4 tips for creating a meaningful scrapbook

All scrapbooks are meaningful ones. Unfortunately, some people are so intimidated by the process of creating one, they never begin.

Here are four ways to get you going at the beginning of the project so you can actually make it to the finish line:

The beginning: A box of printed photos

1. Enlist help.

My current scrapbooking project is the creation of an album for my stepson’s high school graduation next year. I believe every kid should have at least one album all about them. For that matter, every person should have such a treasure… some book that documents their existence, their accomplishments, their special characteristics. So I’m making a simple album for my stepson that showcases a few photos from every year of his life so far.

In this project, I needed a little help on his early years. I didn’t meet him until he was 12. Fortunately, my mother-in-law chipped in by organizing all her photos in boxes. Her method of categorization was primarily by person: My stepson, my stepdaughter, my stepson and stepdaughter, my husband’s grandparents, etc. A few categories were location-specific, like “At the lake.” Within each category, the photos are roughly chronological but not so rigidly so that she became paralyzed. Chronological organization is, by far, the most difficult to pull off and is not required to successfully organize a photo collection.

If you need help tackling a big pile of photos, ask for it. A friend, sister, mother-in-law or personal photo organizer could be the catalyst you need.

A Power Layout organizes photos by scrapbook page

2. Have a plan.

For this project, I knew I wanted a page or two for every year or so with memorabilia sprinkled in. I used a method of page design called Power Layouts. I laid about 20 12-by-12-inch sheets of paper on the table which represented pages in the scrapbook and started shuffling photos on to them. Having scrapbooked for years, I knew I could get five to seven 4-by-6 photos on each page. When I needed a few more photos for a page, I dug around in another one of my mother-in-law’s categories in the box. When I had a few too many photos, I simply added another sheet of paper to the mix and divided the photos between them. I didn’t worry about layout at this point — only page order and having enough photos on each page.

Basic cropping, a little decoration and journaling gets it done.

3. Keep It Simple, Sister.

I abide by the KISS method of scrapbooking. All my photos are cropped with straight cuts — no circles, ovals or fancy shapes. The decoration consists of a background sheet of paper or a few triangles of colored paper behind some of the photos. Some pages — but not all — have simple decoration like a few stickers or a decorative cut of paper (those cool leaves on the right were made with a Cricut die-cutter).

As soon as the photos are adhered to the page, I journal. If I put it off, it never gets done. In the case of my stepson’s album, all my journaling is written in third-person: “Caswell and Dad at the lake” instead of “Me and my dad at the lake.” I tried to use full names occasionally, identify locations and provide background information when appropriate and when I knew it. Of course, I don’t know all of it, but that’s not the point. This album is not about perfection– existing at all is an accomplishment.

My first scrapbook page, created 20 years ago.

4. Expect to pay for what you get.

I use Creative Memories album exclusively because they are high quality; you get what you pay for. I once worked for Creative Memories alongside scientists whom I witnessed testing products. While a lot of albums manufactured in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s are now falling apart and some cheap drugstore albums made today will barely stay together into the next generation, Creative Memories scrapbooks easily will be around to be enjoyed 400 years from now. That means my stepson’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson might flip through this album and learn something about his heritage.

The page above is the first scrapbook page I ever created, the beginning of my first album all about me (my mother has since created dozens of scrapbooks but she wasn’t doing them back then). It’s 20 years old, and it looks the same as the day I created it. Even back then, I was abiding by the Keep It Simple, Sister method.

I cannot part with my scrapbooks even though photos of my first husband are sprinkled throughout. They tell my story, and I refer to them often. I have every confidence my stepson will feel the same about his album, and I’m honored to be the person who gets to tell his story.

Here’s to hoping you find the resources to tell an important story through photos, too.

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