What to include in a memory book?

One question that I hear a lot about from people who want to make memory books for dementia care is – how do you decide what to include?
Honestly, it’s usually more about what to cut. Most people have amazing collections that could fill many books. The key is to just pick a few small stories to share. You can always do another book. Because brain and eye fatigue is so much of an issue with this population, we need to keep the content VERY limited. Blurry photos are worse with blurry eyesight. Dark images can also be hard to read. Little things like this may be enough to help winnow down the huge pile of possible photos into a manageable amount (30 – 50 max per book).

Here are a five more tips on what I always look for.
1 – find a favorite picture that shows the subject smiling. It doesn’t need to be recent.

Jack swimming - one of his favorite things

2 – think about what defines them as a person. Focus on the happy things. In this sample book, Jack is swimming (and smiling). Perfect. You can fill a few pages in the book with action shots of hobbies, travel, or other important things.

Grandpa Jack Sample page 33 – Jack was an avid gardener for many years. His home had amazing gardens that he loved to maintain. But as his memory fades, he’s not as clear about when they sold their house (almost a decade ago) and moved into a retirement community. I didn’t want to include upsetting subjects, so I focused on his more recent gardening work, and the annual trip to Sherwood Gardens. We didn’t include any pictures that might trigger the “where am I and when can I go home?” conversation.

4 – Include family. You can mix eras in a page or a two page spread. For example, include photos of both (now adult) children and grandchildren. However, keep the captions clear and try not to go back and forth too often. In this case the beach is a unifying theme, and it’s the subject with two generations of children. The captions continue the larger story that was on the facing page.

Alice Beach Sample Page

5 – Only place a few pictures per page. Make it easy on the eyes to stay on the page. Keep lots of negative (white) space and big text in an easy font (I use Georgia a lot). I also increase the line spacing a bit, and use shorter paragraphs to help eyes from getting lost in the text.

Memory Books for Dementia Care

Dealing with dementia is hard. For families with a loved one who has dementia – there are countless tasks, support demands, and wishes that you could be “doing more.”
My father-in-law was the family historian. He made scrapbooks of trips, even wrote a genealogy book and self-published his own memoirs well before self-publishing became a thing. When he was in the later stages of Lewy Body Syndrome, he had very limited communication skills, but it was clear there was still quite a bit going on inside his mind.

the Dickens brothers' sorted and condensed childhood in a photo book

One Thanksgiving, I took home five boxes of family photos and memorabilia (spanning 3 generations). I took the best (200 +/-)  images from when my husband and his brothers were growing up and turned that into a very full book. I then shared 5 copies with the brothers and their parents. He got great enjoyment from looking at that book while in nursing care, and later on in hospice. He loved reliving the memories, and it was a prop that made communication easier for family and hospice volunteers who came to visit him. After he passed away, some of the family told me that going back through the book was an important part of the grieving process for them.
I made other books for him, and for friends who were dealing with dementia in a family member, and learned a few important lessons along the way.

In these blog posts, I’ll share some of them with you.

What to do when your photos are stuck in a “magnetic” album

no sticky albumWe all have them. Old photo albums that conveniently held your photos in place under a protective plastic sheet. Until they didn’t. The sheets became brittle, the adhesive failed, and sometimes the photos got stuck to the page, or damaged from the chemicals in the albums. What to do now?

Supplies needed: old photo albums, cotton gloves, clean work space, new photo-safe album or other storage, photo safe pencil, Post-It notes, dental floss (unwaxed, Teflon kind is best), Flip Pal or flatbed scanner.

1. Gather all your albums of this kind together. Be careful handling them, as they may be brittle and photos may fall out.

2. Pick a starting point. You can work from oldest to newest, or save the most important one first. Others pick a “practice album” that’s less important to get confident in their photo extracting skills.

3. Remove photos from albums, keeping the order and associated captions. If you can’t write (using your photo safe pencil of course) on the back because there’s sticky album residue, attach a Post-It note to the back and write on that. Remember to wear your cotton gloves to protect the photos from the oils that are on our hands, and can cause further damage. (side note, I like using the cotton gloves as a very soft dust cloth on dirty photos – helps to clean before scanning).

