I’ve been doing Project Life since February of this year and I can honestly say that it’s been one of the most rewarding, fun, and satisfying endeavors. The idea of scrapbooking and memory-keeping is one that I’ve been interested in for a long time, and when I had a baby that feeling went into overdrive. The problem was that traditional methods didn’t appeal to me. On one hand the blank slate of a 12×12 page was overwhelming, and on the other a regular photo book didn’t seem like enough – I wanted to be a little more hands-on, but it had to be simple and structured.
Project Life has worked for me. It’s the first real scrapbook I’ve ever kept up with. And I think it could work for you too, no matter what phase of life you’re in. I consider it our family album, but if you are single I don’t think that would matter. I would LOVE to have an album now from back when I was single. The point is to document the everyday details of life that would otherwise get lost and forgotten. They are the bulk of what make up life, after all, and I think we need to celebrate those small moments.
Some of you might be thinking about starting Project Life, and I say do it. I’m a working mom with a toddler and I’ve been able to keep up with it, so you can too. I wanted to share with you my whole process, some tips I’ve discovered along the way, and my plans for next year.
All you really need to complete Project Life is an album, page protectors, a core kit, a pen, and your photos. Keep that in mind if you need it to be simple, simple, simple. This year I did not use a core kit and instead used my own papers – I had a bunch on hand already and I wanted to make it more my own style – but next year I will be using the Seafoam kit because I love it and I want the process to be even simpler.
Some basic products I use are:
- American Crafts cloth D-ring album. I like it a lot, but I think I will buy a Project Life album for next year because I hear they are even better quality.
- Design A page protectors. They are my favorite and what I used for the majority of my spreads.
- We R Memory Keepers 4×4″ photo pockets page protectors. I used these a bunch for inserts.
- Fiskars corner rounder. I chose to round my corners but it’s not necessary.
- Zig millennium black pens.
- Staz-On black ink (requires Staz-On cleaner, but I don’t clean my stamps very often because I use almost exclusively black ink).
I had to figure out a way to work this into my regular life routine if I wanted to keep up with it. I absolutely cannot plan to do any actual work on it during the week. I might end up being able to, but it is not guaranteed that I will have the time or energy.
So during the week I take photos. If you have a bunch to choose from it makes the process a lot easier when you’re putting the spread together. I also take notes in several different ways. I have a 5-year journal that I fill in the basic happenings of the day each night. I have also been writing down at least one good thing that happened each day in Evernote for the past two years. I use the Momento app for all other things. It’s great because it corrals all your social media updates and you can also input private updates. Between these three things I can usually remember anything I want to include.
On Saturday I go through my photos to decide which ones to print. I delete any duds and do any editing I need to do (which is very, very minimal). I also go through my notes and make a list of things I want to include in the spread. I keep a notebook just for this purpose on my craft table. Then on Saturday evening (or Sunday morning) I order my photos – more on this in a minute.
On Sunday I pick up my photos, usually on the way home from church. Then I beg David to take care of Meredith for a couple of hours and I put together my spread. I start by laying out all my photos, rounding the corners, and arranging them. I try to keep them in somewhat chronological order but I don’t always. If there is a photo I especially like I usually put it in the top left pocket on the first page because I think the eye is drawn there.
Tips for printing photos
I use Snapfish to print my photos to a local Walgreen’s. I chose this route because I don’t have a photo printer, they are ready in an hour, it’s not too expensive, and the quality varies by place so I tried a few different places (including another Walgreen’s and a Walmart) and found the best. Another reason I like using Snapfish is because they have a very easy app to use, so I can upload and print my photos straight from my phone.
If you have a photo printer at home that route is extremely convenient, but it’s not cheap when you take into consideration the paper and ink you’ll be using. You could also send off for prints if you want something higher quality. I’ve heard great things about Persnickety Prints.
To print Instagram photos without a home printer I’ve discovered a few options. The first is to use the Diptic app. It creates simple photo collages, and it is also what I use to combine my vertical 3×4 phone photos into one 4×6 photo to have printed. In order to get the option to create 4×6-ratio photos I had to buy an extension for the app, but I think it was only $0.99. To get square photos with Diptic I choose the option that looks like this:
I just leave the small spaces blank and print this as-is. This will give you 3×3 square photos. I did this for awhile but then I got Photoshop Elements so now I just open a 4×6 canvas and place my square photo on it at whatever size I want.
If you don’t have PSE or another photo editing software you can use a free online program like Pixlr, which is what I did for awhile. I opened a 500×750 pixel blank canvas, then opened up my photo, resized it, then pasted onto the blank canvas. It’s not as streamlined a process as PSE, but it works.
What to include when you don’t have enough photos
It’s much easier when you have a lot of photos to choose from, but I frequently don’t have enough. These are the kinds of things I’ll include when that happens:
- Ephemera like ticket stubs or receipts
- Pretty papers from anywhere
- Quotes, either that you find or that you overheard
- Journal a day or a moment in detail
- Free printables (found all over, but especially from the Project Life page)
- List of “currents”
Tips on keeping up to date
For a long time I did weekly spreads. Eventually I found it too difficult to keep up with and I wasn’t taking enough photos anyway, so I made the decision to contain two weeks in each spread. This has worked really well for me, and if a lot happens in a week I have no problem making that its own spread or including an insert. You could even do monthly spreads if you want to start slowly. Remember that anything documented is better than nothing at all.
