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; finally evolving 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

My botanical boho journal
I’m still insanely proud of my botanical boho junk journal, so expect it to keep making an appearance for the foreseeable

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… and not 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 and 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 who 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 is sounding a lot more like the concept of “gluebooks” 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.

Vintage cartes de visite
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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 designs 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”

Now I don’t know if junk journaling started before or after the recession. But what I do know is that it 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.

And thus, junk journaling was born!

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 remember: “junk” doesn’t have to mean “ugly” or “junky”.

For example, I recently filmed a scrap buster mini video series for my Youtube channel, where I turned cereal boxes, book pages, tea bags, clothing and wallpaper that once covered a vintage paperback into some pretty junk journal tags:

Some junk journal tags I made recently from scraps and real junk
More junk journal tags made from scraps and real junk
Some more junk journal tags made from scraps and real junk – see how I made them here

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 journaling 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.

Junk journal tuck spot idea
My botanical boho junk journal, which I made from a mixture of junk and pretty things (it’s also currently for sale on my Etsy shop *wink*)

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 journaling.

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.

Since discovering junk journaling earlier this year, 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 journaling 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 journaling 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

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Justine is one half of the newlywed duo behind this home and craft blog, as well as the couples travel blog Wanderers of the World. When not away travelling with her husband and Rough Collie, she's always making something or busying about the house. So really, it's no surprise that House of Mahalo was born!

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