As the old clichè goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Old photographs are special and irreplaceable, but they take up a lot of storage space. Whether you want to keep your photos or dispose of them, we’ve come up with a list of creative things to do with old photos or negatives you may have lying around the house.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Scan Pictures
- Upload Images to the Cloud
- Create a Collage
- Make a Scrapbook
- Create Your Family Tree
- Recycle Negatives with GreenDisk
- Transform Negatives Into Art
- Digitize Negatives
- Use a Service to Digitize Photos
- Turn Your Old Photos Into Art
- Design a Photo Wall
- Bring to a Thrift Store or Flea Market
Most printed photographs can’t be recycled. If they are printed on regular paper, then they can go in your household’s recycling bin. If they are developed photographs or printed on photo paper, then they either have to hit the trash or be repurposed.
We’ve included ideas for upcycling those old photos in our list below.
1. Scan Pictures
Digitizing old photos is a great option. It frees up space in your house and makes it easy to sort, categorize, and search for the picture you’re looking for. This can also help any loved ones see and sort through your cherished memories in the future. You can use a scanner or any number of smartphone apps.
Tip: To ensure the safekeeping of your photos, store them in two separate places. For instance, keep a copy on your computer, and a copy on an external hard drive somewhere else. That way, if any tragedies should strike, such as a fire, a copy of your pictures will be safely stored in a second location.
2. Upload Images to the Cloud
If you want to digitize your collection, you can scan them onto your computer and then upload them to a cloud service for safe and long-lasting storage.
Even if something happens to your phone or your computer, your pictures will be safe in the cloud! You can always print from these services as well if you ever want to frame an old photo.
Tip: To ensure your images are secure and nothing can happen to them, upload them to at least two cloud storage services. This is a similar idea to the tip above — you are storing your photos in two separate virtual locations. For instance, upload them to both Dropbox and Google Photos.
3. Create a Collage
So now that you’ve digitized your photos, what are you supposed to do with the hard copies? We’ve got some ideas for you! One option is to make a collage.
This can be a memorial collage honoring someone you lost, a travel collage, special event collage, family collage, friend collage, or any combination. These make for wonderful decorations for your house and help your most cherished memories and loved ones live on.
Tip: Try using decoupage glue or Mod Podge to create your collage. Mod Podge can adhere your photos to the canvas, poster board, or whatever backing you are using. Then, once you are finished, cover the photos with a layer of Mod Podge to seal them. This protects your pictures from peeling, tearing, or getting damaged over time and created a nice laminate-like finish. You can get Mod Podge on Amazon.
4. Make a Scrapbook
Take all those old photos, and even the negatives, and make a scrapbook! You can choose a theme and let your creativity abound. With a scrapbook, you can even add in fun designs and heartwarming quotes. Some people choose to journal alongside their pictures.
Tip: Search the web for inspiration! Pinterest has endless ideas for every type of scrapbook imaginable, and Amazon has plenty of scrapbooks like this one to choose from.
5. Create Your Family Tree
Creating a family tree is a wonderful way to use all those old family photos you have lying around. What better way to document your family’s history and relationships?
Tip: You can create a family tree online using software or a genealogy site. You can also make one in real life using a scrapbook, drawing book, or poster board.
6. Recycle Negatives with GreenDisk
GreenDisk is the only company that recycles negatives. You can send them old negatives and black and white film, and they will recycle them for you. If you need assistance, they provide a phone number on their website.
Tip: If you have old disposable cameras or film canisters lying around, Kodak will recycle them for you.
7. Transform Negatives Into Art
Old negatives make for some of the coolest art projects. Make a face using the negatives on canvas, create funky earrings and lampshades, use as ribbon to tie up presents — the options are unlimited.
Tip: Check out all the insanely creative ideas that Pinterest has to offer.
8. Digitize Negatives
It is now as easy as downloading an app on your iPhone and taking pictures of the negatives. These apps can transform your negatives into photographs!
Tip: You’ll need a light source under your negatives to get the best quality photos from your negatives. You can use a flat, bright white light, or make it even easier by purchasing tools like the Kodak Mobile Film Scanner to use in conjunction with your smartphone.
9. Use a Service to Digitize Photos
Maybe you inherited a house full of stuff or maybe you’re moving and can’t take all your old pictures with you. It might feel too overwhelming to go through all those old pictures and negatives and digitize them yourself.
There are many online and in-person companies that offer this very service and can provide you with a CD, DVD, or flash drive of your images.
Tip: If you plan to take pictures out of albums first, experts recommend using dental floss so as not to damage the pictures.
10. Turn Your Old Photos Into Art
Similarly to negatives, old photos make amazing art projects that can still show off your memories. Cut up some pictures and make a collage on the front of a journal or drawing book.
Create a rustic display using a tree branch, fishing wire, and old black and white or sepia photos. Use travel photos to make a travel map. Use them as patches for clothing or pockets. Cut out the faces from the pictures and attach them to binder clips to use as board game pieces.
Tip: Once again, Pinterest is our go-to for coming up with fabulous and unique ideas.
11. Design a Photo Wall
Don’t buy more decor for your house when you have so many old family photos. Create a beautiful picture wall. You can fit dozens of photographs onto a wall. You can frame them or just use tape or even thumbtacks.
Tip: There are many different ways to do this to suit your style. Make it vintage by using cool, antique frames. Make it clean and modern by using a service like Mixtiles so that all the pictures are the same shape, size, and material. You can even make it rustic or bohemian by hanging pictures from branches, string lights, or thumbtacks. There are also unique hanging photo displays like this on Amazon.
12. Bring to a Thrift Store or Flea Market
If you’ve already digitized all your old photos and negatives, or simply don’t want them anymore, bring them to a thrift store or flea market. You may or may not make any money off of them, but perhaps there is an artist out there who could make use of them.
You can even put them in a pretty or funky box with a funny description. “Adopt a new family,” “Insta-Fam,” or “Tired of your family? You can have mine” are all fun and silly options.
Tip: Before permanently giving away old photos and negatives, check with other family members to see if they’d like to keep them.
A Picture Might Be Worth a Thousand Words—Or None at All!
If your pictures are meaningful to you, start by sorting through them before attempting any of the above ideas. Perhaps your absolute favorite ones go on a photo wall or collage. The ones you can’t bear to get rid of can go in albums or scrapbooks.
The rejects can be made into an art project, hit the trash can, or head to the flea market. If you have lots of duplicates, consider choosing the best ones before you scan them in. This will make it easier and more enjoyable to reminisce in the future.