How to Make a Handmade Journal Using Recycled Paper

Paper Journal

If you’ve ever worked in a school or office, you’ve seen the stack of paper piling up next to the copy machines — hundreds of one sided rejects. Maybe I’m an environmentalist, or maybe I’m just compulsive, but these stacks of paper quickly made their way into my possession, as I knew there was a better fate for them than the recycling center.

Thus was birthed the recycled paper journal.

I used to make the covers out of hard cardboard, which was a) hard to find and b) hard to cut and made the process unpleasant. The newest iteration of these journals uses brown paper Trader Joe’s bags, which are annoyingly abundant and super easy to cut. With a stack of scrap paper and some Trader Joe’s bags, you can crank out a class worth’s of journals for any event or program where you think: “I wish everyone had their own journal (but we can’t afford to go buy 30 of them)!”


Trader Joe’s bag (1 bag makes about 3 journals) | scrap paper that is blank on at least one side (about 15 sheets per journal) | good scissors | hole puncher | string/yarn/ribbon

Paper Journals Ingredients


1) Make the sheets for the inside pages. Fold the scrap paper in half and cut it down the middle. Make sure all the blank sides face one direction. I also like to keep all the cut edges (the side where you used scissors) to one side, and the clean edges out — this makes for a smoother line of paper on the outside of the journal. Note: I err on the side of fewer pages — I have countless journals where the first half is written in and the second half is empty. You can always untie the string and add more pages later if you turn out to be a prolific writer, but the journals are more useful and easier to make with fewer pages! If you want to be precise, my average journal uses about 15 sheets of 8.5″ x 11″ paper (which translates into 30 half pages).

Paper Journals Cutting Paper

2) Cut the Trader Joe’s bag to make the cover. I like to cut straight down one edge of the bag at the fold, then cut out the bottom of the bag. This gives me the most surface area of flat bag to work with. You could even use the bottom of the bag to make a cute small square journal! Place the half sheets into the corner of the bag — I like to have the cover stick out further than the white pages, but not too much. You’ll see what feels right for your journal. The half sheets actually end up making the cuts fall nicely on the main creases of the bag, which makes the cover flatter.

Paper Journals Cutting Bag Cover

3) Punch holes into the cover and the inside pages. This is probably the hardest part. First I fold the cover in half, and punch the holes through both front and back cover at once. Make it close to the edge, but not too close! You’ll have to account for the thickness of the pages. Then I put the pages into the cover (rough edges in) and push them snugly into the fold of the cover. Lay the whole thing down flat, and draw a circle inside the hole, which will show up on your top white page. Then use that marker to make all the holes in the inside journal pages. You will have to do these just a few at a time, unless you have ridiculously strong hands. I use the top sheet with the circle on it as a guide for all the rest of the pages and just keep punching holes inside my original hole. Basically, you want them all to match as cleanly as possible to get the string through. When you’re done, place all the pages back into the cover. If you were patient and careful, they’ll all match up well enough. 🙂

Paper Journal Punching Holes

4) Tie string through the holes. This is the last step! I like using this jute string I found at the hardware store for a rustic look, but obviously you can use whatever you want — ribbon, yarn, etc. Whatever you have is fine as long as it has some thickness.

Paper Journal Tying String

That’s it! You’ve got a cool journal to use, share as a gift and/or use with a large group of people for a workshop or class. If you’re making a large amount, I would create an assembly line for each step. Note: the people hole punching will get the most frustrated first, so give them an opportunity to switch out!

Paper Journal Final Journal

Enjoy! How have you used recycled scrap paper for DIY projects? Comment below.

3 thoughts on “How