4. Some photos may not come out easily. That’s where the dental floss comes in. The most important thing is, don’t force or rip the photos. But, sometimes you can wrap the floss around your two index fingers and use the taught string under a loose corner. Gently saw back and forth and slide the floss deeper under the photo. Many photos can be un-stuck this way. If it’s not going well STOP. Scan the photo on the old album page using a FlipPal scanner at 600 dpi. You may not get anything written on the back, but that’s a fair trade for salvaging the image itself.

Here’s a useful video from the Smithsonian Archive on these processes.

5. Sort the photos you wish to archive. Not all photos are necessarily keepers. Look for quality photos, or pictures that tell a good story, and scan those – keeping the captions too.

6. Because of the sticky mess on the back of the photo, I recommend scanning with a Flip Pal or flatbed scanner. These photos tend not to work well in auto-feed high speed scanners.

7. Organize your scanned photos & add metadata. After all the work you’ve put into this process, you want to make the photos easy to find in the future. That means no gibberish photo names. 1978HalloweenSpider.jpg is a lot more meaningful than 20160309001A.jpg.

8. The original printed photos need to be stored safely too. Use archival safe storage boxes (such as the APPO Legacy Box or something from Archival Methods) and put archival safe paper or glassine envelopes to separate and protect sticky backs.

9. Back up your scanned photos (along with the rest of your digital photo collection) in two additional locations, one of which should be off-site. When you’ve captured all the important information, and have your scanned photos backed up, take a deep breath and throw away the old album and any photos that weren’t worth saving.

10. Enjoy your recovered photos in a photo book, slide show, or photo gift. Share with friends and family on your favorite online site (SmugMug, Forever or Flickr are some of my favorites).

Unexpected uses for my Mabel’s Labels

Mabel's Labels customizable householdI’ve been using personalized name labels for a while. I started getting them for my son, and quickly realized I needed some of my own. I’ve tried a few different kinds, and settled on Mabel’s Labels as the best combination of quality, size/style that suits me, and price.

Their circular shoe labels and customizable household labels are my favorite products. I also love the Skinny Minis which fit on surprisingly small items in my photo organizer’s toolkit (magnifying glass, unwaxed dental floss case – you get the idea).

As I’ve been expanding my affiliate partnerships, I discovered that Mabel’s Labels has a program, and just signed up. They have a special going on right now that is an incredible deal. Here’s a screen shot of my new order – at these prices I need to restock.


Here are the details:

Are you ready for some Spring cleaning? Let Mabel’s Labels help you get organized! Now through March 4th, Mabel’s Labels is offering 40% off Sticky Labels , Skinny Minis, Tag Mates and the Big Kaboodle Combo. No coupon code required. Plus, receive free shipping on all orders! Hurry – before this offer ends!

FTC Disclosure Statement: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

What unusual uses have you found for your personalized labels? I’d love to hear about them in the comments, or better yet, share a photo of your labels in action!

What if you don’t have time to organize now?

Damaged album waiting to be organized

Moisture and extreme temperatures can destroy photos while they’re waiting for your attention. Get them out of your basement, attic and/or garage. Find a spot in the back of a closet or out-of-the-way shelf to stash them until you’re ready to organize. Cardboard boxes and magnetic or sticky album pages can also be very damaging to photographs.

Old houses usually have tiny closets. While the linen closet is a great place to store your photos, that’s often not a realistic solution – it’s full of sheets and towels. What can you reasonably do to protect your photos?

  • get your boxes of photos out of places with known threats: flooding, rodents, extreme temperatures.
  • store your photos in plastic bins, preferably with the photos further protected in an archival-safe smaller box, envelope or bag. Sadly, the paper envelopes from the photo lab weren’t made with photo safe materials, same for old shoeboxes.no sticky albums
  • get them out of the sticky albums ASAP and into a photo safe container. If you don’t have yellowing and damage yet, woo hoo! If you do, let’s get them out before it gets worse.
  • BEFORE you take everything out of an album, it’s a good idea to photograph the groupings and writing on a page – often that’s important information about the people or places in the photos. We don’t want to lose that part! If you’re going to scan all your photos anyway, consider scanning the whole album page – journaling and all.
  • If the photos are stuck in the album, don’t force it. There are tricks to get them out with as little damage as possible. Contact your friendly local photo organizer for help.

