The Intriguing History Of Junk Journals

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Very few people have written about the history of junk journals and how they came to be.

So I’ve had to scramble deeper and deeper into the rabbit warren that we like to call “Google” to find out where the concept of junk journaling came from.

Although I’m yet to find an exact date or year when junk journaling officially became “a thing”, I did find out a lot of interesting information about how scrapbooking and journaling have changed over the centuries.

Which then finally evolved into what we call junk journaling today.

Intrigued? Read on to find out what I’ve discovered so far…

A Quick Look At The History Of Junk Journals

Centre page inside my forest waterfall journal
One of my junk journals that I absolutely adored making!

Note that this blog post is by no means an exhaustive study of the history of junk journals. That’s what sites like Wikipedia are for.

I’ve written this blog post as a way of curating all the most relevant information I’ve found so that you can get a basic understanding of how the idea of junk journaling has evolved over time.

I also didn’t want you to have to read an incredibly long article to do so.

Even so, I hope you find it helpful and informative.

Society’s First Scrapbooks

Before we can understand junk journaling, we first need to understand scrapbooking – without which we probably wouldn’t have junk journals.

You’ll understand why soon enough.

Historians say that journals and diaries have existed since as far back as the Middle Ages.

However, as we know, the ability to read and write was mainly reserved for the wealthy and educated.

The Renaissance era between the 14th and 17th centuries meant that books, reading and writing became much more “commonplace” and mainstream.

But it wasn’t until the 19th century that a form of “scrapbooking” began.

Initially, families used their Bibles to record important information about their family alongside relevant clippings and mementoes from their lives.

This practice of collecting tidbits related to people’s lives continued throughout the 1800s.

But Bibles can only hold so much.

By the end of the 1800s, families were collecting and sticking their mementoes into any book they had access to.

Accounting and ledger books, for example, and later, blank books dedicated to the purpose of scrapbooking.

During this time, printing companies had also emerged, meaning beautiful illustrations and designs now adorned calling cards, postcards and even advertisements.

Families then saved these within their scrapbooks as they were simply too pretty to throw away.

Some people even went as far as arranging their “scraps” in pretty and artistic layouts like this:

I also saw a comment from someone online recently who said they’d attended a workshop with their local historical society, which showed them old 19th and early 20th-century scrapbooks.

They said: “One was from a local seamstress, who literally kept a book with scraps of dress fabrics, along with notes about the customer for whom each dress was made. Another was from a student at the local college, who on one page, glued in a glove, an invitation, and a printed balloon from a formal dance. I wonder what those books would be called today?”

Admittedly, looking back on it now, all of this sounds a lot more like the concept of “glue books” that we know of today. But I’ll save that for a future blog post.

Anyway, on and on it went, with the idea of collecting scraps related to one’s life growing in popularity with every decade.

And with the invention of cameras and photography in the 1820s, people also started to add family photographs and portraits to their scrapbooks – especially “cartes de visite” (visiting cards), which became very popular towards the late 1850s.

When Scrapbooking Became “Big Business”

If you think about modern-day scrapbooks, you’ll probably note the use of pretty scrapbook papers, photos, photo corners and a structured layout similar to the mockup you see here.

I certainly remember one of my scrapbooks from 2006 looking very similar to this!

While scrapbooks continued to evolve since those early days of photographs and family mementoes, so too did the design and scrapbooking industry.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, special stores devoted to scrapbooking supplies started to crop up across the Western world, as well as magazines and books dedicated to scrapbooking as a hobby.

Naturally, this meant people spent more and more money to have the best scrapbooking layouts. In 2004, the scrapbooking industry had reached its peak at $2.5 billion.

Just two years later, many of us started to see the effect of the housing bubble, which caused the economy to crash into a dire recession by 2008.

In a bid to save money while still being able to do their beloved hobby, some people turned to digital scrapbooking.

But there was another art form that was on its way, which didn’t require people to buy expensive supplies or tools.

I am, of course, talking about junk journaling (aka my new obsession).

Junk Journaling As A Form Of “Rebellion”

Today’s junk journals started as a form of “rebellion” against the idea that you needed to buy expensive papers and supplies to store memories in a book or create personal artwork.

Where “free” things like cereal boxes, junk mail envelopes, packaging, flyers, leaflets, paper bags and any other form of “junk” we throw away or recycle each day could be turned into something useful, beautiful and worth saving from landfill.

No more expensive scrapbook paper. No stickers or stick-on letters that you can only use once. Just junk… and lots of it.

But I don’t believe this was the first time we’ve seen junk journals in the history of scrapbooking either.

Recessions Breed Creativity Once Again

Whether they were actually called junk journals at the time remains to be seen.

But I’ve heard recently that junk journals of sorts also appeared directly after the recession of the 1940s.

Unable to source many materials, people took to making journals, scrapbooks and memory books using whatever they could get their hands on at the time.

Newspapers, paper packaging, seed packets and much more all had their uses for writing and drawing.

But whether junk journals started in the 1940s or more recently, one thing’s for sure: “junk” doesn’t have to mean “ugly” or “junky”.

I actually have an entire playlist on my YouTube channel where I’ve turned trash and packaging into junk journal tags, other junk journal ephemera and even journal covers.

I’ve wittily called it “Shop Your Trash”.

And I like to think you’d never know the pieces were made from things we’d normally throw away!

Take a look at my playlist here if you’d like to watch along >>

Junk journal ephemera made from trash and packaging
Various junk journal ephemera made from packaging and other “junk”

The Evolution Of Junk Journals

However, as you’re reading this blog post today, you’ll probably know that junk journaling didn’t exactly stay this way.

Naturally, creative and artistic people have built on the original concept of junk journals to create offshoots left, right and centre.

