I think sometimes it is good to have physical copies of photos to look at. I would keep them in a photo safe box somewhere and would document on the back of the photo who, where, when, etc. Remember what is totally apparent to you today will not be to the next generation(s). I have no idea how many photos you are talking about but you could decide to limit yourself to one box of printed photos – or even one box for each child. I think you will find that you can dispose of a lot of them – remember you do have a digital copy.

  2. Hi Moni,

    What a timely post as I also have a disorganized heap of paper photos, negatives and photos on CDs to sort through.

    The first thing I will do is sort through all the photos and discard any that don’t need digitizing. If necessary I’ll take over the dining room for a few days to lay out what I have and go through all the albums, envelopes, etc and discard all those photos that don’t need to be kept.

    Pre-digital days I know I had a habit of keeping all my photos, unless they were very blurry or a shot taken by mistake. Having done a quick shuffle through the material before our move, I know there are a lot of photos that I just don’t need.

    Only after that step will I scan. I haven’t yet decided whether to outsource the scanning or do it myself. Either way, I intend to make multiple digital copies and distribute them quite widely … to avoid the case of losing a hard drive and losing all everything. Our laptops have big hard drives so copies of our photo library will go on each, plus onto an external hard drive and on DVDs.

    That first step of really de-cluttering the photo collection first I’m sure will be the most time consuming but I’ve had our photo collection in a couple of storage hampers, which have rarely been opened after each of our moves. So I will be looking at photos and thinking do I really need this?

    Good luck with your project. Let us know how it goes

    • Kate – can I suggest if you still have the negatives of your photos that you look at that option. We had to get ours done at a photo lab shop as we were in a time situation but I have seen around negative scanners for very reasonable prices. The quality of scanning from negatives is significantly better than scanning the photo.

      Pre-digital days, yes there was a tendancy to take several shots with a view to picking the best one once they were developed but we can all testify that it never worked out like that.

  3. Moni, this is such a big issue for most people. I’m amazed at how the pictures can add up. I have suggestions for you. 1. Create online albums for ech child with duplicates for you, do the same for you and your husband and make copies for the kids. Make one album that has a variety of family pictures with copies for each child and you. This sounds like a lot but they are thin, they are archival so will last, you only need to put the important pictures in, and each will have their own stuff. 2. Have the entire family sit down with you to go through the pictures and decide what ones to keep and how to divy them up. Then each person can decide how they want them taken care of.

    We went through hundreds of pictures and slides. We realized that in some cases we didn’t know who the person was, we no longer were in contact with a person and decided we no longer needed the picture, we didn’t need multiple pictures of the same event or person at one event, or we didn’t need a child’s picture from every year.

    Once all decisions are made I would put them in the cloud as well as making a digital copy on an extermal hard drive or CDs.

    • Deb J – so far the kids aren’t interested in owning their own copies and if they do request copies, I imagine it will be digital copies that they’ll want as they are of the digital-generation. However, I imagine they’d probably expect to have a say in the final outcome.

  4. This is also a problem I have been working on a long time. Upon going to the photo store recently I was told it would cost me £50 to digitize my negatives – only 6-7 rolls worth of film. Needless to say they are back in the ‘junk I need to sort out’ pile.

    As for what to do re: albums, I have scanned my photos and will be putting together a small photo book with only the BEST, the ones I would really really love to have physical copies of and having it printed. These photo books are 1/2cm or so thick and will mean I can have many of those on a shelf in the same space as 1 traditional album which takes up a good few inches each. Here is a link to an example of what I mean:

    I will probably condense 10-15 years into 1 ‘Childhood’ album. After that I don’t know yet how periodically I will have these printed as I haven’t yet decided, but these are one alternative to thick, traditional albums. I would like to do one every couple of years at least as digital files are so fragile, my hard drive died and I lost 10 years worth of photos. I’m over it now but at the time I was gutted – my favourite images are seared into my brain lol.

