Many moons ago I would page through the family albums that my dad put together. Long before the "acid free" hoopla, and in true Chris Kasteel fashion, my dad rubber cemented all our photos into paper albums. I loved to look through at pictures of Kelly and I growing up, of the crazy 80's fashions and of Christmases and camping trips. I've always been an album maker too, loving to page back and look at memories. I got caught up in scrapbooking and spent my life savings on paper, glue, brads, paints, stamps, punches, albums and cute stickers. When I'd get to work, there'd be stuff strewn across my room but in the end, a beautiful album.

Then I had Ruby and I doubled my efforts. Then I had Jasper and tripled them. Then Tymen and I quadrupled them. Every one had their own albums and I was creating mulitples of most pages that I made for my albums so that they would have copies of all that applied to them too. I was taking more and more pictures as I was starting to love photography more and more, so there was more and more to scrap. I started sinking....

Friends would come over and I'd see the intimidation on their faces as they observed my albums, color coded for each kid. Then would come the guilty confessions of how "behind" they were.

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When I had Theo, I started to feel so overwhelmed by the huge task I had created for myself. Five albums to make each year. Yikes. The smell of acid free glue began to feel toxic to me and the thought of making a page, let along about forty to fifty each month made me have the dry heaves.

I kept on taking pictures and editing them and blogging them through 2011...but I honestly couldn't find the time or motivation to scrapbook anymore. It was such a huge task.

I knew I wanted books for my kids with their memories and didn't want to just pass along a computer hard drive as family memories. However, I knew whatever I did had to be very efficient, easy to fit in my schedule and simple. I had made small 8 by 8 photo books before for our "Day in the Life" every year and for special vacations and thought long and hard about how I could make these work for the massive amount of pictures I take. I hemmed and hawed for a while and finally got to it for the first couple months this year.

Ha-le-lu-jah! It was the answer for me! It was fast and easy to just upload and then drag and drop. I added text, often easy little memories or things I'd blogged and I am so glad because I love reading all the quirky stuff from years past. It went waaaaay faster than scrapbooking, probably took about a quarter of the time. When I finally ordered the albums, I shouted, "YES!!!!!" as I hit "Quantity: 5" and was done with it!

I wanted to share what I've done because I know there are a lot of mamas out there who have also fallen off the scrapbooking wagon (or who perhaps never got on)! You have hundreds and thousands of pictures on your computers and don't even know where to start. I am going to share how I created mine in the hopes that maybe it will inspire you to do what feels manageable for you. My family albums are 100 pages but perhaps you could just do 20 for the year and be happy with it, or forget about the writing at all. Do whatever feels do-able to you!

Can you hear the angels sing like I did when I opened up that Shutterfly package and found all five albums gleaming?

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The first thing that I was delighted with was the size! I could fit five albums on the shelf with the same space that I did one big scrapbooking album before. Hello! (Next time I will put the title and year on the spine, totally forgot about that).

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I love, LOVE these. These pages are filled with events, funny times, portraits, daytrips and the every day moments that I cherish.

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Here are some things that I love about these albums:

  • I did these through and though the images don't look quite as amazing as prints, I think their image quality in their photobooks is very good overall.
  • I love that I could work on these albums a bit at a time and they were saved in "My Projects".
  • The 12 by 12 format works great for some big pictures and also a ton of little ones.
  • You can customize these books quite a bit, from choosing layouts and numbers of pictures, to changing sizes of pictures, adding text, deleting spaces. Their format feels very user friendly to me.
  • It took a fraction of the time to put together than I used to spend developing pictures, cutting, gluing, adding paper and words and text. Seriously, I think it took about a quarter of the time and was far less messy.
  • These books are way easier and less cumbersome for the kids to pick up and read and they LOVE seeing themselves (positive re-enforcement for more pictures!).
  • I used to scrap all my good pictures but this hundred page limit for the year forced me to choose the very best images and truly, 100 pages is enough.
  • Just ordering several copies was SUCH a time saver in place of the multiple albums I was doing before. It's also a great gift for grandparents...we gave a copy to my parents as part of our thank-you for watching the crazies while we were in Paris.

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I am definitely doing this again this year and though I created last year's album in free time during a few months, I have decided to work on our 2012 album month by month. It takes me just about an hour to drop pictures in pages and add text. An hour a month I can do!!

Here are the steps that work for me:

  • I empty my memory card regularly and edit my favorites as I go. I always keep the originals of the ones I love and I delete extras and crummy ones. If you don't edit or keep it simple that's even easier.
  • Once a month, I upload my favorite pictures from the month to Shutterfly. May 2011. Using the highest image quality to upload is recommended.
  • I have chosen the "Custom Path" so I can create my own album instead of Shutterfly just dropping in images by date.
  • 100 pages divided by 12 months gives me about 8 pages per month. This makes me choose the best ones and I really try to group subjects and days. I do very simple and clean photobooks. There are a lot of colors and styles and bells and whistles available in the templates but I choose a simple one and make the focus the images and text. I don't want to date my albums with cheesy stuff either. I do my pages, add some text and sometimes the dates. I try to vary the layouts. (If writing isn't your thing...don't do it :) ).
  • I save my pages and then just leave it for the next month.
  • I do separate albums for really big vacations (like Paris) but most trips I can add in a few pages, especially with the pages being so big.

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Once I completed and proofread the album, I waited until Shutterfly had a 50% off photo book sale plus free shipping. Each of my hundred page albums ended up being $95 including tax. At first I thought it was so much but then when I went back and calculated how much I used to spend on scrapbooking albums, paper, pens, glue, page covers, and (especially) printing of photos it was way, way more than $100 each. I think it just wasn't such a sticker shock back then because I did several smaller purchases. What I have decided to do is to set aside a certain amount per month so that at the end of the year I'll have enough to buy all five albums easily. Obviously, this would be way less if you only ordered two or three or did a smaller album size or less pages.

Here's a couple more album ideas. I've done an art book every three or so years for Ruby. I have kept a file with some of our favorite pieces of art which are dated but really, who is going to look through all that?

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Instead, I photograph her art and then create a photo book (8 x 11, 25 pages). I don't put in every piece of art done but document some of the progression of her art and writing.

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She loves looking through this!

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I do a "Day in the Life" 8 by 8 book each year. This year's edition is still to come. I LOVE these and our lives change so much each year.

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This is the very best part of it, communicating value and love in this special way to my kids. What a treasure these books and memories are to me and hopefully to them (and their children)!

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If a 100 page, yearly book seems like way too much for you...don't do it :). However, I would encourage you to get your photos into a format for viewing in some way. Maybe you could do a smaller, shorter book. Perhaps a book with two pages dedicated to every month would feel more feasible and affordable. If you have years and years and years of pictures, maybe work backwards and just start with last year.

I know that overwhelming feeling that comes with feeling so behind and this project may seem like an elephant in size...but you can eat an elephant one bite at a time. Start by setting aside an hour to check out a photo book site and see if it may be something that you'd like to do.

I'd love to hear from you if you have done or do this type of project. I am SO happy that I did, and that this is a sustainable option for me to record our memories with our busy, crazy, happy family!