All this sounds great – but what if you don’t have time to get even this much done?


Find a friend, a teenager, another relative who can help you knock this project out. You might get a good visit and some great stories from a relative. You can help a poor high school or college student earn pizza money. It’s cheaper than restoring damaged photos later on, or the emotional cost of knowing that irreplaceable family history is destroyed.


Get Help to Get It Done

friends help you finish your photo organizing project

Photo organizing takes time and focus. People are busy and those two things can be in short supply. Find a friend with similar photo organizing goals. Let them help you refocus when life’s inevitable distractions get in the way.

a very cute distraction

a very cute distraction

Who do you know that also wants to get their photos organized? Who can check in on your progress and cheer you on? How can you be helpful to your friend who wants to go from overwhelmed to organized with her own photo collection? If you don’t have a friend to team up with, a personal photo organizer can get you started in the right direction and keep you moving forward with your photo organizing goals.


Sleep like a baby

Back up your photos for peace of mind

There’s an ugly thought that lurks in the back of your mind when your back-up plan is based on crossing your fingers. What if something happens and my photos are GONE?!! Hard drives crash, laptops get stolen, cloud storage site goes under. It can (& does) happen – far too often. That’s why you need to back up your photos in at least 3 places.

If they’re digital, print them.

If they’re print, scan them.

Then keep at least one backup somewhere besides your own home. I keep a flash drive at my parents’ place. And another copy in the cloud.

If your photos are backed up, that doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen. But you can rest easy knowing that your special photos are protected.

What is your favorite trick for making regular back-ups of your photos quick and easy?

It’s OK to trash your photos

trash can

Take a deep breath, and let them go.

Really. Sometimes the best thing you can do is sort through your photo collection and trash all the duplicates, near duplicates, and photos that just don’t quite make the cut. If it’s blurry, or there’s a better version, out it goes. Heads are cut off, finger over the lens – bye bye.

Some people really get into this. After a little while, they realize how much junk is in their photo collection of 11,000 digital images and 2 tubs of photos. Of course, if it’s the only photo you have of Uncle David, you might want to keep it even if it’s not the best quality image. Otherwise, take a deep breath and let them go. You really can do it.

Start Anywhere


One of the most common issues I hear from people wanting to get a handle on their photo collections is “I just don’t know where to start.” It’s very easy to get stuck in analysis-paralysis. Don’t spend too much time trying to figure out the best system for tackling such a large project. That’s time you could be spending on the project itself. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter. Don’t get me wrong – I have lots of strategies that I use to help people organize, protect and share their photos (and the stories behind them) as efficiently as possible. What I’m saying is – exactly where you start isn’t the point.

Pick somewhere that’s important to you: an upcoming family event (like a milestone birthday) and focus on that. You’ll feel better if you are working on the most relevant, meaningful tasks, rather than slogging thru your in-law’s vacation slides from 50 years ago (sadly this was not just a random example but Oh, it’s good to be done with that task too!).

Set yourself up for success. Once you have a small but important part of your photo life in good shape, you’ll be inspired to do more. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts by the smiles, tears and gratitude those newly accessible photos bring forth. And it’s a pretty sweet reward.

Get Organized

Drowning BPS

It’s normal for photo and video collections to have many thousands of files. Very hard to manage so many images. Check out our series of tips over the next few weeks to make this process less scary and help you go from overwhelmed to organized.

I’ve been told that 880 BILLION photos will be taken in 2014. Gulp. No wonder we’re so overwhelmed with our photo collections. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some ideas about how to get started, and stay focused (and sane!) as you #GO Get Organized this month with your photos and videos.