Monday, February 25, 2013

Project Life for People Who are Not Crafty

cultivate a good life by Becky HigginsWhen I started Project Life last year, I had a hard time getting started.

Most people start with Becky Higgins' site. She's the originator of this idea, and sells cool products to make it easier.

But after poking around on her site, and even watching her slick marketing videos (I hate watching videos online!), I was still confused about the whole thing.  I realized quickly it was because I wasn't already a scrapbooker (or "memory keeper" as the cool kids call it) and I didn't know all the lingo of the papercrafting gurus yet.

I get a lot of questions about my Project Life album from friends who are NOT crafty or into memory keeping, scrapbooking, etc. They've said it's intimidating, it seems like too much to keep up with, or that they don't have (or want) the "stuff" that goes with doing paper crafts.

That's exactly how I felt about it before I started. So here's a quick summary of how I interpret Project Life, and how to make it easy enough to actually finish something of this magnitude.

First, the one extremely simple thing I couldn't find *anywhere* was the exec summary (to borrow a work term).  What the heck *is* Project Life, anyway?  People talk about it, or worse, about "BH's PL" like it's everyone's BFF.

Executive Summary

Project Life is an annotated personal or family photo album over a specific period of time, usually a year.  It contains your photos and some words that you write up about them. You can also include other flat things like ticket stubs, event programs, report cards, etc.

With that definition, some crafty awesome people just run with it.  They choose the time period (milestone birthday year, baby's first year, 2013, etc.), buy albums, crafty bits, and pretty paper and go to town.

I, with my project manager Type A personality, needed more. This is where "the stuff" comes in handy.  But it's not a lot, I swear.

Here's all you need:
  • Divided page protectors - This is the skeleton of your album. They're 12x12 inch clear pages with 3x4 and 4x6 inch pockets. This is where you put your photos and cards with your descriptions (more on those later).  I liked the Big Variety Pack with different configurations to make things interesting, but if you're just starting out, buy a big pack of one design. It'll make things much easier.  60 pages will be more than enough for a year, even if you do this weekly.  You can also find packs of these clear pages at Target, with the photo albums.

  • 3-ring 12x12 inch binder - This is where you put your finished pages. 12x12 is a specialty size for crafting so you will probably not find this at your local office supply store.  Target carries some nice faux-leather ones, or there are some super cute cloth covered ones on Amazon.

  • Core Kit - This is key to a quick and easy Project Life experience.  It contains all the little cards to fit in the slots next to your photos.  Most have space to write on, while some are just "filler cards" for weeks where you don't have a lot to say.  There are a few specially designed cards for the first and last pages of the album.  Everything in one kit is designed to coordinate so you don't need to amass large stores of paper, or worry about things clashing. Just pick the kit with the design that appeals to you the most.  One kit is *WAY* more than enough cards to finish a year of PL.  (See how I slipped in that abbreviation right there?  And you were right there with me!  Go you!)

  • A decent pen - You don't have to get all fancy, but find one that you like to write with, and you'll write more. If you're concerned with leaving your Project Life album to your descendants, get yourself a nice archival-safe, acid free pen.

Four things. Place one Amazon order and be done with it, as I did the first year.

While you're waiting for your things to show up, plan your album. 

  • Choose the subject - is this just "everyday life" in your family?  Is it for a special birthday like "year 40"? Is it the baby book you never did for your 12 year old?

  • Choose the time period and interval - it's never too late to start. Don't buy into the pressure of 'getting behind'. This is supposed to be fun, right?  I chose to do this by calendar year, and each set of pages covers 2 weeks of our life.

  • Choose how many pages you want to do per time interval - this was tricky for me. I eventually realized that each photo page protector has a front and back - ie you slip in 2 sets of cards back to back. So I do 2 facing sides per every 2 weeks.  Some people choose to do just one side per week, or do 2 facing sides per month.  It's totally up to you - terrifying, I know.

  • Figure out how you're going to print photos - If you have a great photo printer, you can do this at home, and it may be worth the extra expense if it allows you to keep up with the project. I started out sending my photos to Target online, to be picked up in-store the next day. Walgreens and Costco also offer similar services. If your time interval is long, like a month, you can just order prints online and have them shipped to your house. A lot of people like Persnickety Prints, though I've never tried them.  While you're waiting for your stuff, send the first batch of photos to be printed and pick them up. Consider it your trial run to see if you like the quality and process.

  • Schedule time to work on it - I have a calendar appointment to sort through my biweekly photos and work on my pages. It's not a chore, but actually planning for the time keeps me going.

Just Do It

When your stuff shows up, you'll be ready to go. Grab a pocket page, your core kit, your pen, and your photos. Put the 4x6 photos in the big slots. Use the little cards to write about the photos.  Don't stress about your handwriting.  Really.

If you don't feel like writing, use one of the "filler" cards. If you want to write about something you don't have a photo for, like the cute thing your 2 year old said, DO IT and then just stick the card in one of the slots. Project Life is flexible like that.

It's really that simple.

Extra credit tips:

  • If you want to get fancy, you can use double-sided tape to stick a ticket stub or a kid drawing to a card and slide it into a pocket. 

  • If you really, really can't stand your handwriting, then you can feed the little core kit cards into your inkjet printer and print your descriptions and stories using Microsoft Word.  Just adjust the page size in the program you're using.

  • If you want your pages to be facing each other (like in an open book), then leave the first side of the first photo pocket page empty and start with the second side. Do the second half on the front side of a new pocket page.

  • When you have a little time, find the cards in your Core Kit that are labeled on the back for the First Page of your album, fill those in, and stick them on that front page, with a photo or two that reflect what the album is about.

  • Advanced reading - Becky Higgins has a "Project Life for Newbies" post that's new since I started. It seems targeted towards traditional scrapbookers, but has some good tips and background.

  • Remind yourself to take photos, even of the "ordinary" things like your work, school drop-off, crying babies, etc. The more you take, the better you'll get.  A decent phone camera is great for these shots.

Even though it's nearly the end of February, you can start Project Life anytime. Just do it, and you'll be so glad to look through the album when you're done.  T looks at ours regularly and remembers a lot of "daily life" things we would ordinarily have forgotten.

Have fun!!
The Mom Creative


  1. Brilliant! I must have watched too much Big Bang Theory today because I read your entire post in Sheldon Cooper's voice. I totally hope you take that as a compliment. It was very articulate and well thought out! :) Awesome!

  2. Love your post, Anandi, especially the "non crafty" part :)

    I think I need to link up to it.

  3. Oh I love this post! I have just started and the idea was rather dauntingk, but now that I am busy wioth it I love it.

  4. I like seeing your take on PL! I decided not to do it because I knew I would feel overwhelmed...but I did do an album one year where I did a 2-page spread each month and that worked for me!

  5. How sweet of you to write this post for me. I WAS the inspiration, right? Right???

    Yes, I do believe the earth revolves around me, my lack of craftiness, and my hair.

    But back to matter at hand - this post ALMOST makes me think I could do it. Nice job, girl.

    1. You were one of the inspirations, especially since you already have the photo thing down. And you have a Cricut, so don't act like you're not secretly crafty.

      There's also a way to do Project life digitally on Shutterfly, I think, so that's another option. But more tricky.

  6. Great post....Becky Higgins has great info and inspiration on her blog too :) I'm glad I started this year (so far at least)

  7. I just started project life this year, and I am so glad I did, I have stories captured that might have passed by unnoticed otherwise

  8. I seriously thought that I was the only person in the world who does not enjoy watching videos online.


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