Organising 16 years of photos in a day with Johnny Decimal

Photo by Brad Starkey on Unsplash

Over the years I’ve had both iOS and Android phones which ulitmately led my photo library to be split between both iCloud and Google Photos respectively.

In order to make it easier to for me to find photos I’ve taken and to collect my different life experiences into albums I decided to move all my images over to iCloud (I gave up on Android a long time ago due to quality and privacy concerns) and get rid of Google Photos.

That Google Photos collection also had a bunch of photos I had uploaded from previous machines, cameras and non-smart phones spanning back to 2005, when I was 17.

After migrating my photos over to iCloud I was left with about 7,000 images (small, I know, but I’m not really a ‘document the moment’ kind of person) that spanned about 16 years (basically half of my life).

While 7,000 images is small compared to some people’s photo collections (my girlfriend for instance has 55,000) it’s still no easy task, however thanks to some work I’d done earlier in the year I was able to get them all organised in around 8 hours.

A system for organising my life

Earlier this year I found a system called Johnny Decimal that helps you to create what is essentially a Dewey Decimals system for your life and I had great success using it to organise my files across five different devices.

When I originally created my Johnny Decimal system I created a category — “34 Photography” — which I had used to collect a bunch of photos I had kicking about on my file systems.

This existing category meant I had the place to start and the flexibility of the Johnny Decimal system meant I was able to create as many folders under my photography category, and boy did I need it.

Over the last 16 years I’ve had 37 significant events that I’ve taken pictures of that deserved their own category. There are definitely more as I decided to group multiple trips to particular places together as I visited them a lot and I’m more likely to search for that place than a specific date I went there.

Organising my photos

As I already had the category to assign albums to I loaded up iCloud in my browser, scrolled my way to the chronological start and started creating albums and dropping images into them.

As I created albums I made sure to increment the decimal number associated with it and then updated my index that I store in Notion with the number and name.

There were a couple of instances where I had to decide if certain events should be placed under other areas and categories in my system, for instance screenshots of JiffyCV, an app I built in 2020 could have sat in “41.02: JiffyCV Screenshots” but I decided to keep everything under the one category.

I’m sure there will be people who disagree with this approach but my justification is that my photo library is itself just one ‘file’ so really all the decimal does is allow for grouping of items into a collection.

Another justification is that when viewing my photos in the Photos app on my iOS devices I have a clear ordering instead of having a mix of category and decimal numbers (so I don’t confuse “34.01 Alex Wedding” and “43.01 Alex Map” and instead have “34.19 Alex Map”)

Yet another justification is that Johnny Decimal doesn’t give you a strict definition of where things should be placed so you’re free to set up a system that works for you instead of fighting rules that only work for certain scenarios.

Because the photos section of iCloud lists all images in chronological order I was able to organise everything pretty quickly as most images from events were together, so I just had to select them all and drop them into an album.

Adding Metadata for easier search

After putting each image into an album I then went through each album and added a description to any images that I felt needed some extra information around them.

Because of the smaller set of images this job was relatively trivial and took no more than an hour to complete but it meant that searching for an image was made a lot easier.


The main goal I had when setting out to organise my photos was to make it easier for me to locate images from particular holidays, so that if I was in a conversation and wanted to show someone a photo I had taken I could easily locate it.

This goal was achieved as any picture is no more than 3 clicks away (I put all my albums under a folder so they don’t clog up my Photos app. If I didn’t do this then it’d be 2 clicks) and I’m really glad I did the work.

On top of giving me easier access to my photos I was also gifted a nice trip down memory lane and being able to relive some moments that I had forgotten about.

Another side effect of organising my photos into albums is that I’ve been able to see how many images I have in different areas. I had already suspected this but my meme collection takes up about a quarter of all images.

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