Here’s why you need one of these shabby little friends that you didn’t even know existed. I know you think that junk journals are just books, and you’re right …but they also aren’t just books. They’re made of scrap paper and other repurposed materials and used to do pretty much whatever you want. You don’t have to do a bullet journal like I do – or any system at all, really, to get good use out of them.
Somehow junk journals just seem to approximate the overall messiness of life. They serve as functional repositories of a wide variety of detailed information, and because of that they seem uniquely equipped to help manage things like a freelance business, a handful of different classes, plus a whole bunch of lists from numerous projects and just – you know, everyday life.Junk journals handle all of these with a sense of style and a bit of grace. There’s also a good deal of texture in these books that’s more satisfying than you can imagine until you get one in your hands. In fact, the entire experience of a junk journal is extremely tactile. People use fabrics and lace and ribbon and layered paper precisely because they help to create a sense of dimension. They also add a lot of color and usually some thematic element to the overall composition. (I have a couple of favorite shops on Etsy where you can select printable kits to download that have all kinds of paper and journaling cards you can use.)
But texture seems to be the key to a really attractive journal. My personal theory is that we interact with screens so much and everything’s just so flat and sterile that we long for a more organic experience.
Junk journals give me that. But they also encourage me to be more creative and dig into my art supply boxes on a regular basis.
I got the urge to add little doodles to most of my journals, so I’ve been practicing Zentangles and drawing Mehndi designs in my spare moments. I’ve taken to carrying around little white squares of paper in my journal, too, so I can do meditative art just about anywhere. These all get tucked into the pages of my journals, which then adds to the layers of texture as well.
Junk journaling has inspired me to reconnect with some forms of art I haven’t done in a long time. Most notably, I’ve started doing some of the calligraphy and hand lettering again that I used to do when I was a kid.
Many of my journals have also included some type of collage work. The latest one has a collage on the cover itself.
You may have figured out from the images above, I tend to go for a steampunk aesthetic in a lot of my journals. But sometimes it’s less obvious than others. What I do always try to go for though, is a utilitarian ethic.
So what exactly does that mean?
Well, to start with, I reuse paper. I collect the papers that are handed out and routinely thrown away at the events I attend. I stash interesting pieces of junk mail. I scavenge for cool old stuff at thrift stores like old wedding invitation envelopes or paper photo frames once used for proofing at places like Olan Mills. When people find out I collect paper, some will just give me their entire stash. I got a whole bunch of art cards from a student that have famous paintings on them, but I’m not sure what I’ll do with those yet.
I use all of this paper in my journals or the ones I make for others, and anything I don’t use can be recycled into … wait for it…. handmade paper later on.
A perfect example of the utilitarian aspect of junk journaling is the paper I received at the last Gal’s Guide meeting. We had an awesome presentation and activity around belly dancing, and I took the handout home with me. In the past I would have thrown it away, but in this case I decided to zazz it up a bit with some colored pencils, spray it with spray stain, and then glue it into my book. Aft er that I wrote out the next week’s calendar on the back side, which I also used to practice some hand lettering.
In this way the junk journal becomes like a scrapbook, art journal, and day planner all in one – a living, breathing part of my life that keeps up with me and keeps track of a lot of things: business cards, to-do lists, supply lists, handouts, reminders, wish lists, meeting notes, plans for future classes and checklists to help me make sure I’m ready to teach them.
I like to use embellishments on the reminders to help grab my attention. The ones I really need help remembering I’ll adorn with a moving piece or even one that makes a little bit of noise, like this metal key that always tapped lightly against the cardstock whenever the page was turned.
The first junk journal I made for my personal use had coffee-stained pages. The paper was very distressed and was often difficult to write on with my dip pen, which I’d bought around that same time. I got so frustrated when I realized that I couldn’t practice my calligraphy that I decided not to use distressed paper in my next journal.
The second junk journal I made for myself was an altered book – a whole different type of creature. To make it, I bought a book at Goodwill (this one was an Anne Geddes baby name book that had never been used) that had the right size pages and high quality paper. I knew I was going to be layering acrylic paint and other wet media on these pages, so it was important to know they were strong enough to take it. I didn’t need to preserve most of the book’s original content, which was predominantly made up of lists of baby names and spaces for writing down favorites – but I did preserve the high quality photographs in the book – the kind that Geddes is known for.
However, I couldn’t help myself; I had to distress them a little. But most people who saw the book agreed that they would have seemed almost out of place otherwise.
In the end, although I really loved the beauty of this book, I started feeling hemmed in by the color schemes and just how matchy everything was. So I abandoned that one early and went a different direction for my third junk journal.
This one was a bit more forgiving somehow. Chunkier but smaller in length and width, it was easy to handle and well built, which was good because it had to manage two moves inside of a month. And wow, did it ever! It lasted most of the summer, which is the longest lasting journal I’ve had to date, and it’s still in really good shape.
I decided to make the most recent book a little thinner- because it seems I’m nearly always done with a journal creatively before I run out of pages to fill. I’ve gone back to the larger size (composition notebook size rather than the 6×9 Midori style) but kept the messy-not-fussy appearance by mixing up colors and textures as they show up in my life and not worrying too much about the color scheme or overall “look” of my book.
I’ve been making junk journals for about a year and using them for about 6 months now. I started making them because I wanted to learn how to make books, but I only started using them for myself when the details of my life got overwhelming and I needed a system to help me manage it all. It was in that fog that I remembered having read and heard about bullet journaling and realized I had already learned the skills I needed to make my first junk journal.
Here are some links to the tutorials I used to get started. I hope you enjoy making these as much as I have!