When I quit my life in Ireland and moved to London almost six years ago, I did a few things by accident that have paid off extremely well. The first was starting an Instagram account, which has allowed me to create a collection of photos I can look at any time I want to, anywhere I feel like it. Instagram can be silly and misleading and damaging, but truthfully I just like having my own photos, and photos of cute dogs. Anything else I can ignore quite happily.
The second thing was that I packed up a hatbox with ticket stubs, my old moleskine diaries, event booklets and important correspondence. I’m not quite sure why I did this, because I could have started fresh. This box took up half of a suitcase when I only had three suitcases to emigrate with— including it meant sacrificing other, more immediately important, things. But for some reason I did bring it.
As I set my life up in London, it lay untouched for half a year. In those six months I collected lots of other paper souvenirs – tickets from west end shows and exhibits, business cards from tattoo artists, leaflets from museums. I’m not sure what made me hoard these things because in general I don’t hoard. My mother frequently points out that when I’m in the mood to tidy, the person helping me might also find themselves thrown out with the trash, such is my vigour. But for some reason, I kept these little bits of useless paper.
And then one day, it all stopped being useless. I moved into a new flat after a few months of searching across London, and finally found a lovely housemate and a great room to live in. And on the blank wall above the antique chest of drawers, I started to stick the ephemera I had collected – the tickets and leaflets, stubs and mementos. Before long, it stretched across four feet of space and I realised that I could probably wallpaper the room if I kept going like this.
When my boyfriend and I decided to live together about a year later, it meant dismantling my wall of memories. It had been a fun project for me and he saw that I was sad to take it apart. But in the new flat, rules were stricter and we just didn’t have wall space for something like this. So we went to Paperchase and bought a blank black spiral bound scrapbook, and I started making pages of memories. I carefully cut some items up to make space for them. I planned how each page would look. I placed everything before gluing it. Sometimes a page could take an hour and honestly, those were hours well spent.
When I’m sad or homesick or in need of a lift, the book comes down from its shelf. I keep paper memories for everything these days, and the book represents the almost a decade of my life, the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen. None of the pages contain explanations or commentary. I haven’t added any notes. This isn’t a book for the masses, it’s just for me and my family to enjoy.
They say there’s a good book in everyone, and I’ve been writing for so many years that I assumed the book would be in the form of words. But the scrapbook is in itself a work of art, and the story of a life. Not everything needs to be about words and, much like for zines, leaving behind the mainstream is a great way to unlock some creativity.
I hadn’t considered that there’s an art to scrapbooking – but of course, there is. It’s one of many papercrafts and people with great skill and ingenuity can create true beauty, far beyond the realm of my glue and scissors. The Amazing Page by Memory Makers Books gives a good introduction to the idea of making a scrapbook, but overall the most helpful book I found was What It Is by Lynda Barry, who focuses on writing for non-writers, including thinking about how objects summon memories and how images bring things to life more than words do. The pages of Barry’s book are lined with collage, which filled my head with inspiration.
Rioters, do you scrapbook? Share your ideas, any cool sources of inspiration and ideas for the future with us!