Scrapbooking: Keep It Simple, Hold the Guilt

Remember the simple act of pasting a few special photos, a valentine and maybe a flattened carnation corsage into a photo album?

Today, of course, it’s a verb: “to scrapbook.” And in our “let’s-go-overboard-and-then-fret-about-how-stressed-we-are” age, it’s yet one more thing to feel guilty about.

“I sat down and looked at all those boxes of photos, and I just started crying,” one friend tells me. “It all seems so overwhelming.”

Another friend spends hours at arts-and-crafts stores, buying stickers and pens and assorted doo-dads, which then sit in a shopping bag in her closet because she’s too intimidated by the pages in the scrapbooking magazines.

Who can blame us for feeling defeated? These magazines showcase an overwhelming Mardi Gras parade of artistic techniques. Peek-a-boo pages with sliding doors. Folded tea-bag embellishments. Photo kaleidoscopes. And have you tried taking skinny copper wire, rolling it into tiny circles with pliers and making individual daisies? By the way, don’t forget the three shades of green raffia, which you’ll flatten and twist for the leaves.

Then there are the baby pages. They’re simple, really. Just cut your photo into 16 tiny pieces, add 16 pieces of different-colored translucent paper, and reassemble the whole thing to resemble a
gorgeous stained-glass window.

Frankly, I think I’ll wait to try these nifty techniques until after my 15-year-old son, Matthew, leaves home for college. (College-spirit pages – with real mini-pom-poms!) Otherwise, I’m afraid I’ll spend his few precious remaining years at home yelling, from behind a pile of acid-free card stock, “Can’t you leave me alone? I’m busy preserving your memories!”

I have to confess: I do read scrapbooking magazines now and then. But I like to read them in much the same way I peruse gourmet cooking magazines. Late in the evening, in bed, I linger over the pictures and read every how-to step. But just as you’re not going to catch me leaping out from under my cozy comforter to whip up a Gruyère fondue with caramelized shallots, don’t hold your breath looking for pop-up pages or hand-sponged clouds in my family’s scrapbooks.

Instead, what you will find is the first letter Matthew ever wrote to Santa, along with a photo of a little boy in flannel jammies placing a piece of cake and a can of Coke by the fireplace. And copies of e-mailed stories about Which Witch, a silly witch who plays tricks on children, written especially for Matthew by his grandmother. Nothing fancy here. No witches flying off the page. But those stories are there, safely preserved, for Matt to read to his own grandchildren someday.

Our baby pages aren’t elaborate, either, but they hold lasting reminders of a special time: my scribbled list of things to bring to the hospital when I went into labor (what planet was I on when I wrote “playing cards”?), and the page from my husband’s calendar where he logged the time and length of every contraction the night before Matthew was born. We also included our short list of names, so that Matt can look at it some day and wonder if life would have been different as a Gregory.

I also cherish the silly, and sometimes creepy, memories of family life with a boy who seems to grow an inch taller with every page I turn: Matthew, at age 3, running around the house with an oven mitt on each hand, pinching his “claws” together and declaring himself “Larry The Lobster.” The Father’s Day when Dad received cereal, coffee and the sports page in bed, but only after agreeing to wear a “Cat in the Hat” hat for the duration of breakfast. And the page showing Matt and his not-too-crazy-about-snakes mom each receiving a “Certificate of Bravery” for viewing the live rattlers at the American International Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

These past few years, I’ve given up paper scrapbooking in favor of making slide shows. (Confession: There are several thousand photos sitting on my Mac that are just, well, sitting there. And I’ve decided I can live with that. I’ll have plenty of time to organize them when Matt’s off at college.) But I still love leafing through those pages filled with purple-painted preschooler hand prints, photos of Matthew frosting Daddy’s birthday cake and other snippets from our daily lives that will mean more to us, and maybe to our grandchildren one day (no rush, Matt!), than all the twisted-wire daisies in the world.

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4 Responses to “Scrapbooking: Keep It Simple, Hold the Guilt”

  1. Jill says:

    And that’s why I make cards! :) LOL They are small with respect to the time-consuming factor and instantly gratifying.

    But maybe a different perspective, there are some who do this sort of thing as their own personal crafty therapy - it’s their art. Also, know that most of what you see in these magazines are by individuals who do this for a living, as a professional, whose job it is to be innovative and do something “out there” and trendy. The other folks whose work is published might be trying desperately to “make it” onto design teams, etc. It’s like staring at Vogue - although you might not buy the elaborate dress.

    A lot of friends of mine who do the more elaborate scrapbook lay-outs that look like works of art, do them one at a time, maybe one page in an evening after the kids go to sleep (as their art therapy for the day), or crank out 5-6 pages in a crafty weekend. If your purpose is to scrap all you photos, your layout would certainly be different unless you took that approach.

    One suggestion I have (it’s worked great for me) is to have a crafty space that never gets put away. I find I’m more inclined to actually finish a project if that space is always set up and I don’t have to put everything away. I can just sit down and create if I have 20-minutes, and come back to it the next time I have a little moment to spare. I’m lucky enough to have a small room now, but I used to just keep a card table up in a corner before I had a larger space.

    As for the chotchkies, or wired daisy’s, that’s a hobby in an of itself :)

  2. Kathy says:

    Jill, I loved your comment! And what you said makes so much sense. I forget that crafts like this are a lot of fun and that most of us mortals don’t try to do stained-glass pages every night after working all day. :) I think this might be my favorite comment of 2011 so far. Thanks!

  3. Tracy says:

    Thanks for writing this. I’m in the middle of packing up reams of paper, stamps and assorted other doodads so I can make room for a hand-me-down treadmill. I’ve never been one of those super-duper scrappers, but my 7-year-old does have a book for each of her first five years. I used to get together with fellow crafters at least twice a month and one weekend a year.

    Then my son was born. And does he even have a single page? Nope. I’m not sure where I found the time before, but it sure is gone now. I keep taking photos, though, and I hope to try some digital scrapbooking and slideshows. I’m also trying to remember to jot down - er, type - things I want to remember.

    I’m also being optimistic that I’ll get back to papercrafting some day; I am donating some stuff, but a lot of it is going into storage.

  4. Kathy says:

    So funny about the second-born. My husband says his older brother had a baby book, but when he came along, his mom was too busy. :)