I started to scrapbook as a summer activity while on break during college. Ever the sentimentalist, I took a photo of the empty classroom where I fell in love with philosophy during my freshman year and the rest, as they say, was history. 

Recently, I pulled out my scrapbooks and took a trip down memory lane. I have only two scrapbooks, but they contain years’ worth of memories. As the pages turn and the years progress, people come in—and out—of my life. I see the faces of friends I haven’t seen in person in years, and smile at the good times we shared when life circumstances threw us together. 

The pages are filled with momentous occasions—siblings’ and friends’ weddings, babies, graduations—and ordinary daily moments—a perfect latte with a dear friend, a walk with a beloved roommate, family hikes in the mountains. In addition to pictures, my scrapbook has train tickets, fortune cookies, song lyrics, and quotes that stood out to me. 

The last page was completed three years ago. I have a box filled with mementos from the last three years, including my wedding invitation, tickets from excursions during our honeymoon, and cards from our first anniversary. One of these days, that scrapbook will happen. 

As the months pass, though, and my next scrapbook languishes on my to-do list, I have wondered about the feasibility of continuing my scrapbooking hobby. I made a wedding photo book a year ago for my parents, using one of the standard online photo book sites. Maybe it would be easier if I just made online photo books instead of scrapbooks? But maybe ease should not be the deciding factor.

The “why” behind scrapbooking

Personally, I spend way too much time on electronic screens. I will notice that sometimes I need to physically do something with my hands. I find that typing on a keyboard and the movement of a mouse leave me wanting something more. Physical activity—baking some bread, sweeping the floor, or going for a walk—helps me maintain my contact with reality and get out of my head. 

Scrapbooking is such a satisfying, tangible activity that it fulfills that need and also brings beauty to life.There is something so different about both the process of scrapbooking and the finished product. 

As I turn the pages, I can see how my scrapbooking style changed over the years. It never becomes very elaborate or complicated, but the colors change and I experiment more with borders, layering paper, and adding cute accessories. I thoroughly enjoy a trip to the craft store to wander the scrapbooking and sticker aisles and see what captures my attention for the next set of pages. There is something about creating a physical scrapbook with your own hands that is different from using a website. While photo book templates online are easy and quick, they lack the individuality of a paper scrapbook that is, quite literally, a blank page before you, waiting for your creative powers and imagination.

How to get started

01. Start with the album cover

The scrapbooking aisle at the craft store can be more than a little overwhelming. There seems to be an infinite number of options for paper styles, fancy trimmers, and accessories. I’ve found it helpful to keep a few things in mind as I peruse the paper in front of me. I like to start by picking the actual scrapbook cover that I will use. This sets the tone for the style of the overall scrapbook. 

Some covers are dramatic, some minimalist, some vintage, and some whimsical. Covers typically are sold with the plastic sleeves you will need to do the first set of pages, and you can usually buy expander sets to fit more than the initial number of pages. Occasionally, a cover will include some pages of paper that fit the color scheme. Even if it doesn’t, knowing the style and color of the cover gives you a direction to go as you select other items.

02. Take your time choosing paper and accessories—choose what works for you

Multipacks of paper take the most time to select, for me. I like to spend the time to flip through the pages included and figure out if I would actually use the majority of the pages, or if I should keep looking for a set that better fits my preferences. 

For accessories, I find that a little goes a long way. Especially if you use patterned paper, it is easy for the page to look too busy once you add pictures, borders, and a few accessories. For tools, I like the simplest of paper trimmers, a little tool that rounds sharp corners, and sometimes a pattern set to cut pictures into ovals or circles of different sizes.

My preferences for photo printing have shifted over the years. Initially, while at home during college summers, I would print a batch of photos at Costco using my parents’ membership, and their quality was very good. Now, without a Costco membership and, frankly, with little time to bother to drive to the closest one, I find that printing at the corner CVS is just fine. 

03. Trust your creative instincts

There is no “wrong way” to scrapbook. Often, I will print a batch of photos at once and then spread them out, seeing which pictures seem to naturally go together on the same page. Sometimes, though, there is no rhyme or reason to the layout. 

I love handling those photos over and over as I arrange them, play with backgrounds, add details, and, finally, glue them in place in their perfect position. There is something so satisfying about sitting back and holding the page that you just finished, sliding it into its plastic sleeve in the scrapbook, and then reaching for the next page.

I have often thought that, if I ever needed to evacuate my house quickly for some reason, the scrapbooks would be on my very short list of items to grab. Many of the pictures on these pages do exist elsewhere, mostly digitally. But the way in which they have been carefully put together over the years and made into a beautiful book is irreplaceable.

A scrapbook feels like an old friend, and many times have I given it a hug when I have longed to hug the people on those pages. One of my goals for the near future is to open that “to be scrapbooked” box and put those memories into huggable form. If you need me, I’ll be at my desk with a cup of tea buried in fancy scissors and colored paper, surrounded by those I love.