5 ways to get creative with your memories

We all seem to have one: A box of photos and memorabilia, or a file on our computers of digital memories. Tackling these untamed archives can be tricky — but without supporting details these items can lose their context over time.

No more excuses… it’s time to get creative. Whether you’re looking to capture memories or create a special gift, here are some fun project ideas to try.

Make a memory book

Scrapbooks have made a big comeback in recent years, and it’s no surprise why. You can include more than just photos, and put your design skills to good use with the wide variety of papers, cutters and decorations on the market.

Many enthusiasts create scrapbook pages as occasions arise until their books are full. If you’re looking for a gift idea or a project with focus, here are some additional ideas:

– Baby book. No matter what their age, surprise your children or grandchildren with a scrapbook of childhood pictures and memorabilia — like their drawings or early report cards.

– Wedding album. Capture the details of your own wedding, or make a gift for newlyweds or couples celebrating a milestone anniversary. Scavenge any keepsakes, like invitations, programs, place cards and or fabric swatches, to be included.

– Family album. Use a selection of photos to create a book for hard-to-shop-for parents and grandparents. (A small scrapbook also makes a good conversation piece for people in a nursing home.)

Publish your own book

Prefer to go digital, or want to share copies with friends and family? You can turn your memories into an electronic or print book using a self-publishing service like Picaboo , Shutterfly and Lulu .

Photo books are a simple and popular option, but they’re not the only one. Here are some other ideas:

– Collect your favourite family recipes into a custom cookbook. (Perfect for bridal showers, housewarming parties and recent graduates.)

– Make a yearbook for a club or organization.

– Collect creative writing and illustrations, or include digital copies of letters or journal pages in your photo books.

– Create a custom storybook using photographs and other memorabilia.

Self-published books are available in a variety of sizes and options, including soft cover and hardcover books. Price isn’t the only thing to consider: also look for shipping costs, volume discounts, free software and customer service. (Some sites even help with marketing and sales, if you choose to sell your book.)

Tell your story online

Think of it as social networking, story telling and blogging all rolled into one — but for an exclusive audience of your choice. Online services like Story of My Life let you create a permanent online “story” or journal that includes media files and documents. Another bonus: the account is free, as long as you use it once every six months.

In addition to features you see on other social media — like groups and browsing other people’s stories — this service offers features with a legacy in mind. If you’re willing to invest a little money, you can purchase “Forever Space”. While the cost depends on the size of your files, this permanent archiving feature comes with the guarantee that a partner not-for-profit organization, the Story of My Life Foundation™, will maintain your story permanently. (The not-for-profit status means the foundation is legally bound to find a way to preserve the data and keep is accessible.)

Remember, we’re talking long-term here: your story doesn’t have to end when you’re not able to keep it going. The service lets you appoint a “guardian” who can take over. You can keep parts or your entire story private until you or your guardian decides to share. (For more information, visit the Story of My Life Foundation website.)

Sew up a memory quilt

Quilts add comfort and warmth to memories, but you don’t have to tackle a bed-sized project. A throw or wall hanging may be just the right size to capture your memories — and it allows you to play with colours and prints. Here are some suggestions:

– Photo/artwork quilts. Good news — photo transfer techniques have gotten easier and less messy over the years. (For instance, there are specially treated fabric sheets that can go through your printer.) Create blocks around favourite snaps, or scan your children’s drawings for a custom look.

– T-shirt quilt. Turn your favourite t-shirt logos and slogans into quilt blocks. (Interfacing and sashing can help tame the stretch.)

– Crazy quilt. Use all those pretty odds and ends of material – including fabrics from sentimental items like children’s clothing or formal wear. (Hint: use newsprint or a tear-away foundation to add support while you work.) Start small — like a cushion cover — if you want to experiment first.

– Signature quilt. Choose a quilt pattern with empty space (like “rail fence” or “hole in the barn door”) to allow room for autographs and special messages. Let people sign the squares before you sew them into the quilt, just in case there’s a mistake. Iron some plain fabric like muslin to freezer paper, mark off the required size and hand over the fabric pens!

Keep a travel journal

Going somewhere? Digital cameras are a great way to capture the sites and people we encounter on our journeys, but what about other items like ticket stubs and brochures? Sometimes, a postcard can capture a view better than we can, and we’d like to include our own notes too.

You don’t have to be a dedicated diary writer to try this option. Simply pack a blank journal, a glue stick, scissors, double-sided tape and a few good pens for this easy, on-the-go project. As you travel, take a few minutes to paste in some memorable items from the day and jot down some notes. Don’t just record the activities for the day — try to evoke the atmosphere by describing the sights, smells and tastes. Make the composition interesting by cropping and offsetting items.

Didn’t complete the journal? No problem. Use the pages in your scrapbook or for other projects.

Tips before you try it:

– Create a copy. If you don’t want to use irreplaceable items, scan them into your computer and use the print instead.

– Use good quality tools and materials. They not only make a better product, they’re easier to work with. (Make sure you know how to properly clean and store your tools too.) If you’re worried about longevity, look for “acid-free” and “archival quality” materials.

– Buy a kit. It’s an inexpensive way to add variety if you don’t have a stash of supplies.

– Watch for discounts. Many craft stores have regular sales and coupons that you can save for pricier items.

– Work with a buddy. A creative project can be a bonding experience with friends and family — and a way to stay motivated. Everyone can share his or her skills, materials and tools as well.

– Take a class. Many hobby stores have drop-in U.F.O. (that’s “unfinished object”) classes so participants can have some company — and some expert help. Try out some new tools, or take advantage of class discounts.

– Look online for inspiration. No matter what your hobby, there are countless websites that offer sample designs and free patterns to help you get started.

50Plus asks: How do you document and share your memories? Add to this list in the comments!

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Jeff Nagy

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