Seven Why’s & How’s to Keep Memories via Scrap-Journaling

Oct2010 1518

From age eight to college I was an avid journaler. For most of that time I journaled daily. I could spend an hour or more pouring my life and views into my journal, and I think it may be one of the reasons I remember so much of my childhood.

As an adult, four activities replaced my old method of journaling in big blank lined pages:

  1. scrapbooking
  2. blogging
  3. journaling into the metadata of my photos
  4. art journaling

But all of these journaling methods are lacking one thing, and recently they haven’t been enough for me. What could possibly be missing from traditional scrapbooking and my other three journaling forms?


I wanted to be able to write just a sentence or two about my day — every day — and include some little bit of ephemera, like a receipt or some scrap paper I took notes on. I wanted to document the kind of stuff that is just way too mundane for even the scrapbooks of the most everyday kind of scrapbooker. I wanted the ability to record something on the spot without having to wait for a photo, without having to pull out my art supplies, or be tied to my computer.

A few weeks ago I added a fifth way to share my story, and I now feel totally and completely fulfilled in my ability to express myself and share my thoughts, whether it’s through my photos, through writing I develop on my blog, through some uninhibited art activity, or through a few words and bits from my day.


Oct2010 1511
This is my scrap-journal. In it you will find my words, my doodling, my brainstorming, my extra-mundane bits of ephemera, and an idea of who I am right now. It’s currently one of my favorite things. You could use a “normal” blank lined book intended for journaling. Or you could make a scrap-journal out of cute scrapbook or found papers.

I keep a stack of unloved hardback books that sit and wait for me to alter them, and I decided to use one of them as my scrap-journal (you can see its spine in the top photo. It’s a hard-cover book of short stories). Why would I use a book that is already full of somebody else’s words? And how do you do it without turning it into a project instead of a quick spontaneous three-minute activity?

Here is the why and the how . . .

  1. It’s green. I am trying to decrease the amount of manufacturing I cause by buying something new. I figure, every time I buy something, they’ll make another one. I know that’s a simplified summary of how the system of stuff works, but it keeps me on the green path.
  2. There are some blank areas at the front and back of the book, and at the beginnings and ends of chapters.
  3. Oct2010 1507

  4. I like to play with the words already on the book — circle some, cross out others, or even respond. The words also inspire little humorous (to me) thoughts, and that encourages a light-heartedness that I enjoy with my scrap-journal.
  5. Oct2010 1509

  6. I add journaling to my own scraps of ephemera when the typed words of the book don’t give me enough writing space of my own.
  7. Oct2010 1514
    Above: a summary from my dentist.
    Below: a scrap of paper I used to test paint colors I had mixed that day.
    Oct2010 1517

  8. The book’s text encourages me to doodle. I don’t want to have pages and pages of the original text, so I doodle on top of it. The doodling makes it feel more mine — more like me. And doodling is always good creative brain food.
  9. Oct2010 1513

  10. It’s not intimidating. I don’t have to fill a blank page. Because I do so much journaling in the other ways I listed above, my goal with my scrap-journal is not to get deep or to say a lot. I just want to share a little bit of myself every single day without the task of making it “pretty,” or making it into a project that takes time.
  11. Oct2010 1515

  12. The text causes the writing “canvas” to be non-linear. I get to write in different spaces around the book, and this is much more similar to the way we think. Our brains bounce around from thought to thought and it’s good for the brain to develop thoughts the way it is naturally inclined, instead of in the linear fashion of typical writing.
  13. Oct2010 1512

Since this added form of memory-keeping has been so fulfilling for me, I decided to share it with you. It’s not typical scrapbooking as we know it today. But it’s easy and spontaneous. It’s fun. It’s real. It’s definitely scrappy. And you don’t have to wait for a photo, or a time slot, to sit down and do it.

  • So sad to see the live show going away, I enjoyed watching the recordings the day after! But I understand that things have to change and evolve as the times change… thanks for all you’ve shared so far. I love that you use an old book to be your journal…although I still find it hard to rip up or alter a printed book at times!

  • Thank you, Linda!

    I have never had a problem altering a book until this one I turned into my
    journal. I caught a glimpse of a really good paragraph. So I went to the
    beginning paragraph and read it, and it was great — it really sucked me in.
    I started reading the book and was enjoying the first 3 or 4 pages and
    wondering if I somehow got a gem that someone else might actually want to
    read. But then, the farther I got into it, the more I could see the author
    was trying WAY too hard to be an amazing writer, and the book has spiraled
    into this horrible mass of vague imagery you can’t even understand and
    characters who are somehow ALL unbelievingly perceptive of the other
    character’s thoughts and motives — anyway, I decided that it was no wonder
    the library was trying to sell it for $1. ;)

