The good news: Thanks to humans’ newly developed third eye—our smartphone cameras, never more than an arm’s length away—capturing memories is easier than ever. The bad news: We’re turning into digital hoarders, never allowing those memories to see the light of day. But back to some good news: It’s also easier than ever to print out our pictures in photo memory books.
In fact, printed photos are essential to the act of memory-making. A printed photo memory book may have a different sort of impact on our long-term memory than a digital album—a study from Chatbooks and HP found that 91% of adults believe that printed photos help them remember events and details that they wouldn’t otherwise.
Given the force of the printed image, any photo memory book is going to be effective. But you can boost the power of your personalized memory book with these pointers.
Define your goals.
You can make an engaging photo memory book just by scrolling through your phone—it doesn’t need to be an exhaustive endeavor. But taking 10 minutes before you start searching through your pictures can help you pick the most effective images. Ask yourself things like: What feeling do I want this book to evoke when I pick it up in 10 years? Am I aiming to capture a theme of my life, or a time of my life? Who do I want the “cast members” of my memory book to be?
Work the senses.
Our brains make memories through our senses. Photos are visual, but showing photos of details that can trigger our other senses may help activate those experiences. Did you get roses for your child’s high school graduation? Include a photograph of them in your memory book. Did you make your famous sprinkles cake for your sister’s birthday? Include a picture of her enjoying it, midbliss. Let the photo book help your brain prompt the molecular exchanges that make memories stick.
Capture family rituals.
Your mornings might involve Cheerios being torpedoed across the room and literal crying over spilled milk—but it’s a routine nonetheless, and it’s yours. “Real life triggers some of the best memories later on,” says Julie Plagens, blogger and author of Creating Family Memories: How to Make Family Time with a Crazy Schedule. “It’s important to not only capture the big things you do together as a family but also the moments that happen organically in everyday life.” Snapping daily or weekly routines and putting them in a photo memory book ensures that you’ll be able to look back on them once those routines have changed. The morning scramble, kids’ bedtime rites, Saturday night burgers: The ordinary makes for extraordinary memories, as Chatbooks co-founder Vanessa Quigley discusses in this MomForce Podcast episode. Make an effort to document them before points of transition, like starting a new school.
You don’t have to have pledged to the cult of Marie Kondo to want to get rid of stuff. Still, you might want to remember the things that have been a part of your family’s day-to-day life. Toys your kids loved but no longer play with, clothes that no longer fit, your warehouse full of second-grade art—get rid of them, but photograph them first, and include them in appropriate places in your photo memory book. If taking one last photo of your child playing with their stuffed turtle won’t cause a tsunami of tears before you toss it, go for it. Bonus: Photographing beloved items can help you let go of them.
Get the story behind the story.
Staged photos with all family members standing Chiclet-toothed in a row have their place in memory-making. But so do the moments directly before and after that orchestrated photograph: You get to see the humor, the love, the endearing awkwardness. “Capture the mess, appreciate the ordinary, and record the humor,” Julie says. Ask whomever is taking the photograph to surreptitiously snap some pics on both sides of the classic “smile and say cheese” pose. When you create your photo book, juxtapose the shots on adjacent pages.
You know those viral photo sets where people, usually families, take the same photo every year or so—same personnel, same positions, sometimes even the same clothes? Those go viral for a reason. They’re compelling, entertaining, occasionally heartbreaking, a clear-cut sign of commitment, and they often make for stunning images: the perfect recipe for making a memory. If you see the group only once a year, start photographing now to build your memory books over time—and if you’re lucky enough to see them more often, start shooting images more regularly. Consider using a family hashtag so you can easily find your series and print those shots into a photo memory book with just a few clicks.
Make it easy on yourself.
Chatbooks lets you print custom photo books that you can assemble with just a few taps on your phone. But if even that seems like a bit much, you can make it simpler by signing up for a Chatbooks ongoing photo book series, which automatically sends you a new book every time you reach 60 photos on your Instagram feed, or when you tap the heart in your Photos app to pick 60 favorites. Because given the choice between the world’s most perfect photo memory book that never comes into existence and a flawed, imperfect photo book that’s in your hands, option B is a clear winner.