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Tame Those Memories

Family vacations, summer weddings and family reunions are in full swing, and the warm memories and envelopes of photographs are ever growing! You certainly intend to organize them -- but the boxes in the attic are full of intentions, and now the photograph CDs are being to pile up! What can you do to stop the madness?

Step 1: Decide why you are saving the photographs. My mother- in-law, for example, wants to ensure them for future generations, which means acid-free paper and detailed labeling. One of my clients, on the other hand, just wants to enjoy them now. She has an antique trunk full of loose photographs (with names and dates!) she uses to tell stories to her fascinated grandchildren.

Step 2: Don't set unreal expectations. Mary had a house full of photographs of her 18-month-old -- duplicates, in fact -- because she was always going to send them to her mother. But first she wanted to write a letter explaining the picture -- the birthday party, the trip to the zoo, or the first haircut. There wasn't time for that, so her mother hadn't seen a picture of her grandson in months, and Mary felt overwhelmed by her failure. Undoubtedly her mother would have been delighted to see the photos -- without the perfect narrative descriptions. If you are a working parent with active children, the best way to organize your photographs for now may be a shoebox in the front hall closet -- with the lid off, so you can get to it easily!

Step 3: Avoid tackling too much at one time. Dolly decided to organize 25 years of photos. She declared the living and dining room off-limits to her family -- and began making piles. In the midst of the project, old friends called to say they were in town. So Dolly quickly gathered up all her piles and stuffed them in a suitcase. Several years later they're still there! Begin organizing your photos by sorting them into major time blocks -- before kids, pre-school, elementary school, high school, college, for example. Put each category into a large container. Then take one container, and divide it into smaller categories -- by year, then by season, and finally by months. (Keep your old calendars. They can be a great resource to retrieve specific dates for major events!)

Step 4: Eliminate the unnecessary. The first candidates for the wastebasket are double exposures, pictures of the inside of your lens cap, and those shots you wonder why you took. You are also bound to find some photos that have little meaning to you, but could be special to someone else. Drop them in the mail to bring a smile to Aunt Amanda's face. As a birthday present for my 85- year-old grandmother, I took one photo of each of the members of her family, and one or two of each of the major events in her life and put it in one album. It was the first thing she shared with every visitor.

Step 5: Taming the Paper Tiger software to the Rescue! The beauty of using The Paper Tiger for taming your photos is its incredible flexibility! You can put a number on each photo (or photo holder) with keywords, dates, and a category for each one. Or, you can put a number of an entire packet of photos, and then use the keyword field to describe specific contents. This is a great way to solve the problem of the packet of Johnny's wedding photos that also contains a single photo of Jenny's new car. Organizing photo CDs with Paper Tiger is also a cinch. Just put a number on the CD and use the keywords to describe the contents. A keyword search on Johnny's wedding will instantly tell you where to find the portrait (on the wall in the hallway), the packet of photos (in the family room credenza) and the photo CD (in the CD box by the computer).

Bonus: Organizing photographs can be a great summer project to do with children of all ages!

Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com

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