Who could have guessed that someday some of us would give up trying to write literary fiction and succumb to writing junk journals? For centuries we used the term junk to mean clutter, trash, and Chinese ships with bluff lines and an overhanging stem. Junk derives from middle English jonke.[1] It was popular in the 14th century. By the 20th century, we used it to mean narcotics, a particular kind of food, high-risk investment bonds, and yards for old used cars.

                Now, not surprisingly, those who write junk journals think it’s cool. “Junk journaling is one of the coolest ways to journal, especially if you’re someone who holds onto old magazines, plane tickets, ticket stubs, festival wristbands, and other ephemera. Junk journaling is very visual, and casual compared to traditional journaling and scrapbooking. It’s like a brain dump where you can creatively sort through your thoughts and emotions.”[2]

                Some say it’s sort of creative and a great way to express yourself without going online. That’s because junk journalists mostly write for themselves to document their feelings and hold onto memories they can visit later on. Later on. Like later on in life. When you reach a certain age. “Overall, junk journaling is a great way to keep in touch with yourself and improve your mental health. As humans, we need to process our thoughts and feelings, and what better way than with art and words? Junk journaling is a great way to get all your jumbled thoughts down on paper and release any stress, so you can feel better. So, go ahead and junk journal after a date, the best concert or vacation of your life, and even on the bad days. Have fun and start digging for scrap paper!”[3]

                A quick online search leads to a source posing the core question; What’s the purpose of a junk journal? “Given how elaborate and intricate they often are, it’s not hard to wonder how they could be used functionally.  And honestly, sometimes they can’t be – but that’s okay! Junk journals can be gorgeous pieces of art. In reality, junk journals can have any purpose you want them to. Particularly if you’re creating one from scratch – you can make it serve almost any purpose imaginable. Write a novel in it. Use it as a family budget book. Make it into a dream diary – it’s up to you!”[4]

                Perhaps the most unique fact about junk journals is they are handmade. “A junk journal is a handmade book created from many types of paper, often recycled materials like patterned papers, sheet music, envelopes paper bags, maps, brochures, and more. The covers are often created from old book covers or cardboard/chipboard bases covered with paper, fabric, or paint.”[5]

                Now, on to the ethics of this cool thing. I blogged in May 2023 about journaling in general. Blog Number 345 blog notes the ethical parameters that guide journaling and seem reasonably apt for this cooler journaling. “Journaling’s principal ethical parameter is truth—the truth about yourself and your feelings. Some journalists are tempted to modify, at least slightly, their lives and feelings to make their journals more interesting, at least to themselves. That raises the ethical question of whether truth lies only in ‘absolute facts.’ It’s tempting to believe the drama in your life comes from obstacles you haven’t actually found or experienced. There is an overlay between memoir and journaling in that both reach for something beyond the conscious self. Creative writing beckons journalists and memoir writers to swim in the search for truth and find places of healing and resolution. That’s wrestling with what truth is. Truth is what you firmly believe based on your experience with the event you’re writing about.” [6]   

                So, while junk journaling may be cut and paste scraps and colors, junk journalists should keep one eye open to the truth and the other to art.   

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/wordplay/is-junk-an-adjective-or-a-noun

[2] https://www.cratejoy.com/box-insider/what-is-junk-journaling

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://compassandink.com/whats-the-purpose-of-a-junk-journal/

[5] https://tmariehilton.com/paper-craft/junk-journals-explained/

[6] Gary L. Stuart—Ethics of Writing—Blog Number 345—published May __ 2023

Gary L Stuart

I am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.

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