5 Easy Steps to an Organized Sports Card Collection

5 Easy Steps to an Organized Sports Card Collection

5 Easy Steps to an Organized Sports Card Collection 1If you're like me, there's a part of your house that has stacks of cards everywhere. For me, it's the desk in the basement. In my mind, they're all organized and a couple of steps away from being put away properly. But without taking a few extra steps, once I tuck them away, I may lose track of them among the many boxes I've got stacked on various shelves and tucked away in closet bins throughout the house. Organizing your sports card collection isn't tough and doesn't need to cost much, but it's vital for staying on top of what you have. And by putting in some time up front, you could save a lot more in the long run.

Here are five cheap and easy ways to keep your growing collection organized, your desk clear and your significant other happy. You may be doing some of them already, at least partly. But if you bring them all together, you'll be able to find any of your cards quickly, regardless of the size of your collection.

1. Get Some Order

Getting your cards in order is a must, particularly for any product you bust more than a handful of packs of. Usually, this means numerical order. Thumbing through a pile of 100 cards to pull commons for a trade is easy when they're already arranged. Doing it with a stack that's pack-fresh and mixed up is extremely frustrating and time-consuming. It's also easy to overlook and misplace cards.

Putting a box of cards in order doesn't take that much time. A box of 200 cards might take 15 minutes. It's not like it's a hard job that requires a lot of thought. Flip on the TV and watch some Breaking Bad or sports highlights while you're at it. For large sets, I start out by sorting into stacks based on hundreds (1-99 in stack one, 100-199 in stack two, 200-299 in stack three, etc). From there, I use the same method but into piles of tens (1-9, 10-19, 20-29, etc.). Another great thing about putting your cards in numerical order is that you naturally spend more time with your cards, looking through them and connecting with them.

2. Make a Catalog

This step can be extremely time-consuming and may not be for everyone. If you do much trading online, though, it may be essential. I keep a database of all my cards using Microsoft Access. This way I can quickly sort by year, set, player, team, insert type and more. I probably go a little overboard, but when I started, I had good intentions. Others make similar lists using spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel or Google Docs.

How you collect, trade and sell should dictate how much detail you need. For set builders, simple numerical lists should work. These could even be done with a word processor. However, if you deal a lot in specific players or teams, a spread sheet or database would be better.

I've tried out a couple of online organizational tools but I've yet to find one that's any easier. Usually, looking up and finding the right cards takes more time than a simple spreadsheet entry.

However you decide to catalog your sports card collection, it's vital that you keep it updated by adding new cards and deleting those that you've gotten rid of.

Besides knowing everything that you have, cataloging makes sharing your collection with potential buyers and traders, as well as insurance companies, simple.

3. Feed the Monster

So you've got your cards in order and you know exactly what you have. It's now time to put them away. When I started collecting, I had cards from every set in different boxes. While it kept them separated nicely,  soon became tough to find the particular box I was looking for.

I've since moved to monster boxes for almost all my extra cards (I still like my complete sets to be on their lonesome or in a binder). The 3,200-card box seems to be the most convenient, particularly when it comes to storage. 5,000-card boxes also work if you've got the space. I arrange my monster boxes chronologically first, then alphabetically. As one box fills up, I simply go to the shop and add another, continuing on from where I left off.

Organized monster boxes make finding cards from many sets and even years painless. And if they're already organized numerically, it's simple. For around $5, one monster box is also a lot cheaper than buying several plastic 100-count boxes or a handful of smaller cardboard boxes.

4. Divide and Conquer

Even with your collection sorted, cataloged and lined up neatly in monster boxes, the job isn't done yet. The cards are still piled together so finding your Topps Chrome and Bowman Chrome singles still might take some flipping. More flipping means more wasted time. The solution is easy, fast and cheap.

In my office I always have a stash of blank index cards for such occasions. Every time I buy cards from a new set, I grab an index card and use it to make a labelled divider for the set. It does take a small bit of customizing, though. I flip the index card vertically, trim the bottom so it can stand in the monster box and write the year and name of the set on top. Once it's in the already-organized monster box, it gives a nice visual of where cards from any given set are.

Index cards are available at most dollar stores in packs of 100. I have seen heavy-duty card dividers in hobby shops, but they're much more expensive, running about $7 to $10 for 50. They'd be fine if you simply wanted to divide boxes by year, but the cost makes them not the most ideal option for itemized sorting. Index cards may not be as durable, but they are cheap enough that they can be easily replaced.

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5. Lastly, Labels

Congratulations! Your desk is clear and your collection is sorted and in its place. You're almost there. But there's one small step left to having a fully organized collection: labeling your boxes.

I usually see monster boxes in two states: written on with a permanent marker or completely clean. Both are less than ideal, particularly if your collection is constantly changing.

Markers are permanent and can't be erased. If I get some older cards, I can't just toss them into my box of recent releases. I need to go back and shift cards forward or backward. Using markers, the only way I can make the change is with ugly scribbles. And after more than a couple of card shifts, the side panels aren't legible anymore.