If you do fall so far behind that you’re overwhelmed, I recommend just jumping back in on the most recent week. It will be fresh in your mind and you’ll get your momentum back. Along the same lines, you don’t have to start this at the beginning of the year. I started on my birthday in February last year and I’m so glad I did.
Work it into your routine. If it’s fun and important to you, make it part of your schedule. If you always relegate it to “spare” time, it’ll never get done. This applies to anything, really.
I have also found it very helpful to blog about it. I am not sure how many people really read those posts, but I think at least a few people enjoy them and it is also a good place to recap life events, so it provides me with a good source of accountability.
Staying inspired is important too, so I follow several blogs of crafty people who do Project Life. A good place to start to look for these is the Project Life creative team, but my favorites are: Elise Blaha Cripe, Ali Edwards, Amy Tan, and Marcy Penner. Elise’s style is my favorite because it’s the simplest, but I love them all. You can also check out my Project Life Pinterest board for specific ideas.
Finally, try to let your perfectionism go! I always think that I could do so much more with my spreads if only I had more time…but I don’t, and I probably never will. My album is pretty simple, and yet when I flip through the pages I feel so satisfied. It is the sum, not the parts, that matters, and as a whole it is really wonderful.
Let me know if you have any other questions, and tell me…who have I convinced to do Project Life next year?? :)
From Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness):
I, for one, have really enjoyed all of your Project Life posts (even if I never comment on them). I’ve always wanted to be a person who scrapbooks, but every time I’ve tried I don’t get far, either because I run out of time or energy or ideas for doing creative layouts. So, the idea of project life — just collecting the simple things from everyday life — is really appealing to me.
I’m thinking about trying it this year, but I can’t decide if I’d rather start now and use it to record life as it is, or use the style to try and get some of my childhood, high school, and college photos and memorabilia into albums instead of in boxes in my closet. Do you think Project Life would work for something like that?
It would definitely work for that! It’s so flexible, that’s another great thing about it. I recommend browsing the Project Life webpage for inspiration. I’ve been following the blog for awhile and I know they’ve specifically talked about using it for past photos.
And I’m glad you enjoy the posts, thank you for saying so! As long as someone does, I’ll keep posting them. :)
I enjoy reading your Project Life posts! I have thought about doing this for awhile, and bought some of the Design A pages in September. I also did 2 weeks on one spread, that seemed to work for the amount of photos I take. Unfortunately, I haven’t kept up with it very well–printing off the photos in a timely fashion is what trips me up. I also like Snapfish, but usually order just every once in awhile. I like the Walgreens idea, but our closest ones are 15 min. away, not sure if I would actually get there every week–but like you said, we make time for what is important to us. I sometimes print at home, but like you said, it gets expensive, and I like the coloring a little better from ordered prints. Anyhoo, I need to streamline my whole memory-keeping process to something I can keep up with, because ‘catching up’ at this stage in my life is pretty much impossible! :) And thanks for pointing me to Elise’s blog–I have followed it for several months now and I also enjoy her simple style!
Melanie, have you considered doing a digital version? If printing photos is the biggest problem for you it could be a good option. They have a digital version of Project Life on Shutterfly, and then you could just print it as a book at the end of each year. The downside is that you don’t get to work with the pretty papers and things, but the upside is that it’s very convenient and it might actually get done!
Thanks for posting this! You are the main reason I decided to try Project Life in 2013. I am probably going to start with Christmas since this is my daughter’s first Christmas celebration however. This was very helpful because I still feel overwhelmed with just getting started. I’m not very creative, so my PL spread will probably be pretty simple in the grand scheme of things. I enjoy your PL posts as well, so I hope you stick with them!
Yay, I’m so happy to hear that! Good idea about just starting now, too.
I also don’t consider myself creative. I like doing creative things, but they are never original. I have long since given up on that and mostly just copy the things I like. But I discovered that with scrapbooking I like a simpler style much better anyway. :)
From amy tangerine:
awesome! you are so sweet. and talented!
Thanks Amy! You just made my day. :)
I’ve really enjoyed your Project Life posts, and this one especially! I hadn’t heard of Project Life before, and your posts got me interested. I don’t think I have the patience to do an elaborate scrapbook, but this feels like something I could do. I am thinking of doing the Shutterfly version of Project Life online. Thanks for the links on more info, too!
From Sarah Johnson:
You convinced me to do Project Life in April! I may try the digital version next year and see how it goes! Thanks for all your tips and tricks- I’m going to look into the Momento thing. The hardest thing for me to do is collect enough “other” stuff (like receipts, ticket stubs, etc.) I forget to be looking for them. Going to try to pick up on that.
Yay, another convert! Let me know how it goes!
I am so inspired. I actually bought a binder and stamps several months ago to get started, but my craft room was so uninspiring that I never even made my first spread. BUT, I know I can do this, and I’m very excited about starting it for next year. Thanks for the encouragement!!
From Johanna @ These Prices:
You were my inspiration to start! My problem is often that I take TOO many photos. Working on some spreads from October and woo boy.
I just got some prints in from Persnickity and they are fab. A little spendy, but if I weren’t ordered 100s, it would be okay to do from time to time. They print 4×4, 3×4 AND they will round the corners for you, which is a time saver.
Thanks for the Snapfish app rec. I use Walgreen’s too, and my biggest hurdle is getting my pictures from my phone to my computer, so if I can just go phone to Walgreen’s, even better!