    Maybe they will be worth a look in Moni?

    • Jane – thank you for that link, our local Harvey Norman store does these books to and it is something that I will consider.

      I mentioned further up and I’ll also recommend it to you, you can buy negative scanner attachments for a very reasonable price. If we’d had more time, we’d have gone that path but time was against us for a deadline.

      Also consider something like Dropbox – there is no cost for a personal account unless you need to super-size your file storage. So far I haven’t had to but I haven’t begun the process of uploading photos yet, I have focused on copies of documents and household inventory, important receipts etc.

  5. One suggestion, at least for the really old photos, is to start a free account on and upload them. This will not only create an extra digital copy that you could access and re-download should anything happen to yours, it would also bless the other progeny of that person who would love to add a copy of it to their family tree. I can’t tell you the thrill I get when I find an image of one of my distant relatives, whose face I would have never seen but for the generosity of another of their descendants in taking the time to create a family tree of their own and sharing their heirloom photos.

  6. I worry about losing photos if the hard drive goes bad. I have sent a lot to the “cloud” through a photo company. I am slowly going through albums and weeding out excess photos, trying to keep a physical copy of only the best ones. Big project on my declutter journey…

    • Deanna – just out of interest, how long have you been working thru your photos and how far do you think you have to go?

      • I think I’ve gone through maybe 1/4 of my photos, I’ve been working on it just sporadically over the past few months. Just picking up a photo album and going through it and taking out the photos I don’t want…but then I won’t do another one for a couple weeks, so it’s slow going, just when I have the time.
        I agree that we have so many photos now days that they aren’t as precious. Still love looking at the ones of my kids when they were little 🙂

  7. This will be a project in my future. I will be glad to have this post to refer back to…but Moni, one question right now: hiffed?

  8. I think this is a big issue. When I retired I made both sons an album (hard copy- not digital) of their childhood and copied a few really old photographs of my own grandfather, my mother as a child etc. I wrote a little note beside these old photos so that they knew who these people were. It took a few months to complete but I really enjoyed this work and I hope that as the years go by they and their own children will find this interesting.
    I am not so concerned about the most recent photographs since digitalisation as my son, DIL and I are all keeping a huge collection on our individual computers. I also have mine stored in the Cloud.

  9. Hi Moni, I think photos, either hard copy, negative or digital have lost their value. What I mean to say is, the oversupply of an individual’s photo history has rendered each photo ‘one too many’. My husband has a small black and white photo of him and his Mum on the beach when he was two and another with his Mum and young brother when he was 17. I’m sure there was more but they would have been lost over time. These are precious but if every moment of his life had been captured on film the value would decrease. Consider what photos have true value, a special memory for you.
    At K. Mart they have the self service photo lab, you could take your box their one Sunday arvo , (if they are open) and scan all the photos to a disc, nothing like placing a price on keeping something to assist with the decision making process.
    I can’t help thinking though , if you garage was to get flooded and the box of photos were destroyed would you be very upset? Is the concept of having photos sorted more important than the photos? We only have a certain amount of time and space for photos and less is best.
    Cheers from across the pond .

    • Wendyf – yes I agree that photos were historically rare and precious. I can’t pinpoint when in history that changed, I’d guess probably after WW2 going by the number of photos and slides my grandparents left. I have vague recollections of slide viewings after they returned from an overseas holiday.

      Interesting question about the garage flooding. Actually I would be upset about that (even though I have digital copies) the majority of my photos are my kids early years and a lot of good memories. Hmmm.

  10. Grace from Brazil

    I am curious why anyone keeps negatives. I got rid of all mine and did not even think twice. I also have my digitized photos copied in several places. I only kept the original of pictures that were really noteworthy. It is amazing how many photos after time do lose their value. I really don’t want to burden my children with lots of photos so less is more.

