Ali Edwards Capture life. Create art.

April 21, 2014

5.5 Tips For Beginning Memory Keepers


Every now and then I’ll receive an email or a question about how to begin scrapbooking.

I first started scrapbooking in 2002 when Simon was 11 months old. I had been browsing the internet looking for a baby book. After finding one too many that didn’t fit my style I somehow ended up at and first saw what I would describe as “modern” scrapbooking that included a variety of photo sizes, journaling and embellishments on 12×12 or 8.5×11 cardstock foundations.

Fast forward 12 years (!!!) to today and some things are the same and others are very different.

There’s definitely more variety these days – more options for page sizes and philosophies albums and projects and one of the biggest changes are the advances in digital photography. When I first started I was using a film camera as were most people at that time. So many different options can be great but it can also be super overwhelming if you are attempting to figure out where to begin.

Here are some 2014 thoughts on getting started with memory keeping:

ONE | Begin with the end in mind. Think about your overall memory keeping purpose: photo storage, storytelling, creative expression, etc. Why are you embarking on this adventure? Do you want to have more words on your pages than photos? Do you want to play with lots of pretty paper or try out lots of different creative techniques? What are you looking to have in the end? Are you looking to this to be your creative outlet or is it more about organization of memorabilia or storytelling or a little bit of all those things? It’s totally possible that you won’t know in the beginning what you want in the end as you first start – but it’s worth thinking about it in advance. You will absolutely learn as you go and will likely go through phases where one or the other or the other aspect is most important for a period of time.

Once you’ve started thinking about the format for your scrapbook(s) and your overall intentions with memory keeping it will make it a whole lot easier moving forward. If you aren’t sure I’d recommend beginning with something like Project Life® – a simple and straight-forward memory keeping system that uses pockets for photos and journal cards without a ton of embellishments. You can see all my Project Life® archives hereI think Project Life® is a great entry point for people who are interested in bringing their photos and stories together in one location.

Also think about how much time you envision yourself investing in this endeavor. You might have just one project/album to complete or you might be embarking on a new lifestyle of documentation (you might not know it at this point in time and that’s okay).

PS | Don’t get caught up in the name. Maybe it’s traditional scrapbooking or Project Life or art journaling or pocket pages or a single stand-alone album project or digital scrapbooking or whatever. They are all memory keeping and they are all awesome ways to tell the stories of your life and those you care about most.

TWO | Start simple. Don’t go out and buy a bunch of craft supplies or feel like you have to have a whole room set up to document your life. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything that’s available. Start with the basics: an album to hold your photos or your layouts (those might be 12×12 or 8.5×11 or 6×8), some pens for writing your story, some paper or journaling cards and something to use to take pictures (I use my iphone probably more than 60% of the time these days). You can see my list of basics and things I recommend here. Also my list of Project Life basics here.

You might want to check out a memory keeping kit club that offers a fun collection of coordinated papers and embellishments. Most offer at least a one-month purchase option so you can see what it’s all about before making a longer commitment. A few companies I have worked with and recommend include, and Another benefit of kit clubs is that most of them include galleries for people to share what they made with the kits – makes it easier to get started with specific inspiration and ideas for the stuff that you have right in front of you.

TWO POINT FIVE | You don’t have to scrapbook every photo you take. I’ll repeat it again in case it’s something you need to read again: you don’t have to scrapbook every photo you take. People tend to go one way or the other on this and both result in overwhelm (you will likely either have a hard time narrowing it down to one or two or you will want to include all 20 shots you took of your daughter hunting for Easter eggs). When I’m working on a page or a project I ask myself over and over again if one is enough to complement my words (and often it is but sometimes more are needed to tell a more complete story).

THREE | Make a list of the stories you want to get told. What are the important stories you want to include in your scrapbook? Consider going beyond birthdays and holidays to include stories and photos about your everyday life. Where do you call home? What does it look like and feel like and how do you feel about it? What’s your daily routine? Check out my Day In The Life or Week In The Life posts for additional inspiration.

Also consider using your scrapbook as a place to write about the things you’re thankful for, letters to your kids that document where they are right now, a list of the most meaningful moments in your life up to this point, etc. Scrapbooks are such an awesome opportunity to celebrate and document more of our lives than just the holidays.

To collect the stories I want to tell in my memory keeping endeavors I’ve been using Evernote.

FOUR | Look online for inspiration. Check out sites such as or or or Pinterest. Don’t be afraid to copy other layout/album ideas as you begin to get comfortable with your own memory keeping methods.

