Reader Mail: I Never Finish

by | Productivity Advice | 28 comments

Last week I receive a piece of reader email that I know could have been written by many of you. You’re stuck, for one reason or another (or many). Here is what reader Tammy had to say:

I just read your article, The Low Inspiration Diet, and I actually had already starting doing that. I only discovered Pinterest about a month ago and contrary to what they say to do, I pin everything I love. I’m also helping to plan my daughter’s outdoor wedding for July 2013 and though it’s still over a year to go I have to start getting ideas now to make it special for her. More than anything else I would love to sit and do scrap pages/books and make cards all day long. Unfortunately I have to work and have very little “me” time.

I have two main problems besides not having time.

I am not one of those creative kinds that can throw something together and love it. I am an analytical person trying to be creative. I critique every step of doing a project. I fight with myself to not worry if I have a 8×10 framed print on the wall that I have to match it with another of the same size. It’s never good enough. I see the edge that isn’t straight, or the embellishment that is a little crooked. I am getting better but I still critique so much that I am spending too much time and not getting done, which in turn discourages me so that I never finish.

Which leads me to my next problem of all these projects that I haven’t finished and a million more I want to do. Your article has helped me some, like I need to just stay away from Pinterest and the Internet for a while! There is too much out there that I love and want to do. I need serious help in starting and finishing a project.

Part of the problem [is that I have trouble getting organized]. My husband made me a wonderful craft room. It is a huge 20×20 room upstairs which doesn’t have all the storage in it yet but I have found ways for now of storing my supplies in pretty boxes, labeled. I have a couple tables, desk, filing cabinet but I have so much that I can’t really get as organized as I want to be. I want to be able to have everything I need right there. Within a couple weeks we should have everything painted and furniture moved in. At that time I would like to be able to re-organize and make it more conducive to do my scrapping. Do you have some suggestion on the organization? What should be readily available? How [do I] best to sort the materials?

I know as far as the time issue, I just have to make more time for myself. I think having and wanting to do so much prevents me from wanting to make that time. I’d rather sit back and complain that I don’t have any. Hey, I hope you are part shrink! Sounds like that is what I need! I appreciate any help. I’m sure I’m not alone is some of these issues.

Our team leader and contributing writer Jean Manis shares some of this reader’s challenges, so I asked her to offer Tammy some thoughts. I totally concur with Jean’s recommendations to use an analytical nature to your advantage to create systems and routines that help you finish pages!

Her Response:

As a “recovering” perfectionist, who is also analytical, I can relate to your critique of your in-process projects. For years, the fear of making a mistake held me back from starting scrapbook pages and a countless other projects. I hear the two problems related to your creative efforts as a) being too caught up in the details to finish the projects and b) having a long list of projects you’ve either started and not finished or those you’ve never started.

Let’s take a step back and ask, what goals do you have for your scrapbooking and cardmaking?

When you look at the bigger picture, perhaps some of the other pieces will fall into place. Is your goal to create a page or card you’re 100% pleased with, to create an album that will serve a goal of memory keeping for you and your family, or to become competent with specific techniques? It’s difficult for anyone, and especially someone battling perfectionism, to accomplish all three of those goals in any one layout or card.

By knowing what you want from your crafting and being as specific as possible with your next steps, you will eventually become a more confident crafter who looks forward to new projects.

It’s also important to remember that the finished projects you see online are just that–“finished.” What you don’t see are the mistakes that those crafters may have made in the process. Perfectionist, non-perfectionist, analytical or creative, none of us are “perfect.” In fact, some of the greatest discoveries have been made with mistakes. We have to be who we are and try not to get caught up with comparing ourselves to people’s whose work we may see online.

Between your job and the planning for your daughter’s upcoming wedding, you have a lot of balls to juggle. I suggest making a list of a few layouts or cards you’d like to make in the next several months, being as specific as possible with your goals in order to combat overwhelm. Once you’ve accomplished those, you’ll be encouraged to start and finish more. This is where your analytical skills can shine.

Let’s say you want to create a layout about a specific memory from your daughter’s childhood. With that goal in mind, begin to list the steps needed such as: gather photos, write journaling, brainstorm color and embellishment scheme, etc. Each day you could work on one aspect of the layout so that by the time you’re working on the assembly, all the pieces are ready. Having a “road map” makes the process all that much easier.

