Scrapbook Triage: Choosing Which Pages to Create First

by Lain Ehmann on March 13, 2013

NOTE FROM LAIN: This is the second in a two-part series on “Scrapbooking: How Much Is Enough?

So knowing we can’t scrapbook all our photos, the next natural question is,

So What Do I Scrapbook?

Good question! Obviously, we need a way to triage our efforts.

what to scrapbook

On the battlefield, triage referred to the process of dividing up the wounded into three categories: Those who would likely die no matter what, those who would likely live even with minimal medical attention, and those who could go either way. Medical personnel would focus on the third group since their efforts would do little to change the outcome of the first two categories.

So how does that apply to scrapbooking? Well, let me tell you how I do it…

I scrapbook to tell stories. So when I look through my photos, I’m matching stories to pictures. What does this photo make me think of? Is there a memory here that needs to be recorded?

There are the moments in our lives that I will most definitely remember… like I’ll know that we had Christmas in 1998, and that my mom passed away in March of 2012, and that I got married. :) In triage terms, these memories and stories go in the “definitely survive” category.

simple scrapbookingThen there are moments and memories that aren’t worth recording, either because there is no real story attached or because I just don’t care enough (that may sound harsh, but I don’t really care that I wiped my nose at 11:30 am on Wednesday, March 13… even if I have a photo of it!). In this category go the duplicates, too… the forty-eleven photos of Ben standing at home plate, waiting for a pitch, or standing on second base, not looking at the camera. If there’s not a larger story to hook them to, I’m sort of like Noah. I’ll keep a pair, and toss the rest. There’s just not enough room on the ark to hold them all! So these photos and moments go in the “definitely not going to make it” triage group.

But then there are the little whispers of stories that hide behind the big memories. Like the fact that I changed into sneakers after my wedding ceremony so I could dance with abandon, or that my mom handmade every one of the red felt stockings that lined my parents’ mantlepiece every Christmas. These are memories that may be ingrained in my brain, but I want to pass them on, or they may be fleeting thoughts and remembrances that would be lost even to me, were I not to capture them.

THAT is where I spend my scrapbooking time.

The first category of stories and events that will definitely survive? Often a photo is enough to jog the story. I might spend some time scrapbooking those photos just because it’s fun to go back and relive the big times, and also because immersing myself in that time and place through photos can remind me of those ephemeral stories.

The second category, the ones that deserve to die? I don’t spend any time here. There’s just no payoff for me. I even toss photographs (cringe, cringe) that I don’t have an emotional connection to, that don’t “mean” anything, or that are duplicates of other stories I’ve already captured.

But the third category? Ahhh! I feel like a lepidopterist with my butterfly net, chasing after elusive memories and dreams, hoping to have them hold still long enough so I can sketch them in my nature journal. And each one I capture adds another brilliant jewel to my collection.

All this being said, your motivations for scrapbooking may be entirely different than mine. If that’s the case, Hurrah! Spend some time thinking about why YOU scrapbook and which photos and stories fall into which bucket. And share your discoveries below. I’d love to hear what you think!



  • donna

    I just love the metaphor you used here….really strikes home with me.

  • Lain Chroust Ehmann

    I’m so glad! A little morbid – but that’s what makes it memorable. :)

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  • robin

    Well said, now I don’t have to feel guilty for tossing those 42 pictures of the birthday party that are just “not good”!

  • BernieB

    I just had to write and tell you that your article on “So What Do I Scrapbook?” was like the
    light at the end of a very dark tunnel for me. I take hundreds, maybe even
    thousands of photos a year. I’M OVERWHELMED! I can’t possibly scrapbook all of
    them, yet it doesn’t stop me from taking, printing, and storing all of those
    photos. Your “triage” theory makes so much sense, and it enlightened me. I
    found relief in your words…and inspiration. My real reasons for scrapbooking became
    clear after reading this article – I want to tell the story of my family’s
    traditions and our day-to-day lives. I want to record our story, for myself and
    for future family members. I realized that the self-imposed rules I had given
    myself were counterproductive. Not every photo is worth scrapbooking, and not
    every photo has a story. Some of them are just photos. A moment in time, but not a memory. Thank you for writing this great article. You’ve made me feel a lot better and given me
    renewed energy to “get at it”!

