Pocket Scrapbooking with Project Life

Cultivate a good life and record it.



good life by brianna marshall

Part of cultivating a good life is rediscovering creativity and joy after heartache.

I was over the moon to be selected for this year’s Project Life® creative team. Stunned and delighted. However, that happy news just so happened to overlap with a significant life event: a breakup that I could have and should have seen coming but didn’t want to. Instead, I averted my eyes then feigned surprise as it disintegrated in front of me.

Prior to the long distance relationship, there was a shared apartment and a cat and a ring, eight years of history. Then suddenly the moment that demarcated that was then and this is now. Now being no more us: unthinkable at first, then as the weeks progressed, a raw, tender relief indeed, particularly when the sketchy timeline involving his snapchat superfriend was revealed. But this isn’t about the rage-inducing details, not today. This is about the scrapbooking.

I have been an obsessive documenter my entire life and part of the Project Life community for almost three years now. I have ten albums. When we broke up, I had just printed an entire year’s worth of photos – close to three thousand. I remember staring warily at those boxes of photos feeling like a fool, dreading the task of sifting through them. For the very first time, my experiences were not something I wanted to remember or relive.

Like everything else in life, there’s a necessary ebb and flow to engaging with the things we love. I all but avoided scrapbooking the first few months of the year, save pulling together photos for my monthly creative team layouts. I felt like a fraud, joyless about the process, procrastinating. To find photos of me I had to sift through the minefield of dozens of photos of us. And then to see how amazing my cohort was! They loved every second of documenting in a way I recognized but couldn’t touch. Their layouts were exquisite and artistic, while I struggled even to select what photos to stick into my pages. In truth, I felt burdened with my albums. Suddenly I felt the danger in putting my heart into documenting the details.

Sorting through my photos wasn’t a palatable prospect until one ordinary day when it suddenly seemed like the ideal way to spend an afternoon. Even in the misery of a breakup, I am not rash – I knew I would know what I wanted to do with all those photos at the right time. It was the right time. I wasn’t sad anymore. In fact, I had unearthed in myself a lighthearted, easygoing person that I had never really known before. I was open. I was spending my time laughing and connecting and learning. So this – this! – was happiness.

Little recognitions started to bloom: he was my subject matter, yes, but he wasn’t my only subject matter. Did I want to save him through my photos? Maybe. I think for many years I was subtly saying, “Your life is beautiful to me; be happy.” But it doesn’t work that way, not really. You have to choose it.

It felt right to jettison photos of him, creating a hefty stack to give to his mom. I felt industrious. Cleansed. I kept some photos of us, of course. I’m not looking to erase history, only modify it so my albums aren’t quite so heavily weighted toward him. There you are playing guitar. Playing video games. In that jacket I bought youThat trip I brought you on where you complained the whole time. Etc.

No thanks.

Does it mean I’ve moved on and that looking through my old albums isn’t painful in the least? That was my life and I’m still grateful to have documented everything I did. I haven’t stopped taking pictures. The days have continued ticking on by and it’s all the same mad flutter of activity that it always was.

Really this post is a love letter to Project Life. A thank you and a rediscovery. I suspected I would come back after the jolt of everything, but I didn’t know how I would feel. I am grateful to be surrounded by a wonderful community – not only the Project Life creative team, but also everyone who so enthusiastically shares their lives in this way. I was very close to not telling my story, but in the end I’m glad I did. I hope it will help anyone out there who may be facing any of the same feelings. You will get through whatever is happening to you and you will be better because of it. So much love for you all.

Brianna is a member of our 2015 Creative Team.  She lives in Wisconsin where she works for the University of Wisconsin.

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15 Responses

  1. KathyinMN says:

    Thanks Brianna. Needed this today, as I’m going through my own breakup. Working through emotions on top of being creative seems so daunting. It’s impressive you kept up with the creative team through it all, let alone finding a way to make it work. Keep moving forward.

  2. Mariangeles says:

    TFS your story. You go, girl! There’s ONLY one direction, FORWARD :D

  3. Stacia says:

    There are so many of us with these shared histories with people we’ve parted from but who are inextricably bound to a shared history. It’s particularly hard when you’ve had children and can’t simply set aside that entire portion of your life for a while or forever. You still have a relationship, you have to. But it’s completely different than what you had planned for way back when. Thanks for sharing how you came through this to figure out a way to move forward. I still have completely figured out what to do with all those photos and all those shared memories but I’m working on it.