    • Grace – I guess the negatives don’t hold any purpose once they have been digitised. I’m not even sure if there is anywhere I could get them developed locally! Maybe there is a photo lab over in the city or somewhere they could be sent away to, but now that I think about it, photo developing places have been replaced with digital kiosks.

  11. Our scanner came with an attachment that let’s you scan slides and negatives. It does a very decent job. I’ve had the scanner for a few years so don’t remember how much I paid for it- it was reasonable I’m sure. I inherited a lot of slides from my dad, I have scanned quite a few. I save them to disk and a flash drive. I’ll eventually get rid of the slides. I don’t know anyone who does sideshows anymore 🙂

    • Barbara – I have a vague recollection of having to sit thru a slideshow as a young girl. I’m glad that era is gone. Even over the last few years it has changed from emailing jpegs to posting on Facebook.

  12. I am impressed that everyone has history regarding pictures.
    I have several ways I store my pictures. There is this huge red binder that contains childhood pictures (my mum made them when we were little). I did a couple of years ago sort through the ton of pictures and made another red binder as a follow up which contains pictures from me until 10 th grade.
    When I got older, I made pictures myself and kept the folders they came in. I kept the pictures sorted by event (with date) in original folders. I keep them in my beautiful box, where they are safe and will keep my two binders and the boxes for the rest of my life.

    Digital Pictures is a whole different thing though. For the last 10 years I made, saved, copied and lost tons and tons of digital pictures. Either the (external) hard drive or the CD or DVD or whatever storage device BROKE. and I dont know about you guys, but during the last 12 years I owned and used at least 4 different computers, 3 external hard drives, TONS of DVDs and CDs .
    I owned 4 mobile phones with cameras, I am making pictures and with smartphones and apps I even get more from my friends. I tried to save and sort all of my pictures on my laptop and I make backups, but to be honest, I dont bother much anymore. I guess there is a possibility to have a monthly session for digitizing, storing, copying and saving all of those, but ironically, the best way to store pictures is to get them developed and keep them in a box.

    • Lena – I now have a Dropbox app on my iPhone so I can upload photos if they are save-worthy, as I too lost everything on my phone that got broken.

  13. HI Moni
    I’m 29, the eldest child of 3, and we have (as a family) two photo boxes of developed photos. No clue on negatives! Anyhow, with both my brothers’ 21st, and lately my father’s 60th and a Grandma Christmas gift, I taken more and more out of the semi sorted photo boxes into album which everyone has enjoyed flicking through on these events. Oh and my mum and brother’s GF have done me an album too! It’s certainly thinned the stash, and is more enjoyable than flicking through photos. The remaining two boxed, aren’t huge. I can’t see my parents tossing them, but if I was them, perhaps I might, with how many photos of the same event/children existing – both in the box AND in albums!!

    • Snosie – family gatherings are a great time to look at photos, recollecting and reminicising are a great way to spend time together. I guess it’s also nice for children to see their parents when they were young. My daughter asked me today if her brother looked like my half-brother (ie uncle) who died when she was very young. As my brother and I were raised in different countries with a 10 year age gap, I have very few photos of him, although I have no problem picturing him, she has very vague recollections of him, so I will definitely need to sort the photos out quickly. I guess times like this, albums would be a very convenient way of finding photos.

  14. I look forward to reading all these comments when I get home as I still haven’t completed this task myself. We have done bits here and there and prior to our vacation Steve was deleting unwanted digital photos which is great. However it is the printed photos that take up room in cupboards and are the ones that really need sorting. But that is a job for another day. Right now we have just arrived at our hotel in Osaka, Japan and are in much need of a good night sleep before exploring tomorrow. So hooroo for now.