  • Anonymous

    Noell, I now have 2 teenagers and a tween, and it seems I’m as busy now as I was when they were toddlers! Funny how when they were small I was thinking.. “Gosh, can’t wait till they get older and things slow down a bit”. I must have bumped my head when I thought THAT! My 14 (going on 25) yr old son needs just as much TLC and attention, one-on-one time and assistance through the day as he did when he was 4. So when you said you needed to step back and stop the Paperclipping Live, I TOTALLY get it! Your kids are getting to an age where they almost need more time from you than they did when they were toddlers. At their ages they need guidance, they need you and Izzy to be there at the drop of the hat sometimes. And we all know that Murphy’s Law of Parenting means.. when you are in the middle of planning or doing Paperclipping Live, is when there will be a crisis of mammoth proportions. Your daughter and her bff have a fight, a school play rehearsal gets rescheduled at the last minute and your son is in charge of props, etc… I applaud you and Izzy for being the fab parents you both are. You are a great team and love each other so very much. It is so evident when I hear the PC Roundtable. You guys are awesome!
    Also, thank you for your inspiration on journaling. While I’m not sure I can alter a book to be a journal, I am going to start journaling again. I did it in high school and quit, which if I would have continued, I might not have made some epic proportion errors in judgement in the past. I am going through a divorce right now after 16+ years of being a stay-at-home “June Cleaver” of a mom. It was a total shock when the boys father told us after a family vacation that he found his ‘soul mate’ at a conference almost a year ago. So I am trying to deal with a lot of emotions, wrapping my head around what my future will be, etc… and I think journaling will help.
    Thanks for everything Noell. You always make me smile and have made some teary days turn into sunny ones.
    Angela (Legomom)

  • Adriann

    This is a great idea! I use to keep a journal and somehow got away from it. I’m inspired to try it this way. Thanks for always being so innovative and inspirational!! Adriann

  • Thanks, Adriann! Let me know how it goes for you!

  • I love this idea for a journal! Although I do still have issues with altering books. Guess I will pick up some cheesy French ones at the next flea market to use. lol

  • Cheesy French books from flea markets sound awesome!

    I’m a writer (though I’ve only had two articles published in an actual book
    you can hold in your hand), and I have no problem altering books. There are
    far more books in the world than there are people who will buy them, much
    less read them. If you buy old used ones from flea markets, thrift shops,
    and especially from libraries who are selling the books nobody reads, then
    you’re saving the books from the trash dumps.

    On the other hand, when I alter books, often times some of the authors’
    words remain for the reading! :)

  • Beverly

    Thank you for the inspiration to use an old hard cover book. I have just the one and I’m hoping this will rationalise my journals/notebooks. I have way too many of them, each with a different purpose. Your way means I can put everything in the one book!

  • Cindy

    Noell and Izzy…thanks sooooooo much for all you two do…I LOVE LOVE LOVE all parts of your business…I will miss the weekly shows primarily because of your POSITIVE ATTITUDE, Noell…soooooo, I’ll watch a Paperclipping Video (I am a MEMBER) when I need a POSITIVE VIBE….good for you for taking care of yourself and your family…Cindy

  • Anonymous

    Aw, all best! I have wondered how you’ve been able to commit to a “LIVE” show so consistently. And, hey!, I went through a phase of loving Mary Gaitskill.

  • Karenmamo

    OH ! I have found someone else who treasures those little ‘scraps of life.’
    I started my own book about three years ago.
    I entitled it, “Bits and Pieces.”
    But more than just written word, I have included objects kept through my 68 years that brought back memories. Then by each object, I told the story.
    One item is a brooch that my first grade teacher owned. Because of her, I became an elementary teacher myself years later.
    You have inspired me to get busy on that scrapbook again.
    My grandchildren should enjoy the stories via words
    and objects.
    Thank you for the opportunity to express myself here.

  • Oh, maybe I should have sent that book over to you and used a different
    book! :)

  • Karen, that sounds beautiful! I especially love the brooch story.

  • Kim Strother (kdgirl)

    Noell- I’ve watched the live show since (almost) the beginning, and I’m sad to see it go. But I totally understand how hard it must be to do it. Many times I had to watch the recording due to homework and kid stuff. I just wanted to say thank you for 3 great years!

  • Skporto

    I do hate to see your weekly show end (altho my computer could not keep up with it) but God and family come first and I think we all will understand. I will still enjoy the membership shows, the round table and digital show… gosh how do you find the time.

  • Lisa

    I used to do one of these about 3 years ago, but I went and made a commitment to do it everyday and it turned into pressure. When I heard you mention this recently (roundtable? pc live?) I got to wondering where it went. Lo and Behold I spotted it the other day – maybe I’ll get it out and start using it again – but no pressure. Thanks so much for sharing. It’s probably wrong, but I LOVE seeing other people’s journals. Here is a page from mine:

  • Kathy

    I am just beginning a horrible ( I assume so anyway) expedition. I was just diagnosed with breast cancer and although I am at peace and know that things will turn out ok, I am feeling like I want to journal but don’t want to make a nice journal for something as crappy as cancer- I am so happy to find this “green” form of journaling. I think it will help me get through this nightmare… Thanks so much for sharing

  • Erink88

    This will sound nuts, but I have been gathering the pieces of a similar project. I have tons of ideas, inspiration and projects I want to do…that I seem to stall. I just want to get some everyday moments, emphemera, and FUN in the same spot…an altered book speaks to me..I am trying to go green. I picked up several books at a local thrift store for a quarter each…mass produced, trashy romance novels in hard back. I can’t wait to get started and would love any tips, tricks or tutorials that you have found!

