There are several different tools that make storage much easier. The first are card storage boxes:
Card storage boxes are sized appropriately for cards and lists how many cards the box itself can handle. For a 5 row box, this is about 5000 unsleaved cards. Sleaves take up space and they hold far fewer sleeved cards.
They also make card storage boxes for cards in top loaders, cards in card savers or slabbed cards. I find the top loaded ones work very well. A 3 row box of top loaded cards stores about 700 cards.
Lots of people store their cards in binders, arranged with 9 cards to a page. This is a mistake. Cards should be stored in boxes, not binders. This is especially true for expensive cards. While binders are great for displaying lots of cards in an efficient manner, they do not protect the cards nearly as well as we hope they would. Cards on the top row frequently get their top corners and edges dinged while other cards may slide out of the holders or get bent inappropriately by the binder rings. Do not user binders, use boxes!
Once cards are in boxes, they go on shelves. In the ideal world, no boxes would be stacked on another box so when you have to grab a card from inventory you do not have to move any other boxes. In reality this would require a well outfited and thought out warehouse. I personally use these shelves purchased from Costco. They have an adjustable height. I stack two boxes at once, on 5 shelves. At 6 boxes wide it means I stack 30 3 row boxes per shelve. It means that I can have an inventory of 42,000 cards that are easily pullable on just two shelves.
Penny sleeves are the first line of defense for protecting cards. Any card that may be worth anything, or you won’t want to see damaged should immediately go into a penny sleeve. Their name reflects their price, they are cheap and very effective. Their biggest downside is it is possible to damage the corners of cards as you put them in the sleeve. There are some tutorials that show how to avoid this happening.
The next best way to protect even more valuable cards is to put them in top loaders. Always put a card in a penny sleeve before putting it in a top loader as a top loader can scratch the surface of a card and a penny sleeve will prevent this. All valuable cards should be in top loaders or One touch holders. Anything else can be problematic.
Top loaders come in sizes, larger sizes can hold thicker cards. So if you have a bunch of cardstock cards from the 90’s, these can go in thinner top loaders while more modern cards, cards with autographs, cards with coin memorabilia or jerseys will usually require a thicker top loader. Puting a card in an appropriate sized top loader helps prevent damage. In a top loader that is too big or small can actually cause damage.
Card savers are like a poor mans top loader. They are not nearly as effective at protecting the cards, but are cheaper and easier to get a hold of. The only time I put cards in a card saver is when I am shipping them to be graded, as many companies require card to arrive in card savers.
One touch are magnetic clip cases that provide lots of protection due to how thick and durable the plastic casing is. The biggest downside is that if the one touch case is shaken it can easily break or come apart since it is only held together by the strength of a magnet. For that reason it is necessary to tape a one touch together when shipping or ship a card in something else entirely.
Screw downs are an older form of one touch. They were designed to protect cards by encasing them in a thick, unbendable case that does not allow the card to move. They are out of style since they actively damage cards. The pressure from the screws on the four corners of the case frequenly cause compression or corner damage to any card in one. It is best to take cards out of these and put them in a more modern one touch or top loader.
When organzing you want to group like objects together. There are several different easily grouping mechanizms with sports cards: Players, Sets, Year, Rarity, Price, Team, Card Number, company or even size. When choosing which one of these you will choose you have to think about how they ‘nest’ like a russian nesting doll within each other. Years contain sets which contain card numbers. Teams contain players. You always want to start the organization at the highest level (Year or team) and then organize down to the most finite (care number or player).
One thing to always remember is that collections span time, years, decades or even centuries. You want to have as little of the organization scheme affected by the passage of time, meaning you do not want to organize a collection by things that have the potential of changing. If a change does occur, you want it to affect as few cards as possible. Teams can change location or name, new teams can be added or removed. The lowest level of organization for a team is the player and players frequently change teams. Prices of cards can change over time. Companies can go bankrupt or sell to another larger company. However, some things cannot change (Year, sets, card number). One thing that doesn’t change very often are player names. There have been a few that have changed over time (Ron Artest to Metta World Peace for example), but in general, a players name is a brand and they want to keep it as stable as possible.
For these reasons there are only two stable ways to organize a collection: By Year-Set-Card Number or Alphabetically by player. Organizing alphabetically or numerically provides a huge advantage as the first card and last cards are easily identifiable in a wonderfully organized list.
After you have decided on a sorting method, it is time to physically sort cards. This is a long, tedius process but is very important in the long run. Personally, I chose to sort alphabetically by player even though I do believe Year-Set-Card Number is generally better. I chose this because it is very easy to tell what player is on the card and slightly harder to tell what year and set a card is. Many sets may look the same, but also… I can recognize players and I cannot recognize all sets and I didn’t want to be scanning the backs of cards for copyrights and such.
Depending on how much space you have it could actually require two sorts. The first sort is putting all players with the last name A, B, C, D or so forth together and then a second sort within letter to put all cards of a single player together. If you have enough space and a good enough memory you can create a single pile for each player and just sort initially alphabetically, but I found I was moving piles too often to create room for players I hadn’t found yet that it became too slow and problematic.
I also used sorting trays, which drastically sped up my sorting time. I suggest having 4 sorting trays like these: Two of them allow for every letter of the alphabet and the other 2 are used for storing previously sorted cards. After a letter is completely done, it is put into a box where it waits to be photographed/scanned.