How to Organize Ephemera for Collage, Art Journaling & Junk Journals

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Trying to find that elusive perfect way to store and organize ephemera for collage, art journaling and junk journals is always an ongoing quest.

While I’m not sure if there truly is a one-size-fits-all best method for organizing paper scraps and collage ephemera, I do think there are a couple of tips and tricks that make it a lot easier!

And after posting our Scavenger Hunt List of Junk Journal Supplies, a couple of readers asked how I organize everything. It definitely can quickly become overwhelming if you’re not careful!

So, today I’m sharing my current system for paper and collage supply storage. It’s not “perfect”, but for someone who lives in a tiny house with kids and pets, it is what works best for me. I’m also going to share some different methods I tried in the past over the years but no longer use.

Hopefully this will give you a good starting point to organize and keep track all of those wonderful paper goodies you find and collect for your creative projects! {Like junk journals, which are definitely one of my favorite things to make!}


5 Things to Consider When Storing Paper Ephemera & Junk Journal Supplies

paper ephemera sorting and storage

Before I get into my exact system, there are a couple of things to take into consideration to decide what is best for you. Most of these things are basic common sense, but it’s worth reviewing them anyway because they are that important!

#1: The #1 thing to consider? Safety!

As you probably know, paper is highly flammable. Some types of paints, inks, and adhesives can also be highly flammable. The place you store your art supplies should be far, far away from any sort of heat source or heating vent.

The other important thing is you should never block exits, main pathways in the house, doorways or windows. First of all, it’s a tripping hazard!

Second of all, should there ever be an emergency, you don’t want anything blocking the way to exit and enter quickly and easily.

#2. Consider Other People Who Live With You

If you have a dedicated art studio space, that’s great! However, if you are like me in a tiny house with no spare room and three kids and cats and a dog and a husband – you need to make sure your art supplies are out of the way most of the time!

While my family wouldn’t mind if I art supplies scattered everywhere, I kind of have to keep them out of reach for my own sanity.

My husband started using my expensive archival safe book binding tape in place of duct tape, “because it just works so well!” – so I quickly had to order him similar but way more affordable Gaffer’s tape for him to use.

And yes, this also means I now keep my good tape in a secret hiding place that I will not disclose here in case he should ever read my blog.

{This is the tape I use for bookbinding projects – yes, it’s amazing!) 🙂


max art cat
The late and great Max the Cat who loved to art journal.

With pets, another lesson I learned is it is crucial that most things be covered either in a box or drawer. You are either going to wind up with fur in everything, or your cats are going to have a field day playing hockey across the floor with all your favorite art supplies.


#3. The Archival Practices of Collectors

I love flea markets, and so not surprisingly I meet a lot of paper and ephemera collectors. They usually have everything neatly catalogued in acid free archival safe sleeves and albums.

Paper is super sensitive to things like light, air, and moisture, so if you want to keep things in their best condition, using archival safe materials to store them is very important.

I personally am not trying to preserve my scraps of paper bits for the next 1,000 years. For this reason, preservation and archiving is not something hugely important for me.

However, it is worth mentioning.  The Ephemera Society of America is an interesting place to start if you are curious about the collector value of paper!

Fortunately, most current paper storage systems ARE acid free and archival safe.

For things that are very important or have sentimental value, I also like to make a digital copy either by scan or photograph. This way, I don’t have to worry about using or damaging the original when creating – and I can always print out more!


#4. The Way Your Brain Works & Types of Things You Like the Most

Everybody thinks a little bit differently and everybody likes different things!

Let’s say I cut out a picture of a red rose from a magazine. Then I ask 3 different people to sort it.

One person might put that in a pile of garden pictures. Another person might decide they want to keep all things that are red together. The third person may find they have a large collection of roses, and might even further sort into a pile dedicated just for roses.

I did at one time used to sort everything into themes and categories like this. However, trying to sort and organize this way quickly started to get crazy. It’s easy to wind up with a bazillion little piles and no idea what is in any of them!

See this picture of different things sorted in different bins? Looks wonderful, right? Well, maybe in theory. I’ve tried it. And I also highly DON’T recommend it. It’s maddening to keep organized and even harder to find a way to store it properly.

paper boxes

So, currently I do not sort by any specific theme or type of item – I simply sort by size. I’ve found by doing this it really cuts down on the space required for storage. With all the pictures together in one box, it’s fun to go through – and it ensures I actually use the pictures I do keep!

