Photo Freedom Q+A (long, but worth it)

This post is in response to the following email from Kristi:

Q: Hi Stacy!  I am BEGGING for your help!  I have read your Photo Freedom and BPS books several times.  I have even organized my pictures into your suggested categories.  But then I get lost.  I don't know how to gather photos to create layouts that are not "event" based. So I struggle and spend hours putting my photos back in chronological order and then do all my layouts in that order as well!  The idea of grabbing photos from different time periods to create a layout is so foreign to me. However, last night I was looking at the pages that I created over the weekend and realized there really are not too many memories, stories, or relationships associated with them. I guess where I need help is I don't know how to rethink my approach to pages.  It is easy now because I just make the next event in its chrono order.  But I don't think that I am really enjoying scrapbooking. However, when I sit down and look all these categories of pictures, I don't know what to do! 

Please give me advice!

A: First of all, I feel for you. It is so frustrating to recognize your potential as a story-teller, sense the gap between where you are and where you want to be and NOT know how to get there.

I'm going to give you an overview of how my storage binders and category drawers work to support my desires as a scrapbooker and then I'll highlight a couple of layouts.

Setting up and learning how to maintain category drawers is a magical step in the process of finding true photo freedom, because they help you retrieve pictures in the way that you think and according to your lifestyle. HOWEVER, I have come across many, many scrapbookers who think that all you need is category drawers — that they are the solution to all of our woes. Not so. Ideally, category drawers are long term storage for a very small percentage of photos. If, hypothetically speaking, you make the mistake that I did early on, and put all or even most of the fishing trip photos behind "fishing" in the THINGS We Do drawer, you will have WAY TOO MANY PHOTOS in your drawers and they will not be able to do that magical mixing/aging thing that helps you discover connections between people, places and even generations.

Most of the time we take far more photos that we can realistically hope to deal with. Ever heard me say this before?

Here's the secret: MANY of the the fishing trip photos can be deleted (if you can't do this then they can remain on your computer, backed up on your EHD.) The BEST fishing photos (for me this is usually less than half of what I take) should be put into a highlights folder or tagged for uploading/archiving to Shutterfly (or another similar service) and then printed. MOST of these prints should be slipped into storage binders in chronological order, so that over the course of a few years, you can easily find them and perhaps be inspired to scrapbook them as an event (the fishing trip.) Only a FEW of the most telling fishing photos (perhaps pictures where a relationship is captured or a favorite place is identified or a family tradtion is obvious, etc.) should be lovingly placed in category drawers. ONE or TWO might go behind the fishing tab in the THINGS We Do drawer, but another ONE or TWO might end up in the PEOPLE We Love drawer or the ALL ABOUT US drawer. These seeds of future connection are intentionally planted and then almost as intentionally forgotten.

OK, I think if I understand your question, this is where you, Kristi (and you're not alone) are. Once you have a nice mix of photos in your category drawers and your collection is slowly growing, how do you use them? Category drawers are designed to help you supplement your chronological layouts with those that are not picture-driven, but rather stem from inspiration in the form of a thought, emotion, experience or story. When I feel inspired, I want to be able to put my hands on photos that I can use to illustrate the moment or realization I'm honoring.  

Following the WHY, WHERE, WHAT format for sharing layouts, that I used in my book The Big Picture, here are some insights into how I approached the following layouts.



I needed to create pages for my FREE Cocoa Daisy kit class. We had just returned from a weekend in Montana, where Geoff snapped the picture (bottom L corner) of me and Addie (our family was geo-caching.) I wanted to perhaps use this photo and do some kind of a "fallish" page, so I went to my Fall tab in the THINGS We Do drawer. There, I found the photo of the leaf. In 2004, this leaf was the last leaf on the tree in front of our house. We have sinced moved. I pulled the photo out and had one of those "Where has time gone" moments. I then pulled my 2004 storage binder off the shelf and found a handful of other fall photos taken the same year. In that moment, I discovered my inspiration — my page is titled, Reflecting + Connecting and on it I document some of the growth and change that has occurred in our family in the last four years. 


This page is in the ALL ABOUT Stacy album, because the journaling is very personal to me. It could just as well be in the Together Forever album that house layouts about relationships in our immediate family.


Once again, I learned that it is so vital (for my personal creative process) to just start. In this case, with  product from a kit and one photo. In the end, I realized that it was the Monday before Thanksgiving in 2004 (reference the photo of my Dad cutting the Turkey) that I "knew" we needed to adopt a baby daughter from Korea and here I was in this photo, holding her in my arms. Imagine if I hadn't left things open … I might have ended up with a geo
-caching layout — as it is, I have something much more authentic. BTW, the other geo-caching photos are STILL sitting in my Fall 2008 storage binder. I love how my system almost automatically helps me prioritize and use my time to scrapbook the more important things.

cool tip: I used the KI numbers cut-out paper and a snippet of the Scenic Route number paper to capture my ages (39 and 43) at the start and end of this four year period of time.



It was early October 2008 and I was wrapping up my 30 Days Hath September album (for my Have More FUN class) and wanted to do a layout titled, EAT that documented some of the common foods we were eating at the time. I reviewed  photos that I had taken in September and found only two pics (the breakfast parfait for Trey + Addie at the Mongolian BBQ restaurant.) To supplement these photos, I simply went to the EAT & FOOD tabs in the THINGS We Do drawer and found several more — including Great Harvest bread, cold cereal, mac-n-cheese and more. 


This layout, as mentioned is part of a big 12×12 theme album that documents in detail one month of my family's life. I LOVE projects like this.


I use category drawers a LOT to simply supplement other photos in an effort to "fill out" the story a bit more.



Here again, I was working to complete a project. This is an acrylic 1-2-3-4-5 album and I simply needed somewhat current snapshots of each of my children. I found these pictures behind each child's personality tab in the ALL ABOUT US drawer.


This album was sitting in my scrapbook studio, but I just moved it upstairs to a basket in the Memory Room.


I'm OK tucking this album away (it is now out of sight) because it was an exploration of my personal growth in 2008 and I'm happy to revisit it as needed. Sometimes I think we worry too much about where all the photos end up and whether or not they'll be enjoyed. I say it's OK to put some here and others there and let go of the angst around who will see what, when. Does that make sense? The reward for me is becoming less about the outcome and more about the process. I LOVE creating smaller projects that help me process memories. I often "store" these projects for long periods and them bring them out again. 


Wow. This is SO LONG — I'm not even sure I've answered your question, Kristi. I guess in a nutshell the answer is, don't try and replace your chronological layouts. They are what they are. I've given myself permission to crank event layouts out without much expectation of insightful observations. The goal is to every so often (maybe after 5 or 10 chronological layouts) do something that is inspiration based. In other words, start a page without knowing where it will end up. Start with just one thing and allow the process to unfold, knowing that you can go to your category drawers and find wonderful nuggets of memory and connection.

Happy Scrapbooking!


  1. Melanie C says:

    Thanks Kristi for a great question and Stacy for your answer. I too, feel lost with this process at times. Thank you for setting us on the right track!

  2. Kristen Butler says:

    Beautifully put, Stacy. I love your system, and use it faithfully, but still so insightful to re-read what you had to say. Thank you.

  3. This was a great help in clearing some questions I had too. Thanks for asking, Kristi, and thank you for explaining it all again, Stacy. I so want to take your next LOM class. Thanks

  4. Wanted to add to your last comments where you said ” The goal is to every so often (maybe after 5 or 10 chronological layouts) do something that is inspiration based.” that perhaps the Start Here jar would be a good helper in that. It can be hard to let go of our old ways (I’m still struggling to implement my LOM system, but am getting there) and the Start Here jar might help give Kristi that little push to get started.
    Thanks Stacy for the insight, I always love hearing about how your system works, somehow you always manage to bring something extra to it.

