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

by | Projects & Processes | 18 comments

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.


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.


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.

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. Gina

    Thanks for sharing this Jennifer. It’s so interesting to hear how everyone adapts project life and the pocketed pages. I was so against it at first because I thought that it had to be sort of the project 365 with documenting every single day/weekly spread but once I realized it doesn’t have any rules (just like the rest of scrapbooking) I’d like to give it a try – sort of combining the traditional photo albums with more pretty stuff and documenting what’s going on. I’m using it for a recent big family trip and combining pockets with 12×12 layouts and love it.
    I love to hear your ideas on scrapbooking because like you, I am more left brained than right and used to feel like so many of the scrapbookers who are on design teams or publish their work are so much more “artsy” than me but I’m realizing that artsy/creative doesn’t have to just be those right brainers. It’s refreshing to see other methods. So, I have to say, I’m surprised that you’re doing your project life this way. I can’t seem to get my head around dividing albums into categories and not doing them chronologically but maybe you’ve got them chronological within the categories? I thought it was my left brain tendencies to have things in more of an order. I love your layouts and do love in particular the categories and layouts in “all about us and “the things we do”. I feel like the pocketed pages wouldn’t be cohesive enough for me – too many sort of disjointed mini layouts and not photos and cards that go together. I look forward to reading more this week & getting ideas from your experience!

    • Jennifer Wilson

      Thanks Gina. This approach is definitely a compromise for my left brain. If I tried to keep everything chronological I would struggle too much with perfectionism and feeling behind. But if I didn’t have an album for this year, I would have trouble seeing my present-day progress. One of the things you’ll see for 2014 is how I’m balancing the need to have events in order while feelings-focused stories can live on their own.

      In terms of doing “artsy” work, what’s most important is figuring out the style that makes you happy. That’s one of the reasons why I always say that simple scrapbooking doesn’t necessarily mean “clean and simple”. While I do some fairly graphic work (especially as you’ll see for 2014), simple is whatever fills you up AND fits your life.

  2. Kay

    You took my comments right out of my fingers on the keyboard! I feel exactly the same as you about chronological scrapbooking and your comments about “artsy” scrapbookers (I’m not one of them, thus must be left-brained”!)
    I, too, can’t get my head around the categories being non-chronological.

    When my grandchildren were little, I loved doing the chronological/pocket pages, as well as looking back over what life was like that year. With my grandchildren getting older, my emphasis has changed to making them each a “school scrapbook” with not only school stuff about each year, but also other events (like dance, football, recitals, band). I’m doing them digitally using templates from Cathy Zielske.

    My other scrapbooking projects are traditional, but I’m considering making some of the layouts with pocket pages, now that I’ve read Jennifer’s and your comments.

    • Jennifer Wilson

      Kay, you’ve highlighted something really important… that flexibility is needed as life changes. What makes 110% perfect sense right now may not make sense later. The “right” approach for you will be a unique combination of pieces, focused on how your brain works and what feels good.

  3. Gina

    Me again – I wanted to say that I love that you said “what makes 110% perfect sense right now may not make sense later” is so right on. So frequently I don’t start a project because I don’t have it just right – just the right album, just the right paper, just the right photo etc. I try to not let this hold me back and just do what works for right now and be willing to change as needed! thank you!

    • Jennifer Wilson

      What’s helped me with that Gina has been looking back at projects a year or more later. The things I agonized about at the time – often the products – are totally not what I pay attention to or really care about.

  4. Ami Pilon

    This is such a great discussion already. I have been a PL scrapper for going on five years now and each album is so different from the one before. I didn’t realize until I sat down the other day in prep for this week and looked through each of them in order. I started with the picture and journal card each day the first year and then things started to change after that.
    Now my pages tend to be more a whole design with full layouts added where ever I create them. They are still chronological but not in a strict way more in that I try to do something to represent each month. I have to admit that some months are a struggle and I am hoping for a bit more insight this week. Over all though I like the artistic and visual simplicity that I am seeing in the latest pages.

  5. Mary Livingston

    As I read this I realized that my struggle with some of these questions in my scrapbooking is related to a struggle I have regularly when it comes to organization–do I start with the category and then list the things, or do I first list the things to determine the category? My natural instinct is typically to always start with a category, which is why LOM first grabbed me. But in practice I end up struggling with the things that seemingly don’t belong. I’m not sure I have told this story before but I actually started subscribing to Simple Scrapper after Jennifer mentioned this system–LOM categories within chronological/annual albums–on an episode of PRT. I was driving and listening, and when she said this my mouth dropped open and I desperately sought to replay that bit immediately even though obviously I shouldn’t have been fiddling with my podcasts! It really struck a nerve with me so I know my answers are some where in all of this. Looking forward to this week!

    • Jennifer Wilson

      I’m so glad my ideas resonate with you Mary – and that you didn’t run off the road! Let me know if I can ever help.