If you have an enormous collection of one specific theme – then yes, by all means feel free to keep these things separate from the rest.

For example, one thing I do sort by theme are holiday related items. I keep things like that separate from the rest, since the need for them is typically only seasonal.


#5. Create a Use-By-Date and Purge Often!

I would no doubt drown in a sea of papers if I kept all of the interesting ephemera I stumble across. It’s not possible to keep everything, so I recommend going through stuff and deciding what you will actually use on a regular basis.

We have one simple rule here: If we don’t use something in a certain amount of time (usually 2-4 weeks) – we get rid of it. The nice thing about this is by creating a deadline, it pushes us to actually use the things we’ve been saving – and helps us be more selective on what to keep.

When you find yourself with a surplus, there are a lot of options. You can organize a fun swap with friends where everyone brings their paper to trade. You can also post extra materials on sites like Craigslist, Freecycle, or Facebook buy/sell groups.

If you are lucky enough to live near a creative reuse center, you can also see if it is something you can donate to them. You could also check with teachers and schools to see if they need any sort of collage supplies for projects.

And then, yes, if nothing else, there’s always the recycling bin.

I try to only keep things like that when I have a specific use for it in the immediate future. And if life gets crazy and I know it’s not going to happen anytime soon, I’m okay with recycling it.

For example, I definitely don’t keep every single cereal box that enters my house. That would be insanity – we have three kids! One of those kids is a teenage boy who probably could eat an entire cereal box just for breakfast each day.

I’m all about a clutter free space, and while I’m no where near perfect or as clutter free as I want to be, it definitely is worth making the effort!

Now that I’ve covered these 5 main points, we’re ready to dive into exactly how I organize all that ephemera for art journals.


Sanity Saving Ephemera Storage and Organization Supplies

Several years ago I came to the conclusion it really IS worth investing in some storage supplies for storing the types of things I like to keep for journaling. Fortunately, there are tons of great affordable options.

The Life-Changing Magic of Scrapbook Project Boxes

While prices can vary between stores, availability, and seasons, I still think the easiest and best investment I made yet was this set of large 12 x12 project boxes by Iris. This company also makes a few other sizes of storage boxes – and yes, they are all BPA free, acid-free, PVC-free, and lignin free.

These are perfect for larger scrapbook sized papers, and also a great way to keep a lot of medium sized magazine and book cut-outs all together all in one place.

These stack very easily, and they look great. I like that they are clear because you can see exactly what might be inside.

View on Amazon


For the Smaller Paper Bits: Photo Cases

For very small items, I also love these 5×7 photo cases. This is how I usually organize cut outs of small words and phrases, like when I’m making Found Poetry pages!

View on Amazon


how to organize paper ephemera

Other Options & Ideas for Storage

I’ve tried out a lot of different ways or sorting and organizing over the years. While I seriously love the simplicity of sorting things by size, I do realize some people may want to try and categorize everything – or at the very least be able to find a specific thing quickly without needing to hunt for it.

Here are a couple of other ideas to try:

Photo Albums & Photo Sleeves: This is what serious paper collectors typically use, especially when cataloguing specific vintage images like post cards or trading cards. You can use a three ring binder and photo sleeves to organize things pretty easily.

I had to look through my old Amazon orders, but several years ago I bought this assortment of archival safe coupon binder sleeves and it’s perfect because it comes with so many different types of pocket configurations.

It’s a great option if categorizing and visibility are important while still saving on space – the main downfall is it does take some set up time!

Acid Free Expanding File Folders: Expanding file folders that are archival safe, like this very cute set on Amazon are another good option if sorting by style/shape/theme is important.

The biggest benefit of these is they don’t take up a lot of space!

Want to see all of my favorite art and craft supply storage solutions? Check out this curated list on our Amazon storefront page.



How Do You Organize Your Paper Ephemera?

I hope this helps you figure out a system that works for you in keeping track of all of your favorite paper ephemera and art supplies.

Do you have a system that works for you? I would LOVE to hear all about it in the comments section below. And of course feel free to share any pictures of your organization methods in our Facebook group – it is always so inspiring to see what other artists do to stay organized!

