The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started with Junk Journaling

art journal how to make a junk journal how-to junk journaling scrapbooking smash book

I’ve never really been much of a “journaler” per se, mainly because the thought of just writing words on plain pages bores me.

I do love making things with paper, though...and vintage ephemera especially calls to me. The textures and aromas of old books and magazines, the chipped and frayed page edges, the text and illustrations--all of these make me nostalgic for simpler times. I like surrounding myself with these pieces of the past.

vintage ephemera for junk journals

Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered junk journaling!

These days there are many types of journaling, including:

  • Bullet Journaling
  • Travel Journaling
  • Food Journaling
  • Gratitude Journaling
  • 5-Minute Journaling (not to be outdone by 2-minute journaling!)
  • Art Journaling

None of these (even art journaling) really caught my attention, but junk journaling really speaks to me.

You may have come across junk journals while browsing Instagram or “window shopping” on handmade shopping sites like Etsy. But how much do you know about them?

If you’re new to junk journals, keep reading to understand the what, why, and how...

  • What is a junk journal?
  • How can I use a junk journal?
  • How do I make my own junk journal?

Ready? Great! Let’s dive in.

What is Junk Journaling?

Junk journals are journals made from, well, junk. That means the book is made from “upcycled” materials. The process of upcycling involves creatively repurposing discarded objects or materials into something new.

The possibilities for junk journal materials are practically endless and include both new and vintage items such as:

  • book covers
  • book pages
  • sheet music
  • maps
  • greeting cards
  • magazines
  • product packaging (food boxes, produce stickers, labels, netting)
  • envelopes
  • junk mail
  • receipts and ticket stubs
  • fabric scraps
  • ribbon, lace, seam binding, and rick rack
  • old keys
  • broken jewelry
  • paper clips and binder clips
  • game pieces
  • and so much more!
vintage ephemera and trim for junk journals
Unlike “recycling,” where the objects are broken down into raw materials that are used to create new items, “upcycled” items maintain much of their original characteristics but are incorporated into “new” products or used creatively in new ways.

Junk Journal vs. Smash Book vs. Art Journal - What’s the Difference?

Smash Book

A smash book is created using the “old school” scrapbooking technique.
They’re used for keeping mementos like event programs and ticket stubs, a dried flower from a date or anniversary, or birth and wedding announcements. You can also write, paint, and draw in smash books.

Years ago, these scrapbooks were often made from repurposed books—the scrapbooker affixed her favorite photos, magazine pictures, dried flowers, ribbons, poems, and other mementos to the pages.

Modern smash books or scrapbooks typically start with a new book consisting of blank pages, perhaps with preprinted designs/patterns. This technique often involves creating “page layouts” and using premade packaged papers, embellishments, stickers, and stamps to decorate the book and highlight the mementos stored in it.

scrapbook

Art Journal

An art journal is used more as an actual journal or diary, in which the journaler expresses her thoughts through art and/or writing. Artists may also use art journals to sketch out project ideas and experiment with new techniques and materials.

Art journals usually start with a blank book, like a sketchbook or plain page journal.

Junk Journal

In addition to being made primarily from upcycled materials, here are a few other characteristics of junk journals that set them apart:

Pages in junk journals are often different sizes and may be made from any paper, such as book or magazine pages, coffee filters, scrapbook paper, maps, envelopes, and much more. The possibilities are endless and limited only by your imagination!

Covers may be made from old book covers, cardstock, greeting cards, envelopes, cardboard food boxes, binders, or any number of other items.

Junk journal pages typically contain lots of pockets, tags, envelopes, spaces for writing, and “tuck spots” for storing tags, personal mementos, and other items.

Decorating a junk journal is the most creative and personal part of making one. Decorations are referred to as “embellishments” and include things like ribbon, scraps of lace and fabric, buttons, decorated paper clips and safety pins, bookplates and corners, charms, pockets, tags, envelopes, and spots for journaling (writing).

Larger embellishments like pockets and tags can be left plain, but are more often beautifully and elaborately decorated using techniques including stamping, collage, inking, and sewing.

What Can I Use A Junk Journal For?

The short answer to this question...anything! If you’re looking for a little inspiration, however, here are a few common ways people use them:

  • Personal Diary  A junk journal can be a great place to record your thoughts, dreams, project ideas, or even appointments and events. If you plan to do lots of writing, you can leave plenty of blank space on the pages. Tags and foldout journaling spots provide more unique places to write.
  • Travel Journal  Use the pages to track your activities while traveling. You can stash keepsakes like ticket stubs, brochures, photos, and other things you collect on your journey in the pockets of your journal.
  • Art Journal  As mentioned above, some artists use the pages of junk journals for painting, sketching, and other mixed media creations.