The second half of your letter talked about the organization of your craft room. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the numerous storage choices on the market. Before you invest a lot of money on storage products, I suggest grouping your supplies by categories such as embellishments, alphabets, cardstock, ribbon, tools, etc. Within those groupings, you may want to have sub-categories, such as cardstock organized by solid and patterned.

Editor’s Note: We’ve got a free scrapbook organizing training coming up on March 27.

For me, the tools are the items that I have “at hand.” I don’t have a dedicated craft space. I do my paper crafting at my kitchen/dining room table. I keep scissors, mat knife, ruler, cutting mat, and adhesives in a drawer unit that’s one step away from the end of the table. I could just as easily keep the loose tools in a caddy/tote unit that I put out on the table as I crafted, but for now the drawer unit works.

As you begin to craft more regularly in your space, you’ll tweak the organization you initially set up. I’ve found that I have to give something a try and then make changes as I use it.

Now it’s your turn. What advice do you have for Tammy?

Did you find this post helpful?

We believe simple is not how your page looks, but how your scrapbooking hobby works. We have a free workshop called SPARKED and it is the best way to learn more about Simple Scrapper and start creating consistently.


  1. abby

    As Ann LaMont would say accomplish it “Bird by Bird”…..Good luck.

  2. Victoria Martin


  3. Georgia

    If she hadn’t mentioned the wedding planning, I would have thought I wrote this letter, hit my head and forgot I wrote it. I struggle with wanting each layout to be perfect, but I also want my 30+ years of photos to be done. I am slowly learning to simplify my layouts. They still have to meet a certain standard or quality or I am not ultimately happy with them. But I can be happy with a well done simple layout, and move on. I am not as fast as I would like but I have made progress. I tell myself that after that wonderous day when I catch up, I can make my layouts as intricate as I want.

    • Jean Manis

      Great insight into what’s working for you, Georgia!

      • Linda Walton aka bobbysgirlforever

        LOL! Georgia, reading your comment could very well have been penned by my own hand!

        I, too, have 30+ years of photos to scrap.

        Being a digital scrapbooker, I’ve finally convinced myself to stop thinking like a 20 or 30-year-old scrapper who has had the advantage of digitally photographing my family from day one! I must move forward with getting my children’s stories recorded in a simple, productive manner post scanning and any necessary restoration 🙂

        I concur with you Georgia! Get caught up and then I can kick back a little and let my detailed self on the loose again 😉

  4. Jenny Reid

    Tammy, you have voiced & penned ME to a T. Like Victoria commented you have written my own thoughts. So we are not alone. I am retired and have all this time to do as I please BUT cannot get focused on a single layout, so I attend for classes and have more unfinished layouts. So I will take Jean’s advice and have a goal, albeit a small daughters recent marriage guest book, I start today.

    • Jean Manis

      Every step, no matter what size, counts, Jenny! Congrats on making that step.

  5. Henweigh

    A few years ago, I realized that I was so caught up in discovering new tools and techniques that I was more about collecting the toys than actually ‘doing’. I made a promise to myself that I couldn’t buy any more ‘stuff’ until I finished what I had already going.
    As part of that, I pulled out all of the various projects that I had started and actually got rid of several of them. It was a wakeup call to me to see all of my unfinished projects.
    Since then, I have made a concerted effort to finish what I had going or get rid of it if I no longer am excited about it. Releasing these old projects that have turned into baggage is a big weight off of me, and has allowed me to move forward a little wiser, too.

    • Jean Manis

      Hooray for “releasing” those projects that felt like baggage – that’s a huge step forward!

  6. Amy

    Swap the wedding for my daughter’s high school graduation in 2 1/2 months and you have me. I realized while reading this article, I have NOT done the graduation album I SWORE I would have done for her big day. I have a Every short period of time to do what I had committed to do a year ago, and let’s be brutally honest, had 18 years to find time to work on!
    If that’s not a big wake up call to me, and a strong urging to Tammy, I don’t know what will help.
    Does this go beyond bothering any of you to the point of scaring? Seriously, I don’t know what holds me back. I love to scrapbook, yet I avoid it with every excuse imaginable like it’s exercise or something! I heard the fear in Tammy’s letter that I feel. It is a BAD feeling to never feel “finished” and continually pick apart your own creation.
    I think I am in need of a 12 step scrap program!
    Keep the advice coming. I’m listening. Thanks Tammy for reaching out to get the help we all need. You are so not alone.

