How To Catalogue Your Collection Without Buying Software

There are many programs and websites out there you can use to catalogue your collection, however, these tend to be very specific in their scope. So what if your chosen collection isn’t serviced by those programs? Well, I’m going to show you how you can easily catalogue your collectables yourself!

Before we get too far into things I have a slight warning; building your own catalogue can be a lot of work. Yes, I’ll be sharing with you ways to make things simpler but depending on the size of your collection and just how much data you want to track, it can involve a lot of time and effort. However, even if your collection is a smaller one it is a very good idea to start recording information on it. Not only will it ensure you don’t buy the same item twice (come on, we’ve all been there) it can also help if the unimaginable happens, such as some disaster befalling your collection. Having a detailed database of your items can help when claiming insurance on those lost goods.

Having all the information you need in an easy-to-look-up format makes keeping things in check so much easier and, thanks to everything being digital now, it is very easy to update said information. It may take a bit of time, but it is certainly worth it in the long run!

So, lets get to it.

Photograph Your Stuff
One of the best ways to start cataloguing your collection is to photograph all your items. Not only does this mean you get to go through your collection and check out all that cool merch you may have not played with in a while, it’ll give you a detailed, visual account of the stuff you have.

How many photos you take is completely up to you, as is how much detail you photograph. One photo per item is fine, but some may like to take photos from multiple angles for the best visual indication of the item. Another idea is to take photos of the finer details such a labels, manufacturer insignias and/ or any defacements such as scratches in paint. It can be a good idea as you photograph to make any notes you wish to keep on your items. Of course, you can probably view the photos later to get that info, but doing it as you go can make it a little easier.

Depending on the size of your collection this could result in a few hundred to a few thousand photos! To make organising and editing the photos easier it’s a good idea to download an image organiser/viewer with some basic editing capabilities. Googling “image organiser” will bring up hundreds of results so you’ll have to play around a little to find one that works for you. Personally I use, and would recommend, Picasa from Google. Yes, Google has abandoned Picasa in favour of Google Photos but the desktop app is still available for free and it remains a wonderfully simple to use program.

This gives you an idea of Google Photo’s layout

Picasa can import your photos directly from your camera or phone or will search your harddrive for any images already on there. No matter how you like to organise your photos Picasa will let you easily find them. If you prefer to put photos inside a folder structure, Picasa will reflect this structure within its UI. If you like to shove everything in one or two places but differentiate via tags, Picasa will allow you to do that too. You can also do some fairly nice editing from cropping to adding effects, descriptions and so on. One of my favourite features is the “create a collage” function. This is great if you’ve photographed an item from different angles as you can have all of those images as a collage, effectively reducing the image count for that item from several images to one. It also saves on hard drive space. Another great function is “export” which allows you to make a copy of any image set to a specific size and image quality. This is great if you don’t require large, super high-def images or you want to upload your photos to the web.

Put Your Photos On-line
Putting the photos of your collection on-line is also a good idea as you can easily share them with friends, link to them from other sites and the uploaded photos will also act as a backup in case of hard drive failure. There are many photo storage options available on-line and which you choose will be down to personal preference.

Flickr is a good option as it has a really nice interface, it’s easy to add information to your photos and their Sets and Collections functions makes it a breeze to organise. Sharing photos from Flickr is really easy as well with options to share images on social media, forums, e-mail them to friends or create a link for people to visit. Google Photos is another good option if you use Android as it’s very easy to upload them straight from your phone and is what I personally use. However, Google Photos organisation options are very different from those of Flickr and for that reason some may prefer the latter. If neither of those are your bag then you can try services such as imgur, Photobucket or ImageShack. There are heaps of options so doing a bit of Googling is a good idea.

Using A Spreadsheet
Spreadsheets are mostly used for boring stuff like recording school marks or monetary transactions and other guff. But they can also be a really great way to catalogue your collection. You don’t need any special knowledge on the function of spreadsheets to make a good collection catalogue, and it shouldn’t take too long to pick things up if you haven’t used a spreadsheet before.

Most computers, and even tablets and phones, come with some kind of spreadsheet software generally for free. These are fine to use, however I prefer to use Google Drive‘s spreadsheet software, known as Sheets. Not only is it free I can sync it across many platforms and thus have access to it from my computer, phone and tablet (as well as the computers at work if I feel like a cheeky bludge).

An example of a collection spreadsheet made in Google Drive.

Spreadsheets are pretty flexible as to what kind of information and how much you can put into them. Indeed, you can potentially have an unlimited number of items and details on them in a spreadsheet. However, you still want to keep things easy to read so spreading the information out is a good idea. A spreadsheet can have as many or as few sheets (tabs) as you want. Each of these sheets can be dedicated to a certain collection as in the example below, or if you only collect one thing certain kinds of item. Doing this means you know exactly which sheet you want when looking for a particular collectable.

Once you’ve made your sheets it’s time to start adding the data. Again, it’s good to separate all this stuff, using the columns for different kinds of information. Everyone’s preferences will vary, but it’s a good idea to have a column for the title or name of the collectable, what series it’s part of, the manufacturer and columns for any other details you might want to add. The ability to add colour to columns also helps in dividing up information and making things easier to see and keep track of. Add any kind of info you feel is relevant; as you can see I’ve added purchase price, current value (worth), if it’s boxed or not and a link to a photo of the item which is hosted on Flickr. You can also use certain functions to get a little extra out of the information you’ve entered. If like me you’ve added a column for value, you can use the SUM= function to have the spreadsheet total up all those values for you.

While entering all this data will take time (this is where making notes when photographing helps) it is well worth the effort.

Going A Little Further

While taking photos and using spreadsheets is an easy and reliable way to keep track of your collection, there are more advanced methods as well. You could build a blog to host images and information on your collection or just want to be more visual. This is particularly useful if you want to share or document your collection for others. You can organise things how you wish and control exactly how things look. There are heaps of free blogging platforms such as WordPress, Blogger or Wix and if you’re feeling extra adventurous you could even pay to build a full website. Most blogs will also allow you to add extensions for extra functionality if it doesn’t have what you want straight out of the box.

Another option is MediaWiki . MediaWiki is the software upon which Wikipedia is built and can be downloaded entirely for free. You can host MediaWiki on your own computer for free, but if you want to make it available on-line you will need to pay for hosting. Given that MediaWiki is specifically designed for collecting information and has the ability to easily interlink and categorise pages it can be the perfect tool to build a collection database. Once an entry is created you can use MediaWiki’s special mark-up language to automatically link a certain word to that entry. You don’t need to add the URL or anything, as long as you’ve put the correct mark-up in there the Wiki does it for you.

MediaWiki does have a steep learning curve, however, so if you don’t have any experience with coding or building a website/ blog or aren’t willing to put in the time to learn MediaWiki’s specific language you might be best to go with one of the other options. Having said that though, once you get the hang of how the Wiki works it really is a wonderful tool. There are also plenty of extensions you can add to make things like adding images easier, improving the layout, appearance and much more.


There really is so much that can be done with relative ease using free tools when looking for a way to catalogue your collection. I hope this article has given you some ideas on how to start cataloguing if you haven’t already, or if you have hopefully I’ve given you a few new ideas to try out.

If you’ve started cataloguing your own collection and have any of your own tips, be sure to post them in the comments below.

Originally posted on SortedGeek.com

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