You can't take back the high-cut bikini you wore at the company retreat, or the catty comment that ended Serious Relationship No. 4, or the blond hair extensions that seemed so natural at the time. But you can select the photograph that conveniently cuts off your thighs. You can frame shots of No. 4 with smiley stickers (to emphasize the good times). And you can--no, you should--destroy all evidence of blond ambition.
That's just what folks across the country are doing: convening to cut and snip at their histories; to turn inconvenient realities into Kodak moments; to prove, in other words, that the past is perfectible. They meet to make scrapbooks.
The activity is so pervasive that it has inspired a verb. "Scrapbooking is the quilting bee of this century," says Deana McIlroy, a mother of two who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and gets together with friends and a consultant (yes, there are certified experts in the field) to scrapbook. The Hobby Industry Association estimates that more than $300 million was spent on scrapbooks last year, up from about $200 million in 1997.
What's ironic is that this most traditional pursuit has been reinvigorated by modern technologies. A scrapbook would seem antithetical to the digital age: a clunky, tangible thing in a universe of rapidly deleted e-mail and disappearing web pages. But it was only within the past decade or so that manufacturers began mass producing acid-free paper (which prevents pictures from yellowing or deteriorating) and that machines able to replicate photos began turning up in craft shops and drugstores.
"Scrapbooking is all about preserving memories the right way," says Allyson Pikulik, 22, manager of a store in Milwaukee, Wis., that employs 12 instructors to teach 25 classes on the pastime. Anything from ticket stubs to playbills to corsages to diary entries can go into scrapbooks. Processing them in the approved way, however, has come to involve acid-free markers, "archival mist" (a spray that preserves objects), stickers, borders, circle scissors, paper cutouts and a host of other products by art suppliers formerly beholden to the whims of kindergarten teachers and Halloween revelers.
Make a Memory, a 2,600-sq.-ft. store in Alpharetta, Ga., carries 93 kinds of scissors, 2,700 sticker designs (teddy bears and Barbies are popular) and 3,000 types of paper (some featuring holograms and fake fur). The store's clientele is 99% female. "We spend hundreds of dollars on cameras and film. We take the snapshots, rush to the one-hour photo place, get the photos and look through them," owner Tom Sanders, 37, says of those who haven't yet discovered scrapbooking. "Then what do we do? We put them in shoe boxes and never look at them again."
Such inertia often breaks down during what is known in the industry as "life transitions"--weddings, births and deaths. Dana Brosnahan, 28, of West Bend, Wis., sought an outlet after her mother's death. "I wanted to have something for my kids so they would know my mother," she says. Scrapbooks appeal to the historian in each of us. In Milwaukee, Jan Schwabe, 41, took the politic route of making a "heritage book" of her husband's family. "He now appreciates my being into scrapbooking," she says. "And for the first time, he isn't asking me how much I spent on it." An average scrapbook costs $25 to make.