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14 thoughts on “How to Organize Ephemera for Collage, Art Journaling & Junk Journals”

  1. Personally, I have a scrap rack which helps me with ephemera. I too, have found the 12×12 scrapbook cases work for me as I have several ongoing scrapbooks in process. Themed ephemera can then be stored with the designated scrap project! I also in the past used the small containers and you are correct….that system did not work for me either. My “aha” moment came when you illustrated giving a rose to three people and their idea for storage. The system must work for you and your points lead us perfectly to individual styles!
    Thank you for sharing your insight!

    Reply
    • Yes, those project boxes are amazing aren’t they? I’m glad to hear I’m not the only person who couldn’t keep up with that kind of organized system! It’s always inspiring to see what other artists do to stay organized – I’ll have to look into scrap racks – not sure if I have space for them but definitely sounds like a good solution!

      Reply
  2. I often take covered veggie trays when I go to potlucks. When empty, I wash them out and use them for paper storage. Lots of small sections, lids and free! Stack easily too.

    Reply
    • That’s a very smart idea Patsy! Could see that being useful for organizing all sorts of things – thanks for sharing the idea! 🙂

      Reply
  3. I’m leaning toward size too. Otherwise, there are just too many categories. One thing I have learned that if I can’t see something, it doesn’t exist. That means it needs to be in a clear container, or one that is specifically marked. And containers most definitely need covering that cannot be removed by curious cats (we have three)

    Reply
  4. I reuse all the clear VHS and DVD boxes I have found in my house and my friends’
    Yes, you read it right, VHS… Wooden stamps fit PERFECT, I dont need to open every box to check the contents, I can write it on a piece of paper visible from the side and storage all of them vertically.
    I also found ring binders with zipper so I can put different sizes of materials and move them around without trouble. There are all kind of pocket organizers for collectors with all the sizes and shapes that you can imagine to put in ring binders.
    In the University of Visual Arts we use to arrange by size, type or grammage of the paper and colour. I still find those “categories” really useful.
    Finally, whenever I have a project in mind I pic an empty folder and put all the papers, sketches, stickers and scraps as soon as I go finding them so everything is together to start working.
    Thanks for all the advice!

    Reply
    • We actually watch videos on the VCR a lot so I know exactly the plastic VHS tape cases you mean! They are harder to come by these days, but they are great for holding all sorts of things. Thanks for sharing your ideas, it’s always fun to learn how everyone tries to stay organized!

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  5. My little stuff is in recycled junk mail envelopes, some marked “stamps”, “ATC blanks”, flowers, etc… I have two 12×12 one inch thick cases for 12×12 stuff… and a few piles of “this doesn’t fit anywhere” on the table where I do some of my work (I have an enclosed porch that is half studio/half junk room as I live in a small space…so a lot of “stuff” is out there)…other stuff in the kitchen, where my computer is…in drawer units under the kitchen table and under my computer desk… weird, probably, but it works when I take the time to clean up the mess, which I don’t do often enough! If this nice warm weather holds, I’ll get more cleaned up. I do much better at working when it’s HOT than any other time, for some reason.

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  6. I use clear 12 x 12 project boxes to store paper organized by color – plain blue, patterned blue and so forth through the color wheel. I also
    separate out patterned paper into its own boxes by a couple themes for topics that I scrap frequently – beach vacations, Christmas, and lake cabin. I also use a separate box for stickers and memorabilia from a specific trip; I set it up immediately on my return. For example, Seattle weekend has everything I collected on the trip along with stickers I bought on the trip or later, including Seattle papers, then when I am ready to scrap that trip I have everything in one place and can quickly sort out what I may want to buy to add to the book. (I highly recommend Red Bubble stickers. The small ones are a perfect size, usually fit well in a 3 x 4 inch space. Order 10 at a time and get 50% discount. Although they are a bit pricey, I get exactly what I need and don’t have a half-used sheet of stickers left over. And the stickers are beautiful.)
    I bought the boxes at Michaels with a plastic rack system that holds six boxes each. One wall in my craft room is lined with the racks which are stacked on top of each other so I have plenty of organized and visible storage. I sort the boxes with the papers on one end and specific projects on the other end. I use a sharpie to write on the outside of each box, identifying the contents. When I have finished a scrapbook, I clean off the sharpie identification and the box is ready to repurpose to another project. If there are leftover items that I did not use for that book, I donate them or recycle or decide if they should be saved for a future book – starting a new box for that project or that topic in general. This is a simple, safe system that does not require much maintenance.

    Reply
    • Sounds like you have a great system for organizing Kathleen, thank you so much for sharing with us! The 12×12 project boxes really are wonderful!

      Reply

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