A funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century. Believe it or not, pictures stopped being pictures. It's true. They started being digital files.

Digital photos are amazing, but they make life very different. It's so easy now to take 400 photos in one vacation or 25 of your kid on the swings. We can take as many photos as we want, any time. What doesn't seem to be so easy any more is getting those photos out of digital form so they can be seen and held, and so your memories can be preserved with the photos they came from.

I talk to many people who are overwhelmed with their photos, drowning in them. The thought of getting them out of digital form and preserving them is daunting. What on earth do you do with 600 photos from 2008? And from 2009? And on and on.

Have you ever heard that preserving photos and memories is good for you? It is! It's therapeutic and increases both happiness and self-esteem. It has a centering, grounding effect. It lowers stress. It gives children and teens a sense of belonging, greater emotional strength, and lower instances of depression and anxiety. It increases gratitude and perspective, and creates a stronger sense of purpose.  These are obviously things everyone can benefit from, but often the hard part is getting there --especially if you're swimming in pictures.

I love helping people enjoy those benefits, so if you're up to your eyeballs in photos, here's your Escape Plan in ten steps.

ORGANIZE YOUR PHOTOS. I know, I know. This is what's keeping you from memory-keeping in the first place. But this is an essential step because if you don't know what you have or where it is, you'll just keep swimming. (And not in the good Dory way, either.) I suggest chronological order, dated by year and month. If you have physical photos, put them in envelopes and date them. If you have digital photos, put them in folders and subfolders named with dates.

  1. CHOOSE YOUR FAVORITES. Did you know there isn't a rule that you have to keep every picture you take? Pick the best and preserve those. Narrowing down this way makes your photos much less overwhelming.
  2. GET YOUR PHOTOS OFF YOUR CAMERA/REGULARLY. If you want to stay on top of your photos instead of underneath a pile of them, this is a very important step. Schedule time once a month if you need to.
  3. FOCUS ON ONE THING AT A TIME. If you have a lot of pictures, don't be distracted by the other pictures you still have left to manage. Choose one thing (preserving one year's worth of photos, for example), and enjoy it.
  4. FIND A MEMORY-KEEPING SYSTEM THAT YOU WILL DO. Don't focus on what's new or popular--focus on something you will do. I suggest something you'll fall in love with. If it's addicting and fun, you'll do it! That's definitely true for me.
  5. WORK WITH SOMEONE ELSE. Often, working with someone else helps us do what we mean to do. With memory-keeping, working with a sibling, parent, child, or spouse can also strengthen relationships. Working with friends can turn into rejuvenating "me time." I have online groups who work together, and I have pointers to set up your own memory-keeping group with friends, too.
  6. LISTEN TO YOURSELF. Don't worry about cutesy trends. Don't worry about "not being creative" or whatever else is floating around in the universe telling you that memory-keeping isn't something you can do. Nonsense. Do it your way, because in the end it doesn't matter HOW you preserve your photos and memories, it just matters that you DID.
  7. START EASY. Start preserving pictures and stories however sounds easiest to you right now--the most recent photos, the oldest photos, the photos from that fun vacation. Start with whatever sounds the most do-able, whatever you can get done quickly.
  8. MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH YOURSELF. You don't find time, you make it. Calendar an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon or a Friday night. It adds up. (Easier when done with friends. See #6.) Respect the appointment you've made with yourself like you'd respect a lunch date with your friend. 
  9. BE A MEMORY-KEEPER. Change how you look at yourself. Change "I'm not that person," to "I AM that person. I'm the one who organizes photos regularly and preserves them before my memory fades. My friends are jealous."

Don't worry if implementing these steps takes a little time. Everything meaningful does. Use this Escape Plan to begin reaping the benefits of preserving photos and their stories, and watch your world change.

Jennifer Wise is a Heritage Makers consultant and storybooking coach. You can think of her as a wellness coach for the heart. She calls the Denver Polka Dot Powerhouse chapter home. She has been helping people preserve photos, memories, and stories in a do-able, high-quality way since 2005 and loves every minute. Because taking time to document life's stories is so good for you, her goal is to share the benefits of memory-keeping with one more person every day. Jennifer teaches online and in-person classes about photo-preserving ideas and solutions.  She blogs at www.lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com every week and can also be found at www.heritagemakers.com/jenniferwise.