Why You Should Stop Feeling Guilty about Unfinished Projects (and What to Do Instead)

by | Projects & Processes | 13 comments

While pregnant I purchased the One Line a Day journal to begin upon my daughter’s birth. Tucked neatly into my hospital bag, I knew this was a memory keeping project I would be able to complete.

Today it has roughly 20 entries, most between January and May of 2012. She was born in August of the previous year.

For a long time I felt so guilty that I had failed at this simple project. “Was I really so busy that I couldn’t muster to write down one sentence in a 24 hour period?” I asked myself, just one iteration of the mental flogging that continued for an entire year.

Right after my daughter’s first birthday, I sat down to look at her scrapbook. It wasn’t by any means finished, but I had dozens of photos already tucked into pocket pages and scrapbooked on layouts plus more than a thousand on my computer.

Amidst all the guilt about what I wasn’t doing, I had forgotten to recognize that I was still moving forward. I was sneaking in creative time when I could and documenting our lives the best that I could.

It was then that I realized my guilt was only serving to hold me back from celebrating that every photo I take and every story I capture totally and 100% counts. I discovered that unfinished projects are a symbol of progress, not of imperfection.

I learned to give myself permission to be right where I am and even more importantly, to let my hobby reflect who I am: a work-in-progress.

I put the journal in a drawer, knowing that anything I had documented was awesome and that I could continue filling it in the future, when the time was right.

I actually had forgotten about it until I was unpacking my office. The journal is now on my nightstand, part of new practices I’m cultivating to simplify scrapbooking and everyday life.

How to Approach Your Unfinished Projects

We all have unfinished projects and there’s no one best way to deal with them. The best way for you, however, will be a combination of guilt-relieving approaches that feel joyful and help you move towards accomplishment. Here’s my recommended process:

1. Give yourself permission to be right where you are.

When you begin with an acceptance of the past, you can move forward with more ease and less resistance. Remember that you’re not behind, you are where you are – and it’s OK. (Thanks FLYLady!) You have permission to start right here.

2. Take a good, honest look at the situation.

Create an inventory of not only what is unfinished, but what you have finished in the recent past. By focusing on the victories you can celebrate as well as what’s still to do, you’ll trigger a sense of pride that can shift you from inspiration to action.

3. Decide what obligations can finally be released.

Sometimes the fastest way to eliminate unfinished project guilt is to simply let go. This can look a lot of different ways, but it all comes back to making a decision that this project should be scrapped for parts or abandoned all together. It’s OK if you and if you don’t.

4. Commit to tackling just one single project.

Multi-tasking in scrapbooking doesn’t work any better than it does elsewhere. You can only work on one thing at a time, literally. Create a simple list of one single item. Break it down in steps of you need to, but use a singular focus to carry you to the finish.

5. Look for opportunities to streamline and simplify. 

When you’re in it with a project, not just thinking about it, you can begin to see the challenges. Often the roadblock that stopped your original progress becomes clear and you can forge a new path ahead. Stay mindful to signals that a course correction is needed.

6. Repeat steps 1-5. 

The only path to finishing is through. As you do the “work”, you’ll remember why you started each project and the parts of memory keeping that fill you up the most.

Finishing one project will create momentum to work on something else or finish yet another. This is not a race; this is your beautiful, messy, and unfinished life.

In the comments below, I’d like to invite you to share a list of 3 finished and 3 unfinished projects.

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. Carlajinar

    My wedding album…after our 25th anniversary
    My youngest son first year album
    3vacation albums

    My inlaws 50th anniversary tribute album…needs pics from the party and a few other loose ends
    2 more vacation albums…partly completed
    My oldest son first year album…not even started and he is 20 lol

  2. Gab

    Great post Jennifer.
    Hmm, 3 unfinished projects …
    1. the mini album I have on the improvements we made to our home
    2. the Europe 2010 album
    3. my son’s school album – and he’s now in 7th grade!