A junk journal makes a great gift because you can personalize it for the recipient using his/her favorite colors, materials, and themes.

How to Make a Junk Journal

The truly great thing about making a junk journal is that there is no “wrong” way. As long as you’re willing to go with the flow as you create and realize that things don’t always turn out exactly as you expected (be prepared to “pivot”), you can’t mess it up!

Bob Ross quote

Parts of a junk journal

Cover

Junk journal covers can be hard (rigid) or soft (flexible).

Deconstructed books (books that have had their pages removed) are often used for hard covers. Journal pages are secured between the covers using one of a variety of methods.

Ring binders also make good rigid junk journal covers. Pages are easily added to the rings with no gluing or sewing required. An added benefit of using a binder is that pages may be rearranged.

Flexible cover options include (but are not limited to!) cardboard packaging, cardstock, envelopes, wallpaper, or upcycled paperback book covers.

Pages

Pages can be made from any combination of various types of paper in a variety of sizes and shapes. Junk mail; book, magazine, and catalog pages; wallpaper scraps; coffee filters; packaging (like empty oatmeal packets); maps; sheet music; and much more.
It’s easy and fun to rummage through your house to gather materials for your journal pages.

Embellishments

Junk journal decorations are called embellishments. These include pockets, tags, tuck spots, journaling spots, envelopes, paper clips, safety pins, charms, and tassels. Embellishments give a journal dimension and character and are often decorated with scraps of paper, fabric, lace or ribbon and with stamping, inking, and other art techniques.
junk journal embellishments
Tags are used as places to write or as bookmarks (or both at once). Sometimes tags are purely decorative.

Pockets may be “built in” to the pages or may be created separately and affixed to the pages with glue or stitching.

Like pockets, tuck spots are used for storing things. A belly band (a strip of material spanning the width of a page and affixed to the edges) is one type of tuck spot.

Journaling spots are exactly what they sound like--places for writing. Unlike blank areas on the pages themselves, journaling spots are created separately and then affixed to pages.

Paper clips may be used as-is but are more often decorated on the front. Adding beads to paper clips and safety pins creates charms to decorate page edges or the book’s spine.

As with covers and pages, creating embellishments is limited only by your imagination.

Making a journal

Before you start gathering materials and making your journal you have a couple of decisions to make. The answers to these questions will help you determine what supplies you need and the first creative steps you’ll take:
  • What type of book do you want to create (hardcover, softcover, etc)?
  • Do you want your journal to have a theme? You definitely don’t have to have a theme (owls, for example) but if you do you’ll need to consider it when gathering materials.
  • How will you use your journal? Again, it’s perfectly acceptable to have no idea! Some intended uses (travel journal or planner, for example) may benefit from a little more thought during the layout and assembly processes.
Now it’s time to get the junk journal party started!

Gather your materials and supplies

One great thing about making junk journals is that you don’t need to buy any special materials, and most supplies and tools you’ll need are common to most households. Of course, you can always buy special stamps, inks, hole punches, and other supplies but you don’t have to.

Go on a scavenger hunt in your house for materials to make your covers and pages. Also be on the lookout for embellishment items like buttons, ribbon and other trims, fabric scraps, stickers, tassels, beads, stamps, and more.

The basic tools and supplies you’ll want to gather include:
  • scissors
  • glue stick
  • tacky glue and/or Elmer’s glue
  • paper cutter (not necessary, but nice!)
  • hole punch
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • needle & thread
  • x-acto knife
Optional supplies you may want at some point:
  • ink pads
  • rubber stamps
  • eyelet setter and metal eyelets
  • hot glue gun

Tips and Techniques

I learned how to make junk journals by watching others. This is the absolute best way to get practical step-by-step instruction for everything from choosing materials to putting together groups of pages (called signatures) to binding your book to making embellishments. Following junk journalers on Instagram and YouTube and getting lost in junk journal pins on Pinterest has both taught me the basics and inspired me to create my own art.

Here are a few of my favorite junk journalers on YouTube:
Facebook groups specifically for junk journalers are also a great source of inspiration and answers for questions you may have as you learn.

As you begin your own junk journal journey remember that the point of making these books is to be creative and have fun. There’s no “right” way or “wrong” way.

For inspiration, tips, and more be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook.
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