  • Mnimmo

    Love your scrap-journal. Great idea!

  • PaperDoll

    This reminds me of my “inspiration book” which is a collection of items (pictures, quotes, etc.) from magazines that invoked some feeling and my thoughts about theses items. When I’m feeling a little disenchanted with life, I read through it and find a little warm fuzzy to lift my spirits. It helps to ground me and remind me who I really am without all of life’s titles! Thanks for sharing.

  • Tara

    Thank you for sharing your scrap-journal, Noell. I’ve been thinking of creating something like this myself for a while. I’ve also been thinking a lot more about storytelling, telling my story, etc. lately. I think this might be a great way to help me achieve some of my writing goals, and to help me sort out the jumble of ideas that come to me when I start thinking about writing.

    I couldn’t help but notice in your images that you were toying with a word for the year, and you had jotted down notes about being present in the moment (it feels like I’m being nosey by admitting that I was reading the words on your pages!). That’s a big thing that I’ve been realizing lately – I need to slow down, focus, and be in the moment more often. I’m curious, do you find that working on your scrap-journal helps with this? Thanks, again, for sharing! Also, thank you for the years of Paperclipping Live – I applaud you and Izzy for making the choice to set aside this project to devote more time to your family. Best wishes to you all.

  • Tara

    Kathy, I read your comment and immediately thought of a friend of mine who has been dealing with breast cancer treatment herself. When she started her treatments she also decided to start writing the story of her life. For her, it was a perfect distraction from the wretched illness. She has told me that writing her story is what kept her sane during her treatments and kept her from focusing too much attention on the fact that she was ill. She finished writing her book and decided not to put in anything about the cancer…she decided that the illness didn’t define who she was, and she didn’t want it in her book taking away from all the other pieces of her story. I wish you well, Kathy :)

  • I love that chart from your dentist! As a dental hygienist I can appreciate that. ;) I love this unique journaling method, Noell.

  • Thank you for being a part of it, Kim! :)

  • Thank you for sharing! That’s awesome! I agree — it shouldn’t be a pressure
    cooker! I skipped a few days this week. So far, it’s been meditative and
    enriching. And simple.

  • Kathy, I’m sorry about your diagnosis. That makes emotional sense to me — a
    beautiful journal for a crappy experience doesn’t seem right, does it? I
    hope this journaling is therapeutic for you. Much luck and peace to you as
    you battle breast cancer, Kathy.

  • Erin, Paperclipping has two special edition tutorials on book altering. One
    is a specific holiday book project, but the other is a general one. It’s a
    dual project with myself and Dedra Long and we share a handful of different
    altered books, different options for altering the cover, binding pages,
    making it interactive, etc. We also share three different concepts you could
    use (topics). Here are the links:

    Altered Books Tutorial

    Holiday Altered Books

  • Hi, Tara. Since I’m the type that will also read the notes from someone’s
    photographed notebooks/journals (maybe we all do it?), I figured someone
    would be reading mine, too. It’s okay! :)

    Yes, I’ve been feeling that writing/scribbling/whatever in my journal is
    very grounding. I think it’s helping me to go slowly and be observant and
    grateful of now. It terms of being present, I found myself being fully
    present in certain circumstances over a year ago because of an event that
    happened in my life, and I’ve been nourishing it ever since. It’s been so
    helpful and rewarding, both for my own psyche, and also for my
    relationships. I don’t want to fall out of habit, and I know I can learn to
    do it even more fully, which is why I’m making it one of my mantras for

    The biggest action that helps me to stay in the present when I am with
    people I love is to remind myself that this could possibly be the last
    moment I have like this with this person. You never know what could happen
    in your life to change things.

  • KatieK.

    Noelle what a cool idea to layer your journaling and doodle, etc. I am inspired to find a book to alter/journal that will fit the place I’m at right now. Regarding the shows: I have a magnet on my fridge that is beginning to look old and rusty. I got it when my 19 yr. old was a baby. It says ” The best thing to spend on children is time”. You are a brave and strong family – saying no to things and work and other people is not always easy. Here’s to you all finding a bit more time-sanity this year.

  • Thank you, Katie!

  • Pingback: How to Be Organized When You Have 28 Unfinished Projects | Paperclipping()

  • Heather

    Oh my gosh! I love this idea. I saw a big, hardcover copy of some Marie Antoinette book today at a thrift store. It was only a dollar but I thought, what the heck will I do with this. Now I know! The french will be awesome b/c it won’t distract my English ingrained mind.

  • Pingback: Inspiration from Experimentation: Journals | Paperclipping()

  • Jlynn72

    I love this idea and it has inspired me to start my own Scrap-Journal with an “un-loved” hardback book!
    This is brilliant and I agree that using an actual book with “words” already in it, it does take the pressure and stress off of me to actually “fill” it with my own thoughts and doodles.
    This is going to be so much fun, I can’t wait to share this idea with my daughter!  She will love it too!
    Thank you for sharing your ideas with us and keep up the awesome work.