FIVE | Embrace imperfection. It’s less about making things perfect and more about getting your stories told. People often stop scrapbooking because they’re afraid they aren’t creating “perfect” pages or telling “perfect” stories or using “perfect” supplies. Let that go. Just start. Start with the story that’s on your heart right now. Maybe all you do is type it up on a piece of 8.5×11 paper and stick a photo alongside those words and call it good just to get started. Our lives are full of imperfections and our scrapbooks are an awesome place to reflect that truth. Have fun and don’t take it too seriously.

And PS | Do what you want to do. These are your memories and your time and your words and your life. Memory keeping can be anything you want it to be and doesn’t have to fit any particular prescription. You might start out doing one thing and switch to another and that’s perfectly okay. No guilt, nothing to apologize for, etc. Keep it real for yourself and your family and your lifestyle.

What are your tips for a new scrapbooker/memory keeper?


  • 1.
    Ainslie H said…

    Great advice Ali!!!! One of the things I love most about scrapbooking and memory keeping is that it can be anything YOU want it to be!

  • 2.
    michelle t said…

    You are so right, thank you for this reminder. One of my biggest problems is I can spend days going over in my head over things like color. I feel color matching isn’t my strong suit and I can get bogged down in that. I’m trying to let it go, use colors or patterned papers I like and be done. So letting go of insecurities over things you think you can’t do or should do is the most important advice I could give. Michelle t

  • 3.
    Emie said…

    LOVE #2 and #5…. why is it whenever I want to try a new craft I feel like I have to run out and buy a basket full of supplies? A quote I recently saw “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” Harriet Braiker

  • 4.
    Susan said…

    your blog this last week or so, and the way you have been story telling, has been very inspiring. and todays’ is such a great reminder.

  • 5.
    Lisa W. said…

    As always, great advice wonderful inspiration. One thing that I feel for sure is if one isn’t sure they want to do this as a regurlar hobby ALL the time but really would love to get some photo’s in a scrapbook. Project Life is the BEST way to do that. You therefore do not need all the “stuff” we all have to have:) You only need tha album, pages to put pictures in and a wonderful kit to do it all. And its great because it can be about everyday, a special event, holidays/birthdays. Like you said, whatever you want it to be.

  • 6.
    Kaysie said…

    All great points especially ‘start simple’ and just get started. I do a combo of traditional layouts and simple/embellished ‘project life’ style by the month. Love your point ‘embrace imperfection’. Yesterday, Easter Sunday, first BIG family dinner after a long, cold winter and the relatives had the last several years of my scrapbooks pulled off the shelves and out on the counter, the kitchen table, the dining room table and on their laps. NOT ONCE, repeat NOT ONCE, did I hear..oh, look at this pretty paper, look at this beautiful embellishment, oh, i love what she did with the ribbon and buttons and stickers. NOT ONCE. What I heard was…oh, remember this..that was so funny, oh look how cute he was as a baby, oh where does time go, oh, remember when this happened…and I heard reminiscing and more stories and more embracing of our family life. I am 63 years old… kids, grandkids, a wealth of family history. I relearned a lesson already known….whether today or 20 years from now, they won’t notice the embellishments or the paper color, they will recall the photos, how we lived our life, the sights and sounds of our life, the stories and the times of life…exactly the goal of memory keeping.

    • ….
      Ksenia said…

      Love this! Thank you!

    • ….
      Sandy M. said…

      That is so true, Kaysie! Thanks for sharing. It’s so easy to get caught up in the HOW that we forget the WHY.

    • ….
      Leanne said…

      Well said. Thank you! I try to remind myself when I’m scrapping to stop fussing, stick it down and move on! And journal. Always journal, even if it’s only in point form. Sometimes I don’t love a page as I’m doing it, but I do when I come back to it later! The photos and the story have been recorded and that is the part I enjoy looking at!

  • 7.
    Carolyn HP said…

    Thanks for this Ali, great post reminding some of us that it’s more important to just begin than to look for perfect projects. My memory keeping has come a long way but I most enjoy the creative outlet it gives me. Love seeing your posts :)

  • 8.
    Jenny A said…

    The biggest thing that helped me: you don’t have to scrap chronologically. You definitely helped me with that one! Love this reminder of why we love this hobby so much!

  • 9.
    laura g. said…

    I have a box (recipe box size) of photos sitting on my desk right next to my computer and after reading your post and all of the comments I am tempted to just grab the box, and just scrapbook them…they won’t be in chronological order, but at least they will be in an album for people to look at and enjoy! I am usually a chronological scrapbooker, maybe it’s time to do something different!

