Confessions of a Scrapbooking Skeptic

by | Aug. 21, 2004

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For me, the prospect of sitting down with boxes of old photos to start such a project is overwhelming, to say the least, especially when it seems a standard photo album would serve my purposes just fine. However, my sister Bobbi invited me to a scrapbooking party one evening and I reluctantly decided to join her. I thought, if nothing else, that I could treat the evening as a research project and hopefully learn more about why this is such a phenomenon.

It would be misleading if I didn't admit that I approached the party with plenty of prejudice and skepticism about the craft. But, I like to think of myself as an open-minded person, so I decided that in order to free myself of my prejudices, it was only appropriate to become more educated.

The Carry-All of Carry-Alls
I was visiting my family in Idaho when I was asked to go to this party at a local scrapbook supply retailer (beginning at 10 P.M. "Why so late?" I complained to myself, but I decided to settle my criticism for the time and just play along) for the sake of research.

Then, once at my sister's house, I saw it. A rolling toolbox larger than a carry-on suitcase overflowing with scissors, punches, papers, and yes, plenty of die cuts. Feeling immediately overwhelmed and under prepared for the night's events, I tried to pass off the mobile tackle box as an over-the-top exception to the rule, assuming that the supplies of other attendees would be much more conservative.

We arrived at the supply store and wheeled ourselves through the door. I immediately noticed a distinct change in my sister's demeanor. Part five-year-old on Christmas day, part Energizer bunny, the determined look in her eyes told me that I was about to see a side of my sister that I had not yet experienced.

Bobbi headed first to the stickers, where there were rows upon rows upon rows of little paper accents. She began talking to herself as she wandered from area to area, "...Look at all of the letter fonts!...Oh wow! New textured paper...Ah! I need these eyelets!...Oh no, the die cut line is too long." She had a language all her own and suddenly felt as if I was spying on a private club, with all of its pre-determined lingo, rules, and code of conduct, and I didn't have a handbook.

The welcoming Committee
"Oh Bobbi! Is this your sister?" Asked one inquisitive club member. "Why haven't we seen you here before, Bridget? You live in Utah? You're so lucky! You all have so many great scrapbooking stores down there! You'll have to show me your stamp collection. The latest and greatest always seems to come from down south. What? No, I don't collect postage stamps, like the kind you decorate with, silly! This is your first time scrapbooking? You're kidding! You've got a lot to catch up on!"

In my head I cynically imagined a deep, sneering, "Ha, ha, we've got you!" But I took a few deep breaths and tried to imagine I was spending some time in a foreign country and this was just a bit of culture shock.

Then we entered the back room where the party was underway. The doors to the retail portion of the store had been locked and there I was, surrounded by about twenty women, all of whom had a large entourage of scrapbooking gear. I thought my sister’s mobile scrap unit was amazing, but quickly discovered that she was actually quite moderate in her organizational gear.

After pacing the retail store with my sister, trying to find the best accompaniments to her “Homage to Kindergarten Graduation,” I finally sat down and was handed several pieces of very lovely pastel cardstock. Bobbi suggested that I take a look at some of the pages she had done to see if I liked any of the ideas. As this point I was just about ready to run out the door and into the Taco Bell next door to claim “sanctuary!”

But I didn’t. Amidst all my bewilderment, I remembered that I came to this event so that I could share an evening with my sister and perhaps gain an understanding, if not respect, for this funny new tradition.

”Why this?”
But why the obsession? Why this? Why so much time and money? To me, if I want to display a picture, a photo album works fine, and if I want to express my creativity, then I can take a painting or pottery class, or something more traditional. I skeptically wondered if a lot of the reasoning behind the scrapbooking phenomenon was that some women thought it was something they should do, not necessarily something they wanted to do.

I sat in my chair and started watching what was going on around me. I looked at all of their tools and papers and photos. After a few minutes of observation, however, it wasn’t the perfect product that most interested me, but the process. I began to see how these women were working away with smiles on their faces and I saw how they were able to relax into a new role, apart from the one they played all day long.

They were laughing, they were snacking, they were telling stories, and I got the feeling that for a little while they were happy to be able to forget that Jane had been teased at school, or that Tom was struggling in math, or that they had had an argument with Bill. They were still loving wives and mothers, but they were also just women, enjoying a hobby that had been introduced to them through a friend – possibly at a scrapbooking party in the middle of the night.

Gazing at Caked Spaghettios
My heart softened just a bit, and I began to understand some of my “whys” a little bit better. But, I still didn’t quite understand why it required all of these funny little embellishments and papers and ribbons and wire. Why not stick with a photo album, save yourself some time and money, and read a book when you need some time to escape?

At one moment during the night I looked down the long table at the other end of the room. I saw a woman working away with her acid free paper and glue pen, when she paused, for quite a while, as she held a photo down below the table in her lap. She was just sitting and smiling quietly while the other women gabbed around her. I got up and casually walked to the other end of the room and looked over my shoulder to find that she was looking at a picture of her daughter caked in Spaghettios in her high chair. I don’t know for sure what she was thinking, but I have a feeling it didn’t have anything to do with the mess her daughter had made.

My Findings
I think I was starting to understand a little bit better. To her, and probably to most of the women that night, these photos represented their largest sources of pride (and rightly so). I started to see all of the doodads as a way for them to show the world just how special the people in their lives are – so special that a simple picture doesn’t quite do the emotion justice. To them, a little (or a lot) of flair and framing serves as a much better medium to showcase the masterpiece that is their family. Amidst all of my bewilderment and joking at the night’s rather strange appearance, I think I finally got it. This was a way to enjoy friendships with other women while looking back on events and people that mean much more to them than even their hearts could hold, much less a plastic photo sleeve. If the purpose of my evening was to learn why scrapbooking is so popular, then I think I was successful because I came to understand that it was less about the materials involved and more about the people.

I think that for now at least, I’m going to stick with writing as my means of creativity. I learned a lot from my research project, including the fact that I don’t have much of a talent for putting together a very nice scrapbook page; I think I’ll leave that to my sister and the other women I met that night.

I do keep in mind, though, that the prodigal son did return. So if you see me one day picking out vellum in a specialty store with a shopping basket full of decorative punches and grommets, you’ll know I’ve had a change of hear and am ready for another party.

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