  5. Amy Dow says:

    I’d like to encourage anyone (including Kristi) to take your BPS Photo Freedom class in January. I took the class this past January and really enjoyed it! I want to preserve memories not write about every photo I take and I think your system fits my life perfectly!
    I want to share my “ah ha” moment with you. My daughter wanted to grow tomato plants this summer so we picked out a few and put them in a container on our patio. We’ve staked and watered them and watched as the flowers turned into little green spheres and grow to baseball size. Finally some are turning red and we had a discussion at our dinner table about what we would make with our “homegrown” tomatoes. All the sudden I remembered my own childhood veggie memories. My mother had an amazing vegetable garden she started the year she was pregnant with me. She is also an amazing cook and I remember how some summer nights she would make “all vegetable dinners.” My dad and I loved those delicious dinners on our screened in porch and it was one of my favorite childhood summer memories. I was inspired! That night I found a photo of my Mom’s garden and in 20 minutes I scrapped a MEMORY!!! It was such a rush! Thank you Stacy for giving us the “Freedom” to match the “Photo” to the memory!

  6. Amy,
    This is amazing. Exactly what I was trying to say — we all have moments where we “connect” to a childhood memory and I love your word choice in “rush” — that’s exactly what it is, a rush when you can put your hands on photos/illustrations that help you do something cool with such a memory. Thanks for your comment!

  7. The Start Here jar is exactly the tool to direct you to a “starting” place — especially in the beginning as you strive to find your groove with LOM!
    Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Laurie R says:

    Hi Stacy! I noticed you mentioned that you pulled the Fall pix from your 2004 Storage Binder. How long do you keep your pix in the binders before Cold Storaging them?

  9. dedigirl says:

    I am wondering what photo editing software you use. I’m just now getting into trying out the digital/hybrid scrapbooking and was wondering what kind of software I should get. I have a compaq laptop with Windows Vista on it. :)
    Thank you for your help :)

  10. Thanks for the help! Sometimes with family and time constraints we just don’t have the time to think it all through!

  11. Thanks for you update Stacy – I took you class and recommend it to others. By the way, love the handout I got with my order yesterday – “teach a friend” one – I am going to make copies and pass it on. That is awesome.

  12. Laurie,
    I have 15 storage binders and they generally store about five years of printed photos. I’m constantly removing pages and condensing and rotating binders. When a binder is older than FIVE (or maybe six years) I force myself to clean it out. If I haven’t scrapbooked photos in five years then I put the BEST in cold storage and toss the rest.
    For me, the HARSH reality of moving forward.
    Great question!

  13. I don’t use any photo editing software outside what is available to me in iPhoto — sad, but true. I’m almost to the point where I want to learn Photoshop — but … not quite.
    Check out Kayla Lamoureaux’s blog for all kinds of answers to pressing digital questions:

  14. I got that wrong. Kayla’s NEW site is (oops!)

  15. Wow! Wow! Wow! Thank you for the long explanation – I get it now. I am ready to start recording memories again. Sounds a little dramatic but I just haven’t been able to grasp the concept. Great explanation – thank you.

  16. This is an excellent topic and Stacy, your answers, as always are inspiring. I went from scrapping chronologically to doing more “inspiration-based” pages as soon as I started reading your ideas, years and years ago. Now I’ve gotten so far away from it that I often have to REMIND MYSELF to scrap events!! LOL It’s good for me to see you telling us that your ideas do not replace chronological/event based layouts. I need to get going on some of those now. LOL
    I would like to add that it has been helpful to me to have a journal handy and when I feel sentimental about something, or have an influx of memories or just get inspired to scrap about a particular topic – I write a page title idea down, along with my thoughts at the time. Then when I get ready to scrap, I can turn to that journal and then my category drawers to put a page together. I often ask myself, “what is important to me that I have never scrapped about?” and then I always have lots of things to write down.

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