  6. Karen Freeman

    I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s comments and learning from what Jennifer and others have done. I have a lovely collection of PL cards and have used some on layouts, thanks to Jennifer and others. But I have not taken the big leap into actually starting and I’m not sure why? Looking forward to hearing and reading more. Thanks for sharing everyone.

    • Jennifer Wilson

      Thanks for commenting Karen. I want to encourage you to make a list of the first three steps you need to take towards getting started. Make them baby steps that are doable. Then do them!

  7. Elizabeth Holmes

    Really interesting and insightful post. Thanks for sharing. I did Project Life in 2011 in print and managed to document about 2/3 of the year using the traditional 2 page spread for each week and occasionally adding a 6×12 insert if I needed more space. I did the same in 2012 but did everything digitally. I missed adding actually paper ephemera from everyday life, but it was much easier to get pages done because I could (had to) approach them as a whole and there was so much less mess of paper and products. I got all but 5 weeks done that year. Then in 2013 I just took a break. The problem was I was feeling stressed and harassed by the feeling that I had to document each and every week in order right after the events happened. And feeling like I had to photograph every single event was marring my enjoyment of the events! Then this year I thought I would try just doing Project Lige digitally again, but using a month at a time approach and letting myself have as few or as many pages for each month as I liked. Well, I did two pages for January and I’ve totally abandoned it by choice. The main two reasons: 1.) I like the creative process of making a stand along layout –choosing new papers and color schemes etc.. I was feeling limited by the Project Life digital kits I have and the feeling that each month had to coordinate. I was and am getting bored with pockets and with seeing so many pocket pages that don’t have any cohesive whole to them visually. 2.) While I like arranging my albums chronologically I don’t particularly like creating the layouts chronologically. I like to tell the story of an event or scrap a favorite photo when I feel like it. That might be the same day — or two years later. Project Life just wasn’t working this way for me. I have chronologically arranged albumns and also one for layouts that span different times or are theme based. So, just my two cents. I’m loving the freedom to make full page layouts telling whatever stories I feel like and not being tied to the present timeline.

    • Jennifer Wilson

      So awesome that you’ve tried various approaches and settled on what does and doesn’t work for you!

  8. kybarb

    So interesting Jennifer! Since taking your Art+Science Scrapbooking & Me Before You classes I have been working on figuring out how to adapt pocket page scrapbooking that will work for me. I’m using Snap 6×8 albums and finally decided that not all the different pocket pages work for me. I’m going to try just using 6×8, 2 up 4×6, & the 2 up 4×4 pages. I can’t seem to wrap my brain around printing smaller photos for the 3×4 pockets. Especially since I’m mostly working with old photos that are unusual sizes. i enjoy making “layouts” for the 6×8 pages. I divided my MBY album into 2 books according to chronological order and where I have lived–the 2nd book is for anything that has happened since I moved to the house I’m living in now. Whenever I have time to work on scrapbooks I can work on new or old photos and put the story into whichever book it fits in chronologically. Library of memories has never worked well for me with my digital libraries of photos and I am still struggling with ways to organize them.

    • Jennifer Wilson

      For the 3×4 pockets, the key is to think of that size as a rectangle that you (digitally) crop from any size of image – rather than trying to fit the odd size on to that canvas.

  9. Dani

    I haven’t read this serie of post about PL before and I really love I have came across. This one in particular because I’m dying to make my own PL album for years and I always felt overwhelmed by the idea of weekly memories being scrapped and so, I thought it was too much. Then I watched BH’s workshop and sometimes clicked – I could try it and I could even adapt it as I like it. Then I joined a facebook group of PLers and well I had a very hard time to find my way because I felt so blocked by the pocket design, I feel that I just can’t create a page by filling pockets and the group is of a great support because they gave some inspiration of people who does in another design and it worked for me. However I still fell that will to try the cards because I love them! So I’ll carefully read all your ideas because I want to decide what I am doing in 2015.

    Now I have a question. That full page with Grandpa title is inserted in pockets? Because it seems to be a full page but the proctect plastic seems to be divided, I’m just wondering.

    Thanks for your support.

  10. Danielle

    Wow! Thank you so much for the idea to use 3-hole dividers to separate events! I would have never thought to do that, but I love to use dividers so that I can easily find things! Thank you! I am a scrapbooker who uses the PL cards along with other embellishments some of my layouts, and I do both chronological and categorical scrapbooking.

  11. Amanda Maddox

    I tried the week-by-week approach, but found out very quickly that it wasn’t for me! So this year, I decided to use ONLY the PL app – and document what I wanted, when I wanted. Most pages are centered around a main event. But I also had all of these random photos that I wanted to include, but they just didn’t “flow”. So, at the end of each month, I have a few pages that are titled: “A Few Photos From (ex.) January”. There’s little to no journaling. I’ve found that approach helps to make sure those favorites are included without screwing up my layouts! I love it and will continue to use this approach in 2017.



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