    • Jean Manis

      What’s one step forward you could make on the album? What are some of the components of the album you want to include?

      I had thought that I wanted to make scrapbook albums for my sons to highlight/showcase their school years, but when I started on the task of sorting photos, essays, drawings, worksheets…I realized that a 3-ring album with page protectors, in which to house the most significant and meaningful school work along with class photos, was enough for both me and my sons.

      This approach freed me up to scrap individual moments, not necessarily school-related, of my sons without having that school album hanging over my head.

      What about beginning with a sort of photos from K-12 that could go into an album?

      • Amy

        I decided to take a step forward. Right now. I am going in and starting a page from the stuff I most recently bought. I am going to walk in there and assemble. From there, I don’t know! Lol
        I think k-12 is out. It’s just too late. I may have to concentrate on high school highlights with some bonuses.

        • Jean Manis

          Hooray, Amy! Sounds like you have a plan and have carved out a piece that feels manageable for you. High school graduation is a very special time (just became an empty nester this past fall with both sons in college). Embrace it and enjoy it!

    • Tammy McCullars

      Wow Amy, you must be my doppleganger. I feel the same as you. But we are getting some great advice here and I’m listening as well. Besides my Smash books, I’m not doing anything else until I get my craft room organized THEN I’ll work on current events with my grandchildren and work backward. As for my cards, I’ve already let holidays go by but I have a ton of Christmas materials so I’ll take the time to make one or two Christmas cards as I can and then by December I’ll be ready! Keep scrapin’!

  7. Tammy McCullars

    I am so glad to know I’m not going through this alone. Victoria, I am sobbing with you, it is an awesome article! Thank you all for the kind words. As if I don’t have enough to do, I have a blog that I started in February and didn’t tell anyone, so I don’t have followers! It was a way for me to get everything out that I want to say, like a therapy. One of my posts is called I am a Scrapbooker, not a collector of scrapbook supplies. But I am like Hemweigh in that I can’t resist buying the newest thing or learning the newest technique. It all looks so easy to do when I’m with an instructor or watching a video, but when I do it myself, that perfection thing pops in. After reading the great reply from Jennifer and Jean, I know what I have to do and I am going to do it. I have spread myself too thin. I will put away my sewing/quilting that I again, collect supplies but don’t do. Jenny like you, I will concentrate on setting my goals-long term then short term. I am very lucky to have a room to craft in, half the battle is not having to put it away from the dining room table. I will take the opportunity to reorganize the craft room and take Jean’s suggestions for having the right tools at the ready. Georgia, we have to give ourselves a break and don’t worry about it not being perfect. Now I have to make sure I reread this on Saturday when I can steal the time to start on it!

    • Jean Manis

      Tammy – hooray for recognizing that you need to give yourself a break. Perfectionism is such an energy zapper, isn’t it?!

  8. Victoria Martin

    Oh Amy I know the High School feeling. Back “in the day” There was a themed album, Hope album. It was all your hopes and dreams for someone. Well I did the same thing going to do this for my daughter. She graduated high school in 2007. But I started the album in like 2005. Seriousle worked on it and I did give it to her for Graduation but it took some time. My oldest got married in 2003 got everything for the wedding album. My grandson was born. She is now divorced and re married.. I never made the album.. Good thing huh??? I regretfully informed her that I still had the pictures. She was so pretty!!! There are lots of us behind, don’t care, one day, when I retire scrapbookers. I figure one day I wil be caught up. But right now I am caught up in not doing it…I challenged myself to in not to buy “stuff” It did actually work for like 6months.. That darn Tim Holtz made me do it..:\ Oh I am going to do a 365 Project Life album to. I actually started in March this year.. Just bought page protectors last Saturday. Not to get ink to print a picture…Maybe in 730 days I will be finished with the 365 day album.. 🙂 Thanks to all.. I love reading..

    • Amy

      Tim Holtz gets me every time too! It does make me feel better to know others are like me. I try to accept that I really enjoy collecting the stuff too. Why else do I buy it all? Oh, and me too – caught up to not doing it. Ugh.

      • Amy

        Couldn’t find the pictures I had printed for this album. What a nightmare.

