After first expressing some frustration with the standard weekly approach to Project Life and then embarking on a journey to try something different, I can now reflect on 18 months of experience.

There is a lot about Project Life + Library of Memories that’s working well and just as exciting for me, but there are also aspects that were surprising and even frustrating.

What's Working and What's Not with Project Life

In this post I’m using my 2013 album to explore the positive and negative attributes of my approach, reflecting on how it went over the course of last year and into 2014. The album is still a work-in-progress, in part because of some of the challenges I created for myself.

But before I share, somebody wanted to say hello and show off her ballerina pose. She was a great helper, making sure my photography flooring was laying flat.

Regardless of what’s working and what’s not, she loves looking through my albums as she says “These are my stories, Mommy!” Yes, it’s adorable and she never complains about the pockets still-unfilled.

My Helper Ballerina

As a refresher, Project Life is a solution-based line of products created by Becky Higgins that has become very popular among scrapbookers. The most common (but not the only) way  of using the products is to create a two-page spread for each week of the year, documenting daily life in chronological order.

Library of Memories is a system of organizing photos, layouts, and albums created by Stacy Julian and first popularized in her book Photo Freedom. At it’s most basic, the system uses categories instead of chronology to help you make sense of your scrapbooking (and your life).

My hypothesis was that the two can be combined by creating categorical divisions within one album that represents a specific period or time and/or topic. This was the approach I used for my daughter’s baby albums, my Before Your Story album, and my 2013  family scrapbook.

What's Working and What's Not with Project Life

I started 2013 by setting up my album with dividers and pocket pages in each section. The plan was to document little stories on the fly and print photos each month. These would then be divided up into their respective sections, creating a topical semi-chronology.

Surprise, surprise. It didn’t happen that way.

I ended up spending most of my scrapbooking time creating layouts. Some of this was dictated by professional responsibilities, but I was also having a lot of fun with it. I discovered doilies and began to really understand how I work best.

What's Working and What's Not with Project Life

Looking back I recognize that I really enjoyed the start-to-finish experience (and satisfaction) of a layout. In this video you’ll see what my 2013 album looks like right now, especially the number of layouts.

Scrapbooking a lot of traditional layouts isn’t a bad thing, but I found myself to be more driven by the creative process than purely by a story-first perspective. This left me feeling unbalanced about the experience and the end-result of my initial plan.

In hindsight I see that despite holding a strong value for the meaning of memory keeping, it’s still a creative, visually-stimulating activity for me. I mean, isn’t that the point of being a scrapbooker?

What's Working and What's Not with Project Life

I found it difficult to view an individual pocket or a 4×6 + 3×4 pocket pair as the layout, a finished piece. Despite saying (in public and on multiple occasions) that it didn’t bother me, it did.

Just like I want a regular page to have a visual harmony, I did with my pocket pages as well. Not being completely filled up (physically and psychologically) by a one-pocket-here, one-pocket-there approach drained my enthusiasm for Project Life and pocket pages.

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Additionally, I felt boxed-in (quite literally) by the self-imposed requirement to divide my smaller stories by category. Something didn’t feel quite right.

Instead of focusing simply on what was important to me, I ended up feeling guilty that I couldn’t fill up some sections as much as I did others. While I love the restriction this concept provides in a retrospective project (like Before Your Story), it’s far more challenging and even uncomfortable when scrapbooked “live”.

It turns out that narrowing down stories to a certain number of pockets feels a lot different than filling up pockets with an unknown number of stories. I know for certain this is why I’ve not shared in a long while, because nothing ever felt ready.

What's Working and What's Not with Project Life

The one exception to this uncomfortable feeling came when I used a pocket page to scrapbook Easter. When I treated the page like a layout, as a holistic project, I found flow and creative energy in my process.

Ding, ding, ding.

This realization came much later in the year and very much influenced how I decided to shift my approach for 2014. I feel like I’ve finally discovered a sweet spot for Project Life that fills me up and fits my life!

What's Working and What's Not with Project Life

My 18 months of experience with the Project Life + Library of Memories approach has included challenges, but the illumination of a clear path forward as I build my album library has made the rocky journey worth it. Here’s a summary of where I was at towards the end of last year:

What’s Working

  • Combining layouts and pocket pages in one album
  • Using category dividers within the album
  • Embracing a semi-chronological structure

What’s Not Working

  • Adding to pocket pages over time without creative consideration
  • Forcing a story hierarchy within each category

Overall there’s a lot of good that I strongly believe adds a huge layer of simplicity to Project Life. That said, the original plan for my approach was one of those almost-but-not-quite type of things. Interestingly, a lot of the feedback I received over the year echoed my own experiences.

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Project Life Week at Simple Scrapper continues tomorrow when I highlight some of the big decisions I made for 2014, with a peek into my album. Later in the week I’ll also share my action plan for finishing this album.

Is there an aspect of Project Life that’s not working for you? Share in the comments and we can talk it out.