    • Kelly Haskey says:

      I am in this same boat. I have years of photos to scrap of my then life with my ex and our son together. I am torn with how to do this. I know I need to do it for my son. And someday I will be ready. I think PL will make it easier now because I can do simple and fast but yet creative pages so I will have those memories saved for my son. I will forever be connected to him because of my son. I just need to make the books simple and document the events. Thanks PL for making this possible.

  4. Jonna says:

    This was beautiful! Thanks for sharing your heart.

  5. Leslie S. says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It might just help someone else come to terms with documenting their life after a breakup. God bless.

  6. Tammy says:

    I love this!!! I wish I had this knowledge after my own breakup. I got rid of EVERYTHING. Clothes, books, movies, Christmas decorations- and of course all my photos. Every. Single. One. I regret it still to this day.

  7. Joelle says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It actually brings up a question I’ve wanted to ask for a long time. What to do about all those pix of boyfriends from college, etc?? I have many friends who, upon getting married, threw out anything that had to do with previous relationships — photos/letters/etc. I never did because it felt like it was all part of my life — but I haven’t scrapbooked them either. I do feel like I would have enjoyed seeing a LITTLE of my mother’s dating life in scrapbooks — but obviously not the gory details. Maybe a few pix of them and then an honest description of why that relationship didn’t move forward? Why he wasn’t the right one to be my husband and the father of my children?

    Thoughts? Would love your opinions!

    • Christine F. says:

      Good question – I think it’s good to keep some pictures; after all, they did shape who you are in a tiny bit. I don’t think you need to necessarily journal about the “why” the relationship didn’t work – you’ll always remember, anyways – but just capture the moment in time.

      My son thinks it’s funny to see me in pictures with my ex-boyfriends. I tell him that I dated them but married his daddy and that’s all he really cares about (or honestly needs to know about those relationships at this point). Hope this helps!

  8. Erin says:

    I like this approach when scrapbooking old friends too. I was working on some pages with photos from 15 plus years ago that included many pictures of someone I had a falling out with. I wanted to scrap the events we went to but felt odd eliminating her from the layouts like she didn’t exist. So I made sure to focus on the event, my specific memories, etc. There is a picture of me with her but it is not about her.

  9. Cody Doll says:

    That’s sounds like me with a past relationship. It was high school and I want to document but I’m still a little stuck so I’ll document the now and I’ll go back when I feel ready.

  10. Melissa says:

    Good post. Very practical. I have had a few relationships or friendships where I or someone I loved was betrayed. Initially, I could not stand to see them or their photos. But as time passes, seeing their photo and remembering them is not a big deal as long as I don’t marinade in the bad memories. With such people there are always lessons that I have learned, albeit painful at the time. So I have chosen to remind myself of what I gained in the process and appreciate the fact that I have moved on with my life.

  11. Michele says:

    Brianna, thank you so much for sharing such a difficult but inspiring story. I know it wasn’t easy, but you did it. Looking back on my life, I have 2 (ages 5 and 9) young kids, one was 3 when I was going through my divorce. The kids and I had to move in with a family friend for a couple of months and then moved again, into our home we currently live now. I’ve been living there for almost 2 years now but it took me ONE YEAR, to go through stuff in my garage, memories, photos, etc. I finally created a small box that has our wedding photos and some pictures with him and my kids and stored it away so I wouldn’t see it on a daily basis. It was hard … I relived so many emotions that day and thereafter, but in the end, I saved those for my children so that they have something. Last summer, was the first time my dad and I spoken since my divorce, it didn’t go all that well but he did tell me, he was being remarried the next day. I was surprised naturally since everyone knew before me among other events, my boyfriend saw that I was about to add those photos into our project life album. He was concerned and wanted to be sure I was alright. I told him this was something that happened to us and it’s part of our story, it’s life, document it. Another friend of mine just had a dilemma on Easter and said her family ended up having an argument where people left. It was sad, but she was contemplating on NOT including those pictures of what she took before the argument took place. I suggested to her the same thing I told my boyfriend about my dad. She just sent me a message a few weeks ago and said I was right to encourage her and she was pleased with it. Sorry for the story, but all in all, life happens, document it, good bad or indifferent, we have future generations to share it with.

  12. Sheri says:

    Thanks for sharing. I am also going through long term relationship that is ending. Your words have comforted me and are inspiring.

  13. This is such a motivational post for me. Thank you for sharing your story. I know it can’t have been easy but you did it. And I thank you for that. x