How to store mixed media collage photo elements (without going nuts)

I love doing collages but I just can’t keep up with the stacks and stacks of paper that I’ve saved to “put into a junk journal someday.” Lately I’ve been throwing heaps of paper and magazines OUT, just to have a little more room in my craft space.

However, that’s not a viable long-term solution. I don’t particularly WANT to keep throwing away all my collage supplies. And I still have stacks of paper, magazines, old books, brochures, etc. despite the recent purge. They’re stashed in every corner of the house, and I can’t even find them when I need them.

It’s time for a radical change.

I need to get organized!

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Organizing Paper Clippings

There’s two major ways to organize image elements that I know of: color, and topic.

A few years ago I tried to organize my clippings by color. I used expanding file folders and put each color into one or two tabs. Blues, greens, purples, reds, etc.

That didn’t really work, despite the fact that my collages tend to be monochrome. Individual pieces of paper are often a mix of colors, so putting a magazine page that had purple, blue, and red into ONE folder labeled “purple” might mean I’d miss it when I’m making a blue-focused collage, for instance. Also, the clippings kept falling out of the folders.

Then I tried to organize by topic. I used manilla envelopes and wrote major image topics on them that I tended to use a lot– people, animals, plants, household items, etc.

Also didn’t work, because I don’t build collages based off of specific types of images. I almost NEVER look at a picture of a rocking chair and go “oh, I simply must make a collage around that.” Instead, I blend stuff together based on texture/color/underlying secret theme. Plus, going through the envelopes to find images was even more annoying than trying to use the file folders.

Since giving up on organizing by color or type, I’ve just kept everything in piles around my room. But as I’ve said before: the stacks no longer work. I literally can’t make my collages because I can’t find my images. Something needs to change.

I think I’ve finally found a solution.

Collage Paper Storage Solution

Part of my collage creation process is flipping through stacks of ephemera and seeing what resonates with me. It takes more time, but it’s more fulfilling, creatively. And I usually end up finding things that are PERFECT and that I forgot I had, which is handy.

10+ years ago I literally just threw clippings into a big box and dug through the whole thing– a little exhausting. It was a BIG box, a Home Depot moving box I’d kept around. But it was so handy having everything in one central location.

In looking around my stash, I remembered that I bought a stack of these colored scrapbook storage boxes on deep discount from Michaels or JoAnn’s, and they’ve basically been sitting unused under my bed for 5 years.

I’m going to turn these boxes into my paper clippings storage system. (And I’m going to call them my “treasure boxes,” because why not.)

And (this is important) I’m going to organize my clippings by the DATE I GOT THEM.

This sounds totally counter to every other organization scheme that I’ve ever heard anyone talk about, so I feel a little weird just putting it all out there. But I think it’s going to work. Let me tell you why.

1) I can make sure to go back through my older clippings and use them, or throw them out if I don’t think I’ll ever use them after all (it happens).

2) Organizing my clippings by type, color, or image never worked for me anyway, so why keep struggling with something that doesn’t work. Also, I tend to remember things better by date anyway, so if I’m looking for something in particular, I’m more likely to remember “oh yeah, I got that back in November” and look in the right place.

3) The physical form of the boxes will be super helpful. Because the boxes are made to store 12×12 scrapbook paper, even when they’re full they’re easy to lift and sort through.

Things that are too big for the boxes, like oversized books, will get stashed on a special shelf.

I’m going to test this out for a few months and see how it goes. I’ll report back with my findings!

How do you organize your collage clippings? In envelopes, boxes, in piles around your studio? Drop a comment below!

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One Comment

  1. I am in the same boat. I do junk journaling and the amount of paper ephemera is crazy. I have a box for scraps, a box for all my created ephemera, then magazines, coloring books, old books, maps, etc. The list goes on and on. I however, don’t have a ton of clippings since I stopped myself from clipping ahead of time awhile back and just grab the magazines now. However, I do have three sheet protectors full of clippings. That’s as far as I got for organization. I can’t see date working or color but type does sound like a good fit.

    The one thing I do know is that I am continually changing my style of how to organize to make the system work for me. So I applaud you for seeing that it’s not working currently and doing the work to organize into a way that it does.

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