No labels lead to a toss-up when it comes time to pull or add cards. If your collection is limited to less than a handful of boxes, this is probably okay. But once you get more than a few boxes, you're wasting time.

After years of going with the scribble method, I've changed gears for labeling the outsides of my boxes. I got a pack of file folder labels and simply write the box configuration on them. The sticker then goes on the end of the box so when I go to the stack, I can easily pick out exactly the one I need. If the makeup of the box changes, I simply write a new label and place it on top of the old one. It's a fast and cheap solution that makes my boxes more attractive.

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Finally, you have an organized sports card collection. To keep it that way, simply repeat these five easy steps every time you get new cards - even if it's just a couple of packs. Trust me, those stacks can add up quickly. And when the piles do appear, the stress of being disorganized, plus the dagger looks from the other people you share your home with, will return as well.

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Ryan Cracknell

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Ryan is a former member of The Cardboard Connection Writing Staff.   His collecting origins began with winter bike rides to the corner store, tossing a couple of quarters onto the counter and peddling home with a couple packs of O-Pee-Chee hockey in his pocket. Today, he continues to build sets, go after inserts with cool technologies, chase Montreal Expos and finish off his John Jaha master collection.

User Comments

  1. I go even one more stop further. I do what you do but when I make a spreadsheet I include a picture of one of the cards in the set. I have a business card reader that I managed to figure out how to use it as a sports card scanner. Because it’s small it sits nicely next to my laptop. This part ISN’T for everyone because this does take some time to do.

  2. This is a great write-up – thanks for taking the time! I will add it to our links as this is a common question we get at the shop. One extra pointer – don’t throw away those smaller cardboard and plastic boxes! They make excellent fillers for rows that aren’t quite complete.

  3. Excellent article! For those of you who do not have the ability to set up an Access database like Brady uses, may I suggest that you take a look at Sportscard Organizer. Once you have gone through the first 5 steps outlined above you can enter your cards into the software, scan photos if you want, and even enter the location of the box where the card is stored. This way you can quickly and easily find the cards you have without looking through your boxes.

  4. I read every word on your website. It’s a wonderful idea!!! Thanks so much. I’ll be using it for sure and know it will be so helpful to me as well as to many others. Thanks for having this website. It’s so helpful. Blessings……………

    Best regards,

  5. I’m kind of a card geek so I’ll put my cards in order by number, and like you said, just play the TV with sports highlights going on in the background, I do it all the time, thanks for the helpful tips.

  6. Yep very good read for some. I usually keep a wrapper if i buy more than one or two packs. It helps me pick out where one card starts and one ends by the pack and i always put them in the same way. set starts at 1- 200 then i put the empty pack at 200 end I know everything from behind it to next pack is that card and great thing the pack has year and type of card. I collect with seasons so might have football and basketball in same box or baseball and basket ball or even all 3 in same box so its good to have pack to see what sport.

  7. Could you upload a template for the access file or possibly write a step by step guide on getting that going, I would love to get this going by am clueless on access and I have an excel sheet going but really want to get started using queries and reports. This is a great article and when i get home from college organizing my collection will be my summer project!

  8. I made the Access file years ago, but the way I did it probably would have worked just the same with Excel and be a whole lot easier to create. After a course I was taking did a lesson on Access, I realized I’m very much not an expert in them as what I have is more or less a sortable spreadsheet. I could have made something much more powerful and easily linked if I had in-depth knowledge.

    That said, the main fields I used are First Name, Last Name, Year, Set, Insert, Serial Number, Team, Position, RC (Yes/No), Auto (Y/N), SP (Y/N), GU (Y/N), Condition, and Notes

  9. Great article, I’m trying to figure a way to start sorting some of my more popular cards. I have a lot of cards from ‘91,92’, and 93. Got back into it last year and my wife helps, open that is.
    2012 was a great year to get back into, but what I want is to have scan and or photos of my hits. Scan doesnt do justice for chrome and such. Do you like Dropbox? I just want to trade and share, show off , my hits. Any thoughts? Keep up the great work!

  10. Glenn Sacci I LOVE Dropbox, although I haven’t used it for trading. Great idea! Depending on the types of traders you most often deal with, you may want to create folders with all your autographs, another for RCs, etc. Or you could go by set. Or by team. The possibilities are many.

  11. I need a program for iPad, android and or even my desk top computer to list and organize every card I have and where it is (box or bin or book). Please help me with an app program what ever. I work more on my Samsung gallexy note 10.1 more than all others and have 96 gigs of storage then. Thank you.

  12. Very good organization! Is it bad for your cards to be put in the 5000 count boxes in just penny sleeves? Will it damage the bottom corners of the cards?

  13. Rob I haven’t had any issues. That said, I try not to bang them around. I also keep them flat at all times.

  14. Rob Yes, although I don’t have any stacked more than 3 high.

  15. I have tons of others sports cards. I only want to keep the baseball ones. How would I list like a 93-94 upperdeck hockey not all the numbers are there but there are tons of multiples. Break them down into teams? Sell it that way? Or go through figure out what I don’t have and list the entire box with the missing numbers and tell them there are multiples? I have a Closed head injury and I am just unsure what to do. Any help would be wonderful.

