Pocket Scrapbooking with Project Life

Cultivate a good life and record it.



good life with julie gagen

Part of cultivating a good life is loving where you live.

Photographers know this trick quite well: you can make almost anything look desirable with the right staging, the right lighting, and the right angles. Sure, it’s a little deceiving, but hey, that’s what beautiful home tours, Pinterest, and marketing are all about, right?!

I share these photos of my living room for a very specific reason. It’s SO easy to get caught up in the comparison game and devalue our own lives. No matter what season of life we’re in or where we want to be, as soon as we see photographs of someone else’s home, or lifestyle, or the beautiful memory-keeping projects they create, we quickly say,  “That’s better,” or “I could never have – or make – that,” as if that photograph represents something unattainable but necessary. As if your life isn’t as important or good or worthy if it can’t be photographed in the same way (or better).

And then we start thinking that the person’s home, project, or lifestyle is that way because they have it “easier” or “better” or with less struggle and strife.

When, in reality, that’s not true at all.

The stories of our spaces are just like that. But they don’t have to be. Sure, we can see a photograph and judge it with comparison and measure our lives against someone else’s. But we can also look at a photograph and think about the beauty of our own lives. We can think about the spaces that have meaning, that have memories, that have value.

The story of this photo can be told two ways. Truly, I could share the story of the photo on the left. I could complain about kids and messes and chaos. I could say, “If only I had _____.” I could say a lot of negative things. Or I could tell the story on the right. I could talk about beauty, about the work my husband and I did to renovate it. I could talk about layout and design techniques, acquiring antique furniture, and how to style it in a shared space with kids.

Or I could tell the real story of real life.

The story of this photo.

Every morning I wake up at 6, when Cal (my six year-old nephew) arrives at my house. We migrate to our living room, turn on PBS kids, and relax before Max (my three year old) wakes up.

On an average morning, the house starts the day somewhat clean and slowly degrades down to piles of Legos, cars, and random toys strewn about the room, as if a mob of children had come in with the purpose of deconstructing the entire space.

Then, there is the inevitable rush to breakfast, rush to getting ready, and rush to get to the bus stop. Usually, we JUST make it. Occasionally, we’re early. And sometimes, we totally miss the bus. Those are not my favorite days.

If I were playing the comparison game, I would think about how all of the other parents have it easier than me. That their kids listen better. That their kids get ready on their own, never fuss, and have no trouble staying focused when it’s nearly bus time. And I’m sure their living rooms NEVER look like this.

But, the truth is: life, as a parent, is almost always the same. We ALL struggle from time to time. We ALL have trouble teaching kids about time management, staying on task, and quit-playing-with-the-toys-it’s-time-to-leave! That’s just life.

And, before I had kids, I had different dramas every morning. Different struggles with getting ready, traffic, roommates that spend too long in the bathroom, neighbors that block in my car, and trains that run behind schedule.

There is always something.


That’s why I love Becky and the Project Life® community so much. I love how she talks about documenting our real lives. And I love how she encourages us to do the same. Because documenting our chaos, documenting our messes, that’s just life. Your life.

So I have a challenge for you. The next time your kids or roommates or partners or friends make a total mess in your house. The next time your laundry pile gets too big. The next time you look at your dishes and think “how did that happen?!” take a moment to document it. Get the lighting right. Choose a good angle. But document it. Write about it. Celebrate it.

Julie Gagen is a part of our 2015 Creative Team. She lives in New England with her husband Chris, her son Max, her nephew Caleb, and her two dogs, Cassie & Pepper.

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One Response

  1. Katie Jones says:

    That is such a great post! And I definitely try to look on the well-lit side of the story, that I have kids who I adore and who love me, and that the mess is proof that they can play together and occupy themselves in a creative manner. They are lucky enough to have their own toys to make a mess with, and a home to make a mess of!
    It can be easy to get caught up in the disaster of it all, and forget to celebrate the positives. Even as an optimist, we have these days.
    Thanks, Julie, for sharing your outlook, it is a very uplifting way to start the day :)