  3. Elina

    Finished projects:
    Our past Christmases (2008-2012)
    Christmas 2014 (just today!)
    January the scrapbooking month (my own project to kick start the year)

    Unfinished projects:
    Hospital album 2013 (I’m starting this all over again with only pics, no journaling)
    Our unlucky cruise album 2014 (just got the pics, now it’s time to scrap)
    A day in the life (been wanting to do this for ages, never “had time”

  4. Carol White

    Great post. Paradigm shift in thinking!

    Three finished:
    1. Our wedding
    2. Our eldest’s daughter’s wedding
    3. Our 25th anniversary/cruise

    Three unfinished:
    1. Middle daughter’s wedding
    2. Youngest daughter’s wedding
    3. Husband’s Russia trip

    (I could list a lot more!)

  5. Catherine

    For me it’s not an album but those monthly layouts people do of their babies in the first year? Out of 24 I could have done I’ve done one. Yesterday. And my younger is almost a year. But – I do have pictures of them from each month and I’m sure I could remember something they did for each one. Or I could write them a letter, or recount a funny anecdote. I do feel bad that I didn’t do them at the time but I’m coming around to the idea that I can still have those if I want them.

    • Jennifer Wilson

      This is a great example of where you can shift your expectations to create something different but just as wonderful. If you don’t have long paragraphs to write for each month, look for alternate ways to tell this story:

      – 12×12 or 24×12 photo collage with captions
      – Project Life style with one 4×6 photo and one 3×4 card per month
      – 12-image photo collage with one long block of journaling to cover what you remember from the first year

      • Jennifer Wilson

        Here’s what I ended up doing:

  6. Diane Libbey

    As usual you have opened a new way of thinking for me, not just in scrapping either! I have learned so much since joining!
    I have:
    -Signed up for two classes on two albums.
    -Attended all project classes.
    -Purchased and actually used the materials designated for those projects.
    I have yet to:
    -Complete either album.
    -Set up a system to get all photos in one place and organized.
    -Complete “Focus”.
    But I have made progress on all three this weekend due to the snow storm!

  7. Catherine

    So gorgeous, Jennifer! Thank you for the ideas, those are very doable. Definitely one of the things I’m going to tackle during your class next month.

  8. Krystal Loverin

    Oh my goodness, this is what I needed right now.

    Three finished :
    Mexico cruise 2005 (two albums!)
    Disney world 2004
    Digital project life 2014 – 2 books so far for 202 pages

    Three unfinished:
    Ireland 2006
    Gift album for my MIL
    Last book for 2014

  9. Fawn DeMurl Carriker

    Three finished:
    *Family album from my husband’s childhood
    *Wedding album redone (from 1981)
    *Several albums from my son’s childhood “rescued” from magnetic albums into CM ones

    Three unfinished:
    Christmas 2014 smash book (in progress)
    Family heritage album…kind of “stuck” on this one
    Church history album

  10. HelenH

    Finished 3 gift albums in December, based on Curated Albums (Get It Scrapped)

    – 2012 Germany
    – Family History (current project)
    – 2014 Family album (Christmas and December)

  11. LCJinRoslynPA

    My biggest hurdle is getting past the stomach-churning when I think of all the unfinished “business” … and it’s too easy to start something new that has no shameful “baggage” attached. I like the idea of accepting it as a given, tho… I am a work in progress in the rest of my life, so likely will continue to be one here.

    LO from recent photo-shoot of me and DH
    LO of pic of me (age 1) with Santa
    Put larger posts in several albums and bought the next one for my “Book of Me, Volume 2”

    2013 December Daily (mostly needs journaling – printer has been uncooperative)
    Journaling on LO of DH as Santa with me on his lap (see above)
    Unfinished LO of DGS currently on table – needs (hand written) journaling and gluing down.

    There are more, of course …. most notably a project that involved other scrappers, then a couple of minis – 1 of Christmas ornaments and a memorial album for our dear departed kitty.



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