I don't want to admit this, but I have a really hard time keeping my personal photos organized.  I spend a great deal of time on my client work, so my family's images just kind of sit there, backed up onto hard drives and it weights heavily on me.

So, I am doing something about it, and I'm bringing you along for the ride because I know many of you are experiencing the same thing.

If you haven't already, make sure the date & time on your camera is set correctly. You'll thank yourself later!

STEP 1: PURCHASE AN EXTERNAL DRIVE

In order to have room for everything you need, purchase an external hard drive specifically for your family. I went with the 1 Terabyte WD Elements for plenty of space, as I have several of these from previous years and they've always been reliable for me and easy to use. This is also nice if you enjoy scrapbooking, as you can just take that little drive with you when you go out with your friends and you've got all you need at your fingertips.

STEP 2: PUT EVERYTHING IN ONE PLACE

I have photo files on my phone, my husband's phone, my desktop computer and on several external hard drives, backed up from previous years. Don't cut and paste the files as then you're deleting the originals. Keep those duplicate files as a back up, just in case. Instead, COPY the files from each device separately and organize them using Step 3 & 4, below. Personally, I'd select all the folders/files from a hard drive, copy them and paste them into the external drive before heading to bed and they'd be done in the morning.

To get through this step just a little faster, I copied files over in the background via Windows to a folder I called "To Empty", while organizing my yearly and monthly files via Adobe Bridge. So I had two file transfers going simultaneously.

STEP 3: ORGANIZE BY YEAR, MONTH, EVENT

I do this in Adobe Bridge because I can filter by date created, but there are several programs you can use to do this with. It takes a great deal of time because you're copying so many large image files from one place to another.

Once they're in folders by year, then put them in folders by month, and then event. So for example, my July 2016 family vacation images are in 2016 > 2016-July > 2016-July-Long Point. I also have a folder for monthly miscellaneous images, so in July they're filed in 2016 > 2016-July > 2016-July-Misc.

It's easy to get distracted by all the amazing memories that you see, but try not to spend too much time on this step. You'll be able to enjoy them soon enough.

STEP 4: SELECT KEEPERS

By this point I was already reveling in my own glory, as I had wanted to do this for YEARS. It was so great to be able to review the images so easily and I love it when things are organized. But the job was far from over.

Once your images are organized by year and month, it's time to pair them down. I used Photo Mechanic for this because it's super fast and easy to select my keepers and delete what I no longer need. I started from the most recent photo files I had and went through the folders backwards, month by month, keeping track of which month I was on with a little notebook. There were a lot of grocery lists, photos taken by accident, stuff like my husband's hilarious selfies, but I simply selected the best and deleted the rest.

I kept all my video files in a video folder, organized by year, for a future project.

Remember, the less you keep, the more you'll treasure. You don't need two photos of the same thing. Just pick the best one and move on.

STEP 5: PRINT YOUR PHOTOS

Keep in mind, digital image files are not archival. There is no way you can ensure your image files will not corrupt over time, so the best thing you can do to preserve your children's memories is to print them.

This can be quite expensive depending on how many images we're talking about, but this is the most satisfying part of photographing your children. There's nothing like being able to hold your own photos in your hands, or flipping through the pages of an album with your children. These memories are a big part of their lives, and yours. Do not skip this step.

There are a variety of ways to print your portraits.  You can do press printed books, 4x6 photographs, you can enlarge some and place the on the walls of your home, and more.  I love to purchase albums created in Canada, so I recommend Photobooks Canada or My Picture Book. They key here is to take that step and print them.

Personally, I decided to create press printed family books by year (which I'll keep), and to print 4x6 photographs every few months, sliding them into my children's albums (which they'll eventually take with them).

STEP 6: BACK EVERYTHING UP

These are your digital negatives and you should do your best to care for them. Now that everything's organized and lovely, it's time ensure it stays that way. Purchase another 1 Terabyte external drive and copy and paste those files onto it too. Bring it to another location, like a relative's home, a safety deposit box. I suggest updating your off site external drive once a year, just to be safe.

And there you have it. In the future, just keep adding your images files, maintaining your organized system, and you'll be good to go.