  • 10.
    Mel said…

    Thank you for the post, Ali. You give such great advice! The only other tip I would add, and you really covered it, but I want to reiterate it because I think it’s so important: perfection has no place in scrapbooking. When I started, I made a pact with myself that scrapbooking/papercrafting was the one arena in my life that was perfection-free. I didn’t want it to be ruined by that emotional baggage, and that has worked well for me. Also, it takes time to develop your own style, so patience is a real help.

  • 11.
    Christine F. said…

    One thing I’ve found very freeing as I continuing my memory keeping journey is that it’s ok if your pages look alike. No one is going to look at them and say “oh gee, you used the same layout pattern 5 times in this book.” They’re just going to see that you captured memories and that you made the layouts with love.

  • 12.
    Cherie Cawdron said…

    Always love your posts and really great to see you go back to your beginnings. We often take beginners classes at our shop in NZ and I believe there is no ‘perfect’ way. Just to embrace what you are doing, whether it is photos, words or creativity or all of the above. I always believe you start with what you want to remember, whether it is photos, souvenirs or journaling of events, all are important. Most important, it should mean something to you or who you are making it for.

  • 13.
    Sue P, said…

    Excellent points by all. Just enjoy the “journey”. I love the materials, I love the picture taking, I love the challenge, I love looking at the pictures, I LOVE being with my friends when I scrap ( my most favorite of all!) and I love the end product-the story-the memories!

  • 14.
    Anika said…

    Start. Just start. That’s my advice. If you research and research at some point you need to just start. It’s a lot easier to steer a moving ship, right? Making pages/books you don’t like might be more helpful than thinking about making pages because you can figure out what works for you.

    • ….
      LindaHAZ said…

      So totally agree — JUST START. Do it anyway you have time to do it whether its simple or basic as long as you have the memories down. Even if you just keep a journal and write down the memories you can always go back to match up photos. I think photobooks (i.e. Shutterfly) are the easiest to pull together for busy moms. That’s the way I have been able to keep up with our family memories and then I include special projects (i.e. Dec Daily, Week in the Life) and I don’t feel so overwhelmed this way.

    • ….
      Barbara said…

      Good advice, Annika. I’ve been collecting supplies for years, but have yet to make a scrapbook page, because I don’t know where to start. It’s time to just put something together!

  • 15.
    orange gearle said…

    It must be that time for reflection when it comes to all of this. :-) I just did a two part series on my blog about ‘just starting’ project life and making it work for you! :-)

  • 16.
    Anne said…

    I tried to make pages and something just didn’t work for me… then I tried Project Life and someting jsut clicked. :-)

    When will you be doing Week in the life in 2014?

    • ….
      Ali said…

      Hi Anne – planning for the second week in September.

    • ….
      Anne said…

      Thanks. Marked my calendar!

  • 17.
    Lynn Wigren said…

    Ali, I am very thankful for this post! I’ve been scrapbooking since 1998 and have felt burnt-out for the last year. This has been great to read through and remember the reasons I started. I feel a “re-newed” sense of purpose and look forward to spending time this evening looking through my albums and re-thinking how I want to proceed.

    • ….
      Ali said…


  • 18.
    Amberca said…

    This is all such great advice Ali! I have been scrapbooking since 1997 after the birth of my daughter. When I first started I scrapbooked just for my family and for me, it was very freeing and enjoyable. Then somewhere along the line I started scrapbooking for recognition. I scrapbooked for kit clubs, design teams, contests and submissions….and I burned out, I didn’t enjoy it anymore. I am just now starting to want to scrapbook again, and this time I want to tell my story just for my family and me, not caring what anyone else thinks or if I am using the newest products and the enjoyment factor is back. Don’t worry about trends, do what looks good to your eye.

    • ….
      Ali said…

      Welcome back Amberca. I totally get it :) .

  • 19.
    Viki said…

    Thank you Ali. I just wanted to share that I have had no time to scrapbook this past year. I still took a good amount of photos. Now that I have time again I have printed the photos and have them in a PL book. Now I just have to go back and tell the stories. How could I not tell the stories of selling a house, building a new house, holidays, birthdays, a family wedding, a family funeral, and everyday life! Thanks for keeping me motivated.

