What to do with photos when downsizing

March 14, 2023

Are you at a stage in your life in which you are planning to downsize? Or are you already in the middle of it and have started to declutter and let go of some of your belongings? Photos and other keepsakes are of course part of those belongings, and they are very hard to declutter for most people because they are very personal and sentimental.

Today, I’d like to share some ideas and tips about how you could approach this project when it comes to your precious photos. I am focussing on printed photos because they take up physical space. Even if digital photos take up a lot of space on your computer drive, which isn’t free of charge either, they can easily be moved, and your computer will not take up more space just because it has a bigger drive. Physical photos will take up a lot of space though, hence, let’s talk about those.

1)    Have a vision! 

This is not only applicable to photos but in general. If you don’t know where you want to end up, it is a bit tricky to choose the right direction or path.

I invite you to take a moment to think about your vision when it comes to your photos. If you already know exactly what your new home looks like, it’s a bit easier. If not, use your imagination. When planning to downsize you will probably know roughly how big that new place will be. Imagine how you will furnish that new space. Imagine not only your space but also your lifestyle. Will you be travelling a lot? Do you have a hobby that will take up a lot of your time? Are you going to look after grandchildren in your home?

All these aspects can give you hints about your photos. If we take the latter example with the grandchildren, having fragile photo ornaments or frames on your sideboard is possibly not a great idea and you might want to find another way to display photos.

If you have a bunch of big, bulky photo albums, you might not be able to store them anymore in your new home. What would you like to do with them? Do you envision one of your children taking them on and becoming the keeper of the family photos and stories?

Brainstorm freely and try to imagine this future. Write down your vision in as much detail as possible. It will help you enormously to declutter in the next step, I promise!

2)    Minimise your photo collection and declutter

Decluttering photos is not an easy task, but it is most probably necessary if you plan to downsize, and it is well worth it. Know that you are not alone. There is help for that project if you need it. For example, a local photo organiser (find one in this directory). It can of course also be a family member or a good friend. If you work with a friend or a family member, it can go both ways: it can be wonderful and very productive or it can end in a mess and unhappy people on both sides. Personally, my mum and I sorted the entire family collection before she downsized, and it was a wonderful experience (read about it here).

Try to minimize your physical photo collection as much as possible. Now, I don’t mean to pack your 30 albums into your car and leave them with your firstborn! If they want them, absolutely, do it – go ahead. However, my guess is, they don’t want them.

Here is my tip: please talk to people! Talk to your loved ones. Talk to them about your vision and your downsizing journey. Let them know where your heart is and what is precious to you. Share your ideas and ask. Expect that they don’t want to help you or simply can’t because of a variety of reasons. They might simply not have the space for all your albums either.

Things, even photos, do not have the same importance to others as they have to us. It is sad if nobody shows an interest, and it does hurt. If that’s the case, it’s time to try and find another solution.

Aside from that, when it is time to act and declutter, this recent post might help you through that process.

Once you have decluttered, I am sure you will feel a lot lighter, and a big chip will be off your shoulders. Well done!

3)    Digitise – at least the most important photos

Once you have your vision and have come closer to reaching that goal by decluttering your collection, it is time to think about digitizing. Hopefully, you are not sitting on tens of thousands of photos by now. Even if you have like 4,000 left, this is great but will still cost quite a bit of money to have it digitized. If you want to do it yourself, you’ll need to learn the necessary skills, buy a scanner and have some time to do it all.

Hence, think about just having your very best and your most important photos digitised. Basically, those you want to have backed up, too. Because scanning a print is the only way you can back it up. Otherwise, if the print is gone, it’s gone.

Let’s go back to your vision and your downsized new home. Is it so small you don’t have space to store bulky albums? Then, maybe a digital photo frame is the answer. It takes up minimal space and you can enjoy your digitised and digital photos every day, all day (read more about my favourite digital frame here). Knowing this will give you the answer to the digitising question and it will become easier for you to decide which ones you want to be scanned.

Nixplay 8-inch Touch Screen Photo Frame

Image: Nixplay 8-inch Touch Screen Photo Frame

Added bonus – your legacy collection is (almost) done!


If you have done all this and downsized not only your home but your photo collection, you have already done much if not all to build your legacy photo collection. What I mean by that is explained in another post, which you can find here.

If you would like some help downsizing your photo collection, please don’t forget to benefit from the 30-minute free call with me.


  1. Julie Bestry

    As a professional organizer, I’ve generally kept an organized space and when there’s a project to tackle, I approach it with verve and glee. Not photos. I have a LOT of prints from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, as I didn’t get a digital camera until 2010, and a smart phone until 2016. The prints from 1985 to the present are in perfect chronological order. But there are about ten years of minimally organized snapshots. Since I don’t have children, I’m often torn — do I want to go through all the effort to digitize photos that only I will ever see? And yet, as a professional, I know how devastated I’d be if I didn’t have any backups in case of an emergency. While I’m not in retirement-level downsizing mode, I know that starting now is the only way to ensure it gets done.

    Thanks for the good advice. I’m waving to you from the other side of the planet and the opposite season!

    • Chantal Imbach

      Hi Julie, thanks so much for sharing with us. Your thoughts about digitising when no descendants are around make sense. I would probably digitise only some select ones for my own enjoyment, for example displaying them on a digital frame. My clients often have the goal to create a legacy collection they can pass on. However, sometimes I have to remind them that they are still here and that it’s ok to also digitise photos for their own enjoyment and also that not every photo has to be super meaningful. It is ok to keep (for example) some scenery photos simply because they are beautiful and not because they have a special meaning.

  2. Janet Schiesl

    This is a wonderful post for the people that have a lot of photos. I have a client with thousands of prints from her parents from the early 1900, tens and tens of boxes and it’s a lot of work to be able to downsize. But of course, it can be done and it’s a project we are tackling soon and will take many hours to decide what stays and what’s going to be digitized.

  3. Janet Barclay

    I have scanned various photos over the years, when I wanted to post or share them, so it hasn’t been methodical at all. Before I tackle my printed photos as a whole, I need to organize those that are already digitized as well as my digital photos. I have a project underway, and one of my goals is to get things in order so that when I’m gone the kids will be able to distinguish family history (old and new) from my photographic adventures. It’s fun but feels like it will never end!

    • Chantal Imbach

      Hi Janet, yes, it can feel very overwhelming and never ending. You’ve already achieved so much, keep going :-). It will happen, even if progress is slow. And it is sooo rewarding, isn’t it?! Good idea to get the already digitised and the digital photo hub under control before proceeding. All the best and keep us updated!

  4. Seana Turner

    This is a tough one. Photos represent something we cannot replace once we have let it go. Still, in working with clients I’ve come to realize that not all photos have the same emotional “punch.” Some trigger memories and connection, while others we may struggle to even recall being taken.

    Properly digitizing, for me personally, would include tagging them in such a way as to be searchable. This represents a decent amount of investment, but ultimately, I think this is where we will all go. Thanks for sharing on this topic!

    • Chantal Imbach

      Thanks Seana! Yes, ideally we cull and add metadata to our photos so we can find them easily. In reality, not many people do this though because it can be so overwhelming plus there are technology challenges. The good thing is though, when done properly, it’s a once off and it will pay off down the track. As with everything, it comes down to good habits and routines so it doesn’t get out of hand.

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