While there’s still an element of “junk” in junk journaling. Cereal boxes, envelopes, packaging, junk mail, etc. all still very much have their place within this craft, for instance.

So too does lace, fabric, buttons, playing cards, pretty paper, book pages, music sheets, vintage ephemera, and any other number of “new” things you choose to make or embellish your journals with.

Of course, this does mean some junk journalers (myself included) don’t just use “free” stuff anymore.

Fairy vellum junk journal pocket
One of my fairy journals, which I made from junk and pretty things

There are even hoards of wonderfully talented people who’ve created junk journal printables, digitals and kits, which are supremely popular – even if they do seem quite far removed from the initial idea of junk journals.

The Circle Of Life Junk Journals

But what I find most interesting is that if you look at the beautiful junk journals of today, don’t you think they’re starting to resemble those original scrapbooks from the 1800s more and more?

More embellished and unique, perhaps.

But the vintage illustrations and ephemera that are so commonly used in today’s junk journals certainly make me feel like they’ve morphed into vintage “scrapbooks”, albeit incredibly beautiful and artistic ones.

And I’m here for it.

Wedding junk journal - vintage wallpaper pocket
One of my pretty vintage-inspired journals

Since discovering junk journaling back in 2021, my appreciation for the superior quality of paper, cards, and day-to-day objects that people had many years ago has continued to grow.

So much so, that I’m now also turning to vintage and antique items within my home decor – not just within my journals.

While some people may resent how junk journaling has evolved, I think it’s amazing that more and more people are discovering the concept and falling in love with junk journals every single day.

And as I’ve written previously, my idea of what a junk journal is is personal to each person.

I believe a junk journal is whatever you want it to be.

Whether you want to create a beautiful fabric-covered journal full of genuine vintage ephemera versus a journal created out of a cereal box that’s embellished with pages from a printable, your journal and your creations are an extension of you.

Whether you sell your junk journals or keep them, your style is your own.

My only other thought is that there should probably be an element of “junk” in your junk journal for it to technically be classed as such.

But given how much journaling, scrapbooking and now junk journals have all evolved over the years, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we discover a new form of this medium altogether within the next decade.

Any guesses on what it’ll be called in the next iteration?

Over to you now dear reader, what do you think about all this junk journal business?

Want to read more about junk journaling? Take a look at my other blog posts now.

Did you learn something new today about the history of junk journals? If so, I’d love it if you’d consider sharing this blog post with a friend or follower using the links below…

Much love,

Justine xoxo

The Intriguing History Of Junk Journals
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  1. Great article, Justine! Very interesting and informative! Your article was posted in my fb group Junk Journal Central. Not sure if you are a member, if not, you should be!
    Fellow junk journaler
    Kerrie Guiel
    Junk Journal Central

    1. Thank you Kerrie! I’m glad you enjoyed my article. I am indeed in your group, but I didn’t realise my article had been shared there. How exciting! Thanks for letting me know xoxo

  2. Well thank you for sharing that info.. I totally agree.. call it what you want! What really matters is that we’re making.. using our imaginations and creating
    ..for ourselves and friends old and new… we come together in community to share…

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting on my article :)
      I think we can often get so stuck on what to call them when junk journals by their very nature allow so much freedom and creativity. I honestly think that what we call them just doesn’t matter. Each journal and creator is unique – and to me, that’s the most important and exciting bit about this craft. It’s so nice to know I’m not on my own thinking that :) xoxo

    1. Thank you so much Erica. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I found it so interesting when I was researching it that I just had to share :D

  3. I loved reading this! The way junk Journaling, scrapbooking, journaling and diaries in general, have evolved over time is definitely a sight to treasure! It actually sparks an idea! Thanks so much Justine for taking time to do the research and inform us all! Love, hugs, and blessings!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading this, Heather :-)
      I found it so interesting when I started doing my research, so I’m really happy others are finding the info equally interesting.
      Happy crafting! xoxo

  4. I inherited my grandmother’s “cookbooks”… two old time scrapbooks (those kind with the light card cover and newsprint pages that were about 11×15 in size… we used them in school when I was a child (in the 1950s)). Grandma had divided her favourite recipes into canning and other stuff. She wrote recipes sometimes or cut recipes from the newspaper or magazines and glued them in. She made little notations next to some of the recipes… sometimes about whether the recipe was any good; sometimes about what the recipe was made for. For instance, she had a relative visit from Norway and made a special dessert, which the relative loved. There is nothing fancy or decorated about these two books, but they are a treasure of history for me.

  5. I had tried scrapbooking but didn’t take to it. But junk journaling is different. I like the size—hand held book size (former librarian) and just love the idea of surprises! I also like the concept, much broader than a personal scrapbook. I love ephemera. Lovely history and your work is amazing. Thank you.

    1. I’m so pleased you’ve found and love junk journals, Jenny! I think they’re so much more freeing than scrapbooks, although there is some overlap, of course :-)
      Happy crafting! xoxo

  6. Fantastic reading. I’m really keen to make my journals from scraps but I live printables as well, caught between a rock and a hard place I’m afraid. 😅. Its what makes you happy right. I have a load of very old photos and post cards from my grandparents so feel very blessed. Thank you for your article. Cheers Nita

    1. Aww, thank you Nita! I’m so pleased you enjoyed the blog post :D
      Absolutely! We all have our different styles and that’s part of what makes this craft so interesting. I love to use printables too – I usually mix them in with other stuff like ledger paper, book pages and other random papers I can find. But there’s also no reason why you can’t make a journal using just printables either. These days, I like to think junk journals can be whatever we want them to be. There are no rules and that’s just so incredibly freeing :D xoxo

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