  9. Kay Flannery

    Wow! All I can say is ME TOO! I am retired like someone else’s comments, but still struggle with getting much done. I made a resolution this year to complete one page per day and to spend at least 30 minutes purging and decluttering my stash. It worked fine for about a week, but then life got in the way. This article and comments has spurred me on to getting back on track. I am slowly trying to become a digi-scrapper, but I feel I need to use up or get rid of most of the supplies I’ve accumulated. I too have stayed away from Hobby Lobby, etc and am rarely buying digi-supplies.
    Or at least I’m trying… nice to know I’m not alone in this!

    • Jean

      What about getting back on the purging/decluttering for a smaller amount of time? Maybe somewhere from 5-15 minutes? I think you’ll be surprised to find that you can get more done than you think in a smaller amount of time. Whenever I’m trying to form a new habit, I try to start with something I can happily maintain. I recently needed to start walking our golden for a second walk a day (for her weight loss). Initially I started out walking her the same length of time of her morning walk (30-40 minutes). After a week, I really wasn’t that into it – but then I decided to take a different path, one that is no longer than 15-20 minutes, and it’s sustainable. As for products, I know that I feel most connected to projects where I love the products I’m using.

  10. Cecilia

    It’s so good to read all the comments. I can relate to a lot of them.
    I love to scrapbook but often feel frustrated that I’m never caught up. I’m anal about staying in chronologocal order, but would love to scrapbook current pictures. I work FT, and have a teenager & a college age son. I’ve learned not to stress over my pages & worry about the amount of pages I’m getting done. Instead I focus on the quality and the creative- aspect of scrapbooking.

    • Jean Manis

      Sounds like a great approach – focusing on the quality and creative aspect. I “was” focused on working chronological, but instead assembled photo albums (with some journaling cards) working backwards of key events and photos from the years. I wanted to have our photos from the time my oldest was born in albums, and by starting with the present and then working back a year at a time, I got there.

  11. Tammy McCullars

    OMgosh, I too am so anal about staying in chronological order. I love everyone’s comments and ideas but especially that I’m not alone in all this. I love the idea of working backwards. By keeping up with the key events now (5 grandchildren from 11 mos to 8yrs) and then work backwards as I have the time to do it would stop me from being even further behind. I did a scrapbook for my daughter and gave it to her at her graduation years ago. Now that she is getting married, I went out and got each of us SMASH books because these are something we can do together as we’re shopping for wedding things. We jot down who is with us, what we’re feeling, put in color cards from the paint section of the colors she wants in her wedding, pictures of her trying on dresses, etc. These are quick and fun, easy to carry with you and will ultimately be her wedding scrapbooks. It is fun to compare what each of us are thinking on that day too. And it will give me memories that I can look back on. It doesn’t do anything for my unfinished projects but I’m working on that thanks to the great advice from Jennifer, Jean and the rest of you!

    • Jean Manis

      The Smash book idea sounds like a terrific way to capture those details throughout the process!

  12. SueTR

    Hi Tammy
    Just pick one thing and start.
    It is easier said than done but just start one small thing, and finish it.

    Then pick another
    and after that,

    If you just start with one small thing, the momentum will build and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish!

    • Tammy

      I keep saying it’s as easy as doing just that. I have to organize myself first and then hopefully it will all fall into place. I need to stop looking for the flaws and make myself believe that it’s what I want it to be and it doesn’t have to be perfect. I have to make it a habit of sitting down and doing. It’s something I do for me and it’s a stress reliever. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

  13. Kari

    I can relate to a lot of what all of you are saying. I find that I like designing pages, but actually cutting and gluing them is not so fun. I used to find myself with 3 or 4 (or more!) pages designed but not put together–yuk!. Now I make it a “rule” that I can’t do the fun stuff (start designing a new page) until I finish the page I’m working on. Now pages get done, not just designed.

    I also use rewards to help me get past fussing about whether I can make the page better: if I finish all the photos from the summer I get to buy that punch I have my eye on. This sort of self imposed rule helps me get things done and cuts down on how much new stuff I buy. At first I wasn’t going to buy anything new until I started running out of things, but I realized that wasn’t realistic. So now I use buying new things to encourage myself to finish projects.

    I’m also consciously studying simple pages and realizing that each page doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. My purpose is to record memories; having fun with paper is just a side benefit. 🙂



  1. Preserving “K-12” School Work Memorabilia: Part One - Simple Scrapper - [...] a reader asked for some help on handling her unfinished projects and conquering her overwhelm. Many of the responses…

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