  15. Hi Moni,
    I’m an amateur family photographer/historian who’s been trying to work through my grandparents photos as well as keeping up with photos of my 4 very young nieces (ages 1 – 5). I have very strong opinions about this topic, but I’ll try and keep things light 🙂
    I don’t think there is one answer for everyone when it comes to photos and photo storage, but what I do know is:
    -physical photos are the only type of photos where you don’t need to worry about changes to file formats, application compatibility or hardware upgrades
    -my nieces love the photobooks I’ve made for them. These are books made with scanned photos and digital photos, printed and delivered by a service like Snapfish or shutterfly (at least in the U.S. – not sure the equivalent service in Australia). When one of them is feeling lost or lonely, she’ll pull out her very own “Who Loves Me” book and sit for a while until she feels better. She couldn’t do that with photos in a cloud.
    -physical photos can be destroyed by water, fire, mold, etc. so a digital backup is always a good idea, as is having multiple backups placed in various locations in case of extreme natural disaster.
    -you don’t have to save each & every photo. I had photos of a road trip my great-grandparents took…lots of scenic views. I had no idea where these photos were taken, so I kept a couple of the best and tossed the rest.

    I think you’re on the right track with digitizing, but before you throw anything out, I’d talk with family members. There may be a young historian in your midst, who’d like to keep the hard copies. If you have really old photos, you may want to see if there’s a state archives or historic society who might be interested.

    Sorry for long post – this is a topic close to my heart!
    From the Washington D.C., USA area,

    • KB – thank you for your advice. I’m actually I am in New Zealand, but Colleen lives and runs 365 Less Things in Australia. I agree digital photos are vulnerable to water, fire, disaster but also that digital photos are vulnerable to changes and breakdowns in technology.

  16. Hi. I have all my photos pre-digital filed and ready to deal with. The digital are on the computer. As photos of family are very important to me, I am a bit nervous about losing them. I finally used to print an album for one year, 2013. It was fun, easy and it helped me prioritize which photos to use. They have coupons all the time so I waited for a 60 percent off. After I got it, I realized they must keep electronic copies. They offered a discount for additional copies months later. I do not know how long that lasts. The album was so much thinner than a traditional album. It is only about 1/2-inch thick and contains probably 100 to 125 pictures With the coupon it was much cheaper than printing the photos and buying an empty album. I purchased an additional one to give away to a relative. At 1/2-inches, 20 years will only take up 10 inches on my shelf.

  17. Apologies everyone for the delay in replying this weekend, we left Friday morning for a school event about five hours away which required two nights away. It was a busy schedule and we got home a few hours ago and I promptly needed a nap! It was a lot of fun being with this group of young people. Unfortunately my internet access was limited and my time equally limited and thank you everyone for your great ideas.

  18. A couple of years ago when I had a disgusting cold and was feeling really sorry for myself yet felt i should do something pro active I sat watching soppy old movies with my boxes of photos and a shredder. Anything that was duplicate, out of focus or had bad memories attached I shredded immediately so I couldn’t change my mind. It was a very cathartic process! I kept some pictures of old boyfriends and friends as reminders of my past but got rid of loads that were holding me back in that past. I also had a pile of think about before you destroy photos, which I picked through at a later date. I started new albums of family pictures from after my dad died 20 years ago, so I have a living album and a cherished album, and I started a separate album for friends. My new system is that I put people into albums and digitise buildings, scenes, holiday photos without people. This has worked really well, when it comes to clearing and sorting as it keeps all my emotional compartmenrs separate.

    There was an article in the Guardian Newspaper recently about a woman who lost all her digital photos including every personal photo taken of her deceased husband, and how she found it quite a freeing experience. Here’s a link

    • Claire – wow that article was quite a read. To lose photos of her husband would be so difficult but the writer feels it allowed her to move forward. I have a relative and in her culture, when someone dies all their possessions are burnt so there is nothing left behind for the deceased spirit to try to return to. In her opinion it made it easier to move on, I personally don’t know how I feel about that, but I have read plenty of accounts of elderly parents leaving so many possessions to their adult children to deal with, and how it lengthens the grieving process, so possibly there is something to it.