Thanks to the prevalence of social media, a photo sent via text, or scrolled past on your preferred platform, makes the moment just a fleeting blip that barely registers. On the other hand, holding an actual, printed photograph adds gravitas despite its lightweight nature. The ability to hold it to our faces, up close, without losing resolution to a pixelated image is invaluable. So, too, is actually knowing that you’ve preserved this object, potentially forever, rather than relying on “the cloud” to keep it safe.

hands touching black and white photos arranged in a photo albumWhen it comes to preserving family memories, there is no beating a scrapbook for organizing and displaying our treasured images. Yes, dozens of digital options are available, and digitizing your old media in order to preserve it for perpetuity is an option. But in order to actually enjoy these images, the most beautiful way to collect and preserve a family’s visual history is in a scrapbook. 

Yes, scrapbooking is a time-consuming hobby. But it’s also highly rewarding. Some people gravitate towards it naturally, with a flair for collecting thematic stickers and colorful paper, but for others it can feel like a chore. We’ve assembled some basic instructions and helpful tips for those who might fall into the latter category but who are interested in creating family heirlooms that will last forever.

Getting Started: Gather the Photos

pile of colored photographs on a tableThe first task is to gather the photos you’d like to use. Remember to dig out the prints you have gathering dust in the attic as well as the folders of digital images you have lingering somewhere on the family computer. If your photos are digital, print out the ones you think you’ll want to use. The easiest way to go about doing this is to log onto a website that offers photo uploads and printing services, like Walmart, Walgreens, or CVS. All you would need to do is follow the directions to upload the photos you want to their website, and you can usually pick them up in about an hour. This part of the task is simultaneously highly enjoyable and immensely time-consuming, so give yourself ample grace in the collation process.

Once you have the pictures printed and gathered, you should consider making duplicates of the older originals. While scrapbooking is a great way to preserve photos, they’re not error-proof, and with more handling comes an increased likelihood of accidents. The Library of Congress has a great page with tips for ensuring against issues like fading, yellowing, and embrittlement.

The Hard Part: Organizing

person sitting on the floor organizing pages with photos glued on themNow, it’s time to organize your thoughts. It might be helpful to create a caption for each photo, which might help you see a theme emerging as you go. (This will also come in handy as you’re debating what to put on the page; captions are a great way to explain what’s happening in the photo for future generations.) Conversely, you could approach the task with a theme already in mind. 

Popular ways to craft a scrapbook include:
    • Chronologically
    • By Sides of the Family
    • Geographical Location – places you’ve lived, visited, etc
    • By Holiday or Event – you could make a scrapbook of every family Christmas, for example.

You might find that it would be better to make multiple books, depending on the number of photos. Another option is to think about what you’d like to pass down for those who will look at the scrapbook after you’re gone. Along with wedding photos, could you write a brief story explaining something funny that happened that day? Or, are you the de facto family chef? You could make a scrapbook with family recipes, surrounded by pictures of people eating those meals on various occasions. Think of what stories you’d tell people as they’re looking at the book and jot it down. The photos will mean a lot more to future generations if there is context available to them. 

The Expensive Part: Finding Supplies

Scrapbook supplies can be expensive; the colorful card stock, cute stickers, little embellishments, and fancy art pens are surprisingly addictive and the cost can add up quickly. We highly recommend that when you set out to get your supplies you have a plan in mind as to what kind of aesthetic you’re going for. That said, here are a few essentials you will need to get started: 

  • scrapbooking tools like scissors, ruler, pencil and stickers on a green patterned backgroundAn album, and album pages (sometimes these are sold separately)
  • Scissors: sharp scissors are handy, and you might find that you want the special ones that cut in patterns as well
  • Adhesives: this will vary depending on what you are gluing in the book, what paper you’re using, etc. See the Library of Congress link for more. 
  • Colored and patterned paper/card stock: both as the backing for photos as well as the actual page
  • Pens
  • Embellishments: this can include stickers of all kinds, the little tabs that hold the photograph down without glue, little pre-cut borders and backings… if you’ve ever wandered down the scrapbook aisle at a craft store you know this can get ridiculous

If you’re not creatively-inclined, or just find that you’re stuck in an indecision rut, tons of premade scrapbooking kits are available online. Also, websites like Pinterest are absolutely filled with ideas for how to organize and decorate your own scrapbook as well.

The Messy Part: Crafting It

man and woman working together to make a scrapbookNow that you’ve gathered all of your supplies, you hopefully have a good idea of what you want your scrapbook to look like. Lay out everything on each page before you glue anything down. You might find that the way photos fit will lead to some adjustments here and there, and it’s awful trying to peel up pictures you’ve already pasted in place.

If you’re patient and able to be a bit flexible, you could make this task a family event. You could do this when you’re all together sometime, as a wonderful generational-bonding experience. Or you could mail supplies and photos to families who are far away and have them send it back; it could be delightfully chaotic to have a scrapbook with contributions that are as unique as each individual family member.

Other Articles You Might Enjoy: