What is the Purpose of Scrapbooking?

The purposes of keeping a scrapbook range from preserving memories to collecting souvenirs. This post explains why scrapbooking is popular

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So, Casey has a box of paraphernalia stowed away at her friend’s place back in her hometown, and in it are her old scrapbooks. Upon learning this, I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘Is there any point to scrapbooking beyond the fun of using glue & paper in art class?’

Scrapbooking is a creative means to accurately preserve the best parts of your life. As a hobby, it incorporates several fun aspects including collecting and organizing memorabilia, arts and crafts, and social interaction. As a documenting activity, it produces insightful history for future generations.

What is the Main Point of Scrapbooking?

Turns out, there’s much more to scrapbooking than I’d thought. The main point of compiling a scrapbook is to accurately contextualize your memorabilia for future generations. Think of it as YOUR journal or diary entries made for OTHERS.

Scrapbooking combines photos, captions, and souvenirs to create a meaningful historical narrative. In other words, if you’re not there to explain your photo album, others will still be able to figure out who’s who and what’s what.

The Secondary Purpose

There’s also another secondary purpose to scrapbooking. It lets you share memories in a creatively freeing way, along with a sense of community.

In terms of creative freedom, no other journaling or documenting pastime provides as much of an outlet as scrapbooking does. For example, at its peak in 2004, the scrapbooking industry was worth a whopping $2.5 billion US! Enthusiasts were hoarding up new stationery supplies until their neighborhood arts & crafts store went under.

In terms of community, whereas other analog projects are more solitary, scrapbooking is flexible in that it could either be an individual or a group endeavor.

A Condensed History of Scrapbooking

Scrapbooking established its ancestry way back in the 15th century. Let’s discuss its original intent, how it evolved, and its modernization.

Original Intent

My take on the origins of the scrapbook is that it started as a way for academics to manage and memorize useful information during the Renaissance (14th to 17th centuries). It was more for self-improvement rather than for self-expression.

Case in point: consider so-called “commonplace books” during that era. The earliest commonplace books were expensive, empty, bound volumes – more or less like today’s sketchbooks – that scholars and the nobility used for retaining “scraps” of knowledge in.

Such knowledge usually came from outside sources such as the Bible, the libraries, or other esteemed contemporaries.

Before the printing press, information was precious. If you came across an inspiring tidbit, you’d better have jotted it down right then and there.

How the Activity Evolved

At first, commonplace books were a privileged tool because books were darn expensive. Then, something earthshaking happened. Johannes Gutenberg developed and perfected the first mechanized printing press from 1440 to 1450.

The Gutenberg press was the internet of that time. It meant the proliferation of print. What would this mean for commonplace books?

What once was viewed as a scholarly status symbol quickly took on artsy undertones for the Middle-class household. As its availability further trickled down to the masses, the commonplace book became, well, quite commonplace by the end of the Renaissance.

The Gutenberg press was originally designed to mass-produce the Bible. Thus, once a European household got its copy, it became a sort of ancestral heirloom where dainty ladies would stuff poems, quotes, recipes, cards, and other sentimental items between its ornate covers.

In a matter of decades, scrapbooking went from an obscured infancy to becoming the unmistakable predecessor of a hobby millions still enjoy today.

The Modern Scrapbook

The modern scrapbook began taking shape in the 1800s. It was in this century that the term “scrap booking” – first as a noun then as a verb – was coined due to its popularity.

Printed materials galore! Commonplace books were now replaced by their heir – “friendship albums”. These were also blank-paged books that ladies would fill with handwritten entries, sketches, artwork, and printed collectibles.

The most significant development during this period would be the socialization of scrapbooking. In a gist, Victorian women would exchange calling cards, which were essentially invitations to social events. Since such cards were often beautiful prints, these classy ladies loved to showcase them as a status symbol in friendship albums.

Mark Twain designed the first patented (read, money-making) scrapbook in 1872. Its crowning feature was the adhesive grid pattern, which only needed to be slightly wetted to stick stuff on.

The Final Piece: Photography

Once photography took the world by storm, that was it. Scrapbooking reached a pinnacle and wouldn’t fundamentally change all that much. The only way to enhance a scrapbook at this point was to add flair.

The bones to this fully-developed hobby were at last set in place, ready to be fused together.

What Else Can a Scrapbook Be Used For?

Stress Relief

Scrapbooking is a potent stress reliever. How so? As an “anything goes” activity, you can shut down the analytical side of your brain and go with the flow of your feelings to design something entirely personal. There are few – if any – pain points to scrapbooking.

Also, the tactile delight of working with stationery, embellishments, old photos, and other crafting materials is soothing for all of us, regardless of our age.

Relationship Building

When it’s a group endeavor, scrapbooking fosters more than communication. It builds common ground. Actually, a major reason why scrapbooking became so popular in the 90s and 2000s was the incredibly close-knit communities it forged.

Parents could especially use scrapbooking as a non-abrasive means to teach their kids valuable social skills. More importantly, it’s a fun, easy way to bring the family together without resorting to screen time.