  • Kristie Sloan

    Reading this is perfect timing! I was just thinking about this the other day, as I decide what program I’m going to use for all my digital photos, and knowing how many photos there actually are! I look through some of the pictures and see so many of the same uneventful shots as I take who knows how many in hopes of getting a good one. I have been lax in keeping up with my ‘delete’ key in the past, and have made a promise to myself to make some choices when they move from my camera onto the computer! Your Triage method is a perfect thought process to adopt! Thank you!

  • Lain Chroust Ehmann

    Oh my goodness, Bernie, I am so glad you were able to use the information! Thank you for letting me know that this blog post was helpful. I wrote another one a few months back about photo overwhelm from vacation photos — even though it’s specific for vacations, I think it might help: Thanks again for reading! :)

  • Lain Chroust Ehmann

    I just did this today – tossed some cute but not “great” pictures of Callie. Shh… don’t tell! ;)

  • Alison Day

    Thanks Lain, Another well said article! When I had to import everything back onto my repaired laptop I did something funky so that I now have two copies of every photo folder. As I am going through them, deleting the duplicates, I am rediscovering stories I still want to tell as well as tons of “like” photos. Really, how many pictures do I need of my kids opening random birthday presents? First off they are generally bad pictures as all their friends crowd around to see what’s in the package – hard to get a good angle through the heads! And second, I’ll guess that more than half of those presents have since been broken, used up, donated or are laying, forgotten about in a cupboard somewhere. I now feel like it’s okay to toss the majority of them. Thank you!

    Another thing you made me realize is that my scrapping style has evolved as my story telling focus has changed. I now want to tell the deeper story behind the picture – not just the who, what, where, when and why. The back story matters. If that means I make more pages with fewer pictures but more journaling, then so be it. Gone are the days of trying to cram as many pictures on the page as possible and maybe, if I remember, adding who’s in them, where we were and the date!

    Thanks for the continued inspiration Lain!!

  • SuzyQ Scraps

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. :) I love starting with the story! I have oodles of photos of my kids that I can use to illustrate all sorts of stories, even if I don’t have a picture of the specific story I’m telling. I sometimes jot down stories in a notebook as they happen. I’ve really enjoyed having a stack of journal cards handy — I can quickly scribble out the details and slide it into my pocket scrapbook album. Memory saved. :)

  • vicky

    Thank you so much for the help in sorting what to keep and what to give to the kids to “play” with.

  • Maryksmith

    I really needed to hear of the Triage method. I think it will save me a lot of work and worry about what to do with my millions of pictures!!! Thanks!

  • Barb in AK

    Yup! That really makes sense to me. I do pretty well about being very picky about what photo/s go on my layouts, but I have a problem about holding on to all the “didn’t make the cut” photos! You’ve given me incentive to “triage” and let go of the ones that have no chance! Thanks Lain :-)

  • Marcia Fortunato

    Thanks for the article, Lain. I agree with what you’ve said—mostly. I would caution people to avoid over-deleting photos, though, because what is considered a “bad” photo today may end up being a favorite photo in the future, and/or combined with other “bad” photos over time they may tell a precious story. For instance, I have many series of photos from photo shoots of my boys when they were little. Not all of the photos were perfect (actually very few of them were!!), with one boy crying or pouting and another always talking or goofing around – some that at the time I might have been tempted to throw away. But over time – seeing that same behavior over a long period of time – these less than perfect photos begin to tell a story, and I’m thankful that I didn’t throw them out.
    That’s NOT to say we shouldn’t throw anything away – obviously the ones that were accidentally taken of the ceiling can be safely discarded. And now with digital photos, we tend to end up with several that are virtually the same and these can certainly be pared down (my boys were little back in the film age – makes them sound old!) But just be careful how you’re judging them or you just might be deleting a future treasure :)
    As for scrapbooking them, well that’s another story…I completely agree with you on that point. We only have so many hours in a day, and we need to focus on the important stories! Thanks for all the great advice!

  • Jo Ann Wright

    I really like your concept of the triage. I have a difficult time deciding what pictures to scrap, due to the fact that I get carried away with the camera and take pictures of everything, just about every day. Just recently I realized what I was doing to myself by this excessive picture taking. Like the triage, there are so many of those photos that really have no meaning. On the other hand for the photo’s that do have a story, how do I pick and choose which ones to keep? Especially when they tell the story as a whole. What tactics could I use to pick maybe two or three out of ten?

  • Sherrie

    Thanks Lain, for the explanation on triage, a term I first heard in Stacy Julian’s book on photo management, but didn’t understand fully, as she does not explain the the original use of the word. It all makes so much more sense now.

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