  • 20.
    Sharon said…

    I am a newbie to Project Life. Love what I see. Have tons of old family photographs which I dearly need to document. I particularly liked the tip that you don’t need to scrapbook every photograph that has been taken. Time to do a clean sweep and turf out what you don’t really need to keep. Best to use those that one can share a story about. I will remember these. Thanks Ali.

  • 21.
    Anne said…

    Thanks Ali! I’ve been scrapbooking for a number of years but find I have a mental block when it comes to embellishing. Do you (or anyone reading this) know of a tutorial or anything that can help me better understand how to layer embellishments and make sure I don’t have “floaters?” Sometimes these things just don’t come together for me. Most times I try to keep it simple, but I do admit to liking many of the embellishments available today. I’ve tried searching online but I get so many results it’s a bit overwhelming. Thanks for any help! :)

    • ….
      Ali said…

      I think the number one strategy I employ with embellishments (on a layout at least) is to include at least three in some sort of triangle around the page. For me they are often three of the same thing or three of a grouping of similar things (maybe the group includes a label sticker, a star and an sequin – something like that).

    • ….
      Leanne said…

      You mentioned floaters, so I do much what Ali does (the visual triangle & odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye than even numbers), so what I would add to that is… “anchor” your embellishments. Like, tucked right up beside your photos or title or on the seams of your patterned papers, rather than “floating” in a large open area. “White” space (those large open areas) are okay! They give the eye a place to rest while your embellishments draw your to whatever you’ve placed them beside :)

    • ….
      Anne said…

      Thanks ladies!

  • 22.
    Ksenia said…

    Ali, I have been following your blog for almost 8 years and have been meaning to complete Project Life for the last two. I have notes/journaling for the last year and a half, but managed to only complete 3 weeks of Project Life! My problem is that I’m a photographer and it’s not unusual for me to have over 200 photos per week. Narrowing down to just a few takes me so long, that I run out of time for the week and get further and further behind (three kids 5yr and under). You say that you don’t worry about using all of your photos in PL because you’ll use some others in a different project, but I have no intention of doing any other projects. What should I do with the other photos? This photo selection process is so debilitating for me. Maybe you or your readers have some advice.

    • ….
      Anne said…

      Anything is better than nothing: now, you probably don’t do anything with those 200+ pictures…

      My PL is very photo heavy, although I only use one page per week. Minus one small ‘pocket’ (digital) for journaling, that leaves me with 4 large en 3 small pics.

      I jot down 7 of the most important events that week / the things I want to remember/or a specific picture I have in mind. For the first two, I just pick pictures. As quickly as possible.

      Yes, sometimes it’s hard to leave things out, but: done with seven pictures is better than not done with 200 pics…

      Hope this helps!

    • ….
      Ali said…

      Hi Ksenia – I actually don’t worry about including all my photos in Project Life not because I’ll use them in other projects (sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t depending on what’s happening) but because I believe that some is better than none and I don’t want to spend all my time in the decision stage vs. the action stage (much like Anne in the comment above). It’s a big “letting go” to stop thinking you need to use every single photo you take. I think that once you get going and start just picking seven (or 10 or whatever number you want) for each week you’ll get better at knowing which ones you want to include and the process will speed up (it takes practice to just start picking and choosing and realize that this is not the most important decision you’ll likely make on any given day).

      Seriously, it takes practice to let go of the 190 other photos but my guess is that most of those photos don’t necessarily define your week in any particular way. Remember that this project isn’t about one specific week – it’s about how they all come together to show your life over a longer period of time.

    • ….
      birdnscrap said…

      I keep all my pix (yes, many thousands) in iPhoto, organized in “albums” based on the event or the season. That way it’s easy to look through events, but you don’t have to actually print the photos. I think that Picasa can do the same. I have an external hard drive back-up and CrashPlan, BTW.
      Good luck!

  • 23.
    Ellen said…

    Thanks for tip 2.5!

  • 24.
    Debbie in AZ said…

    I have been scrapbooking since 1997. My advice is:
    1) just START– photos and a few (or many)words in any album is better than photos in a shoebox or on a hard drive
    2) be sure to jot down names and dates-you think you’ll remember but you won’t always
    3) do what makes you feel good — as little or as much as you want to
    4) you will go through phases of approach/style/quantity/products; it’s all good
    5) it’s a hobby (for most of us) not a job; think of it like golf or fishing or knitting. Have fun, avoid perfection, consider the end product as a bonus (a good golf score/fish for supper/scarf/scrapbook album) of your fun.

    • ….
      Ali said…

      Yes to the dates! Big time. I hate when I forget to add the date to a page.