  16. Awesome article! Not a collector, so I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I am sorting through a sizable collection my sibling and I obtained ~15 years ago. I LOVE the idea of the Access database, but was wondering about a few things. In the field you included, you have Set, Insert, Serial Number, RC (Yes/No), Auto (Y/N), SP (Y/N), and GU (Y/N). What do these mean and how can I find out this information about my cards? For example, I’m looking at “Baseball Topps ’93 Mariners” (how it’s sorted) card Harold Reynolds #757. where would the serial number be?
    Thanks again for the great article!

  17. Hey everyone! I’m still daily reader and wanted to get advise. I’m still sorting and ripping packs, but looking for ideas on displaying. Looking to have son help me with digital display and being able to flip card. Earlier reader said he used business card reader, I was thinking double side scanner but doubt they have so people don’t counterfeit , any ideas? Thanks

  18. Hi
    Im Richard Doss
    and im looking for the Joe Thiesmann
    Canadaian Football care of Joe Theismann and was wondering if you would anyone that might have them or some one I could contact
    any information will greatly appreciated
    Rick Doss


  19. Great Article! I am constantly re-evaluating how I store my cards. I have one part I have yet to figure out. Follow me here……

    I pretty much have moved all my cards by sport into 5,000 count Monster boxes……I have about 50 of them. So I sort first by sport and then as I have time I separate them into teams. This is the quickest way for me to find things for trades. Now in to my question, I am having trouble using the index card labeling method because In the boxes as magnetic holders and screw-downs which hide the index cards. I would use something higher, but then I couldn’t close the box top. I surely can’t place all 50 Monster boxes out in the open with the top off……so I am sort of stuck….Anyone have any good ideas or suggestions? Thanks for reading!

  20. I have a question that one of you guys may be able to assist me with. I have two or three sets of baseball cards that are missing one or cards. I want to complete the set and put them away. I am trying to figure out if there is a site or somewhere I can go and order individual cards so I can complete them. I have found some but they put the card in a plaque and I dont need all of that.

  21. Jeremy Lowman If they’re star cards or something more than a dollar or two, eBay is probably your best bet. If they’re commons, maybe try SportsLots.com.

  22. Awesome Ryan I will. Most of them are common cards but I feel that if I order enough of them I could get a good deal. Thank you

  23. Jeremy Lowman You can also post your wantlists on the forums. Someone might be able to help out there.

  24. I am just starting an access database of my cards and was wondering how other people handle doubles.

    When I was younger I always kept the best card in my main collection and would separate doubles from my main collection. Now I am wondering if I should continue this or if I should combine them all into my main collection.

  25. Hi, i am a blind collector. i have no idea whats the best way for me to organize my cards where did the people get the scanners? Maybe that would work.

  26. Hi. I have not been a collector before. My sister was, but she died a few years ago and I found her boxes of card in my father’s basement. I want to sort and organize them, but I don’t know how that should be done. I don’t know the systems that were used for numbering so don’t have a clue how to start. I’m talking about thousands of cards. six large tubs!

  27. I am putting my late sister’s collection in order in the 9 card pages in notebooks. Should the cards be in order by year (1998) and then alpha by manufacturer (Topps, UD, Fleer etc) or should the cards be in order by manufacturer then year? Topps: 98, 99, 2000 for example?

  28. Hi there im trying to help my boyfriend organize his card collection. He is confused about what dates to go by. For example (upper deck 98/99 season date) or the date on bottom of card (2000) etc.. There are two different dates printed on cards and hes organizing by manufracture:year. ? Any help or ideas wud be appreciated

  29. Sports cards are generally organized by the season for which they are released. For basketball and hockey, it’s normally listed as two seasons (ie 2017-18), while most other sports go by just one year, like baseball and football. Normally you can tell by the stats on the back, which show the prior season. So if it lists stats for 1998-99, it would most likely be a 1999-00 set.

  30. Great article! I am working on building a database also in Access. I have a field for player name similar to yours. How do you get around the issue of cataloging cards with multiple players on the card?

  31. Great article. I am starting to get back into collecting and looking for a way to track what I have. I originally used the Card Collector program to track my collection but was several computers ago. Since then, I have switched from a Windows PC to a Mac and I am having a hard time finding a database program i can use. Unfortunately Microsoft does not make Access for a Mac.
    Does anyone have any ideas? I also would be interested in seeing if anyone has any templates for Excel or Google Docs.

  32. Is there a way you can show a example of your database on your organization of cards ? I’m trying to get mine together and not sure where to start. Thank you for your help, greatly appreciated !

  33. For those looking for a website of sorts, I use zistle.com. It is completely free, allows me to keep track of all of my cards, and also has a trading software embedded in it, so I can trade with others directly through the website. Defiantly recommended.

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