Wide Angle

Helping People Tell Stories From Their Everyday Lives

Meet scrapbooking guru Ali Edwards.

A smiling, blond-haired white woman sits on the porch of a house.
Ali Edwards. Courtesy of Ali Edwards

On this week’s episode of Working, June Thomas spoke with scrapbooking entrepreneur Ali Edwards. They discussed her motivations for memory-keeping, how she designs new products, and the benefits of documenting daily life. This partial transcript of their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

June Thomas: You’re on a plane, the person sitting next to you looks over and says, “What do you do for a living?” What do you say?

Ali Edwards: I say I own a scrapbooking business. Essentially, what I do is help people tell the stories of their lives using creative methods of writing and photography and design.

I described you to a colleague as Roger Federer, if a good chunk of the population didn’t know that professional tennis was a thing. You’re very well-known and incredibly influential within a niche community, in large part because you created some big projects that a lot of people do every year. I’m thinking of One Little Word, Day in the Life, Week in the Life, and what I think is the biggest one, December Daily. What is December Daily, and how did you come up with it?

December Daily is a memory-keeping project I’ve been doing since, I think, 2006. The project is to make a scrapbook album, and the way I like to approach it is one story per day from Dec. 1 until Dec. 25. For me, this project has become an opportunity to look for and create and document joy during the holiday season. Most of what I do is everyday life stories. So, in December, I’m thinking, what can I celebrate right now, what can I document, what’s real in our life?

This is a project a lot of people do, many working with products you design and sell, but many doing it with their own stuff or with no stuff. But you design products every year that people can use to help with these stories. How do you think about what you’re going to do next time around? When you sat down in December 2019, were you thinking, “This year we had hexagons, next year let’s have triangles.”

We usually start designing products for December Daily a year in advance. So, when I’m doing the project in December, I’m also sitting at my computer, in Illustrator, designing cards and other kinds of products that will go into the kits for the following year. My goal is to create products that invite storytelling. I always go back to the words and how can I encourage people to add more words to their projects.

We start with a color palette. It’s generally Christmas-related, but we have some variation, like, we’re doing a darker green or a lighter green or a darker red. My main employee, Katie, usually establishes the color palette. Then I look at what we did the year before and think about what things worked when I was using them, or when I saw other people using them, and what things didn’t work. We do a lot of community conversations, especially within some Facebook groups. I take that into consideration, along with me thinking about the kinds of stories that I’m probably going to tell.

With December Daily, specifically, a lot of the traditions that we have are repeatable kinds of things. I know that every year I’m probably going to tell a story about what I’m loving right now. So, I usually include some sort of a card or embellishment that’s designed specifically to encourage people to tell that story: What are the 10 things you’re loving right now? Or there’s usually something that’s very basic, like tree decorating. Some of those things are already established, so I’m sitting here at my desk, trying to think, “Is there a different way we can tell these same stories this year?” That’s from the product end. But when I’m actually working on the project myself, I let what’s happening in our lives lead the storytelling. Things look different from year to year. Over the span of the time that I’ve been doing this project, my family structure has changed. Things like that get reflected in the kinds of stories that I tell in December.

Can you describe the project in more detail for someone who’s never seen a scrapbook page, who doesn’t know what a mini-album is, what a pocket page is …

For December Daily, I make this project in a three-ring binder that is 6 x 8. Inside of that ring binder album, there are page protectors, which are plastic sleeves that you can use if you want to slip cards in there. On those cards, you may have responded to a storytelling prompt or some sort of a question, or you might just be writing down a random story from your day. Some people make pages that are more interactive, that have layers of things on them.

But an example of a story would be decorating the tree. I also include things like, this is how my kids are interacting with each other right now. For me, and probably most people that do this now, it’s a practice, and the creative practice is listening and looking for the kinds of stories that are meaningful to you.

I’m realizing as we’re talking that one key to many of your projects is that there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. There’s something finite to it.

I think that makes it accessible. When I first started scrapbooking, the people that were really engaged in the hobby were creating layouts, which traditionally means a 12-by-12 piece of card stock with things on top of it in some sort of an organized or visually pleasing way. People were doing that in an ongoing way. And many people still do it that way. Specific projects that have beginnings and endings give people an entry point. They can say, “I would like to try this.” It’s harder to build creative confidence with an ongoing project. Most people aren’t scrapbooking all the time.

To listen to the full interview with Ali Edwards, subscribe to Working on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or listen below.