  • 25.
    Leanne said…

    Thanks Ali! I have been scrapbooking about 10 years, and I have no problem doing the smaller events, it’s the big trips and events that I KNOW are going to have many pages that are simply overwhelming to me. I am embracing that it is okay to not get all the photos printed at one time, just break it down into what I can handle and the same for getting them scrapped. I have also decided that with many page/100′s of photos projects that I will scrap some pages and intermix them with PL style (but with We R pages) pages as well. That way I get the scrapped pages AND lots of photos with many less hours spent. And I am equally happy with the completed pages whether they are scrapped or in photo pockets. Photos off the computer, out of the box, page done and story told… that is what makes me happy!
    Oh, and advise for a newbie… just start!!! I’m quoting someone I can’t recall here, but “The hardest part of getting anything done is just getting started” SO TRUE!

  • 26.
    Denise said…

    All of your tips are awesome…they always are. I have been scrapbooking for years now, but I feel like I am still a beginner in some ways. Mostly because of how I have let perfection get in the way. I have many stories and pages that have yet to be documented because of perfectionism. So tip #5…Embrace Imperfection…completely speaks to me. When it comes down to it once I am able quiet the perfection gremlins and just get started, the biggest battle has been won and I am able to enjoy creative bliss. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • ….
      Ali said…

      I completely understand how that creeps back in – you can do it :) .

  • 27.
    Jennifer K said…

    Project Life/pocket scrapbooking is a great way to deal with a lot of old photos that are already printed, that you just want to get into an album and be able to add some journaling cards. I’ve gone digital for my 12×12 layouts, as I found paper scrapping to be too time- and space-consuming, but love pocket scrapbooking for printed photos. I’d recommend sticking with formats that have sheet protectors with combinations of 3×4 and 4×6 pockets so you can use the cards that are so widely available now. 12×12 with pockets is great for a large album, or 6×8 with the same sizes of pockets is a great smaller size. Back up all your digital stuff, and HAVE FUN!!

    • ….
      Jennifer K said…

      Oh, and if you get into digital scrapping, have your layouts printed and slip them into albums! Don’t let them just sit on your computer. :-)

    • ….
      Ali said…

      Back it up is great advice too! And printing!

  • 28.
    LauraJ said…

    Thanks for this post. I have been working on paring down my belongings to just the essentials and your post provided me with the freedom to just make a decision! Project life works because I don’t need to store a bunch of supplies and spend hours thinking they have to look “just so”. This really is a gift — thanks Ali. I feel much freer to get rid of all the supplies I haven’t used and am feeling guilty about not using.

    • ….
      Ali said…

      Do what works best for you!

  • 29.
    Christine Bell said…

    I appreciate your P.S. on #1 of not getting caught up in a name. I art journal and didn’t really see it as memory keeping. I think you are right. It really is memory keeping but just in a different way. I would like to experiment with some of the Project Life ideas and see how I could do things a bit different than I am currently and have done in the past. Thanks.

  • 30.
    Ru said…

    I appreciate this post more than words can express. I recently started Project Life and I did exactly what you said not to do. I went out and bought every pretty thicker and embellishment that I thought I “needed”. Two months in I was so overwhelmed with the lack of space that I had for everything. Which lead to difficulty choosing what I wanted to use and what I didn’t. This post helped so much in reminding me why I want to scrap and that it shouldn’t be so overwhelming!! Thanks a ton Ali!!!

    • ….
      Ali said…

      You are welcome! Get back to the heart of it and you will be so happy!

  • 31.
    Lisa said…

    I tell people that you will never be caught up and that’s ok. I tell people to start present and work back as time allows.

    • ….
      Ali said…

      I agree – and it’s great advice.

  • 32.
    Jules said…

    I found much more enjoyment in scrapbooking (mostly PL these days) once I decided it was just for me. Previously I felt I was recording family history for generations to come and the pressure to be perfect, cover everything that happened and back it all up with super detailed journaling was just exhausting and sucked all the fun out of it. I realised one day my (adult) kids just aren’t that interested in my albums and ironically that was very freeing! Now, I record what ever takes my fancy each week. After all that editorial decision reflects me now. In five years I may select different things to record. I also try to include the things I wish I had of my grandparents and those further back – handwritten recipes, notes, cards, anything. I would love to have something that personal from previous generations. Checkout receipts from the supermarket, packaging from snacks or tea, napkins from restaurants .. daily details that will never be recorded in history books but tell the story of who I am and how I spend my life.

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