Delaying Cognitive Decline

Scrapbooking can delay cognitive decline because it stimulates a process called neuroplasticity, in which the brain rewires itself by creating new neural pathways or reorganizing old ones. Some senior care facilities even encourage residents to scrapbook using their old photos and other memorabilia. This not only anchors them emotionally but also fights the debilitating effects of dementia.

Preserving Accurate Memories

Memories are a gift that can arouse pleasant feelings of nostalgia. That said, the mysterious organ between our ears tends to distort even the clearest memories over time. Encapsulating such memories permanently in a scrapbook can safeguard these accurately for generations.

Keeping your memories in a scrapbook lets you contextualize them better than a regular photo album would. For instance, in addition to writing captions to your photos, you could also include the following:

  • sentimental gifts, such as letters, cards, drawings, or other handicrafts
  • souvenirs from trips
  • event invitations, tickets, or related memorabilia
  • timelines of trips or events (i.e. by pasting in a map or program guide)

Finding Joy and Satisfaction

I know it’s cliché, but analog crafts can bring us joy and satisfaction. For instance, keeping a personal journal definitely builds self-worth and improves overall wellbeing. But because the scrapbooker works on a project with the intent to GIVE – to share a personal narrative with others – the gratification from this hobby arguably runs deeper.

Even if nobody ends up flipping through your scrapbook, it’s still a wonderful way to gain satisfaction through self-expression. Casey’s best friend doesn’t have an audience for her scrapbook. However, it’s gorgeous, with watercolor paintings meshed between the many souvenirs from her travels.


By absorbing yourself in scrapbooking, you’re thoughtfully contemplating the past, the present, as well as the future in light of personal experiences. This serious reflection is a purposeful, wholesome form of meditation. For example, musing over past photos could stir within you a renewed appreciation for the good that life has bestowed upon you.

In certain cases, the meditative aspect of scrapbooking has even lifted people out of grief. Reflecting on prior accomplishments, milestones, or good times helps the bereaved by replacing their negative thoughts with more balanced ones.

Should You Do It?

A scrapbook fuses art and function to create fascinating storytelling. Everything inside it could potentially carry sentimental weight. Also, as a preservation tool, it’s more faithful than a regular photo album. There’s no doubt this hobby is fun and fulfilling.

Still, if you’re wondering whether scrapbooking is right for you, consider the following questions:

  • Have I accumulated lots of photos from past events in my life?
  • Do I enjoy working with stationery, handicrafts, and embellishments?
  • Do I tend to collect knick-knacks, souvenirs, or other memorabilia?
  • Am I a sentimental person who cherishes good memories?
  • Am I willing – or even eager – to share my personal timeline with others?

If you answered “yes” to more than a couple of the above questions, scrapbooking may be for you. If everything on the list is a solid affirmative, you might be the next official scrapbooking ambassador.

Beautiful Scrapbooks From Around the Web

Since a scrapbook should be highly personal, there’s no point comparing one with another. However, there are plenty of inspirational examples out there that may become the catalyst for making your own. Consider these awesome selections:

“Flipping Out”

What a creative way to combine extensive diary entries with the love of photography. I’m a big fan of the black-and-white scheme. The clean gridded layout devoid of heavy embellishments is also aesthetically pleasing. Credit: kerribradford.com

Embellishments? Yes, Please!

Aleksandra used the scrapbooking method to create this enticing layered spread. Notice the intricate techniques she used to prepare her embellishments. Also, notice the visual coherence. This is a great example of how a trained eye can really enhance a project! Credit: @calligraphysasha

The Modern Commonplace Book

The keeper of this beautiful volume, Nik, owns The Booksmith Shop on Etsy; and she rightly adores Old-world charm. The layout for this particular spread isn’t complicated yet reveals tasteful planning. I love that she decided to contrast “recent” souvenirs against the distressed pages underneath. Credit @nik.thebooksmith


The Soothing Benefits of Scrapbooking – healthywomen.org

The Fascinating History of Scrapbooking – www.scrapbook.com

The History of Scrapbooks – library.csun.edu

Scrapbooking Therapy Helping Loved Ones Cope With Grief – apnews.com

Leo Cai

Leo Cai

Leo Cai, the one solely responsible for the inception of this Mickey Mouse operation, has at least garnered the acceptance of Casey Cai - his wife. He used to view himself as an avid writer back in high school, with grandiose dreams of making a living using words. That never culminated because, as he himself puts it, "It's more practical to stock bakery shelves while striving to become a professional photographer".

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About Us

We’re Leo & Casey Cai, and Journaling Diaries is our outlet for sharing what we’re learning from the lightweight, nearly disaster-proof hobby of journaling. So far, we’ve found that journaling isn’t merely a shameful tool for hard times or a poor memory. It’s enriching & fun. Whatever, whichever, however – as long as it involves journaling – we’ll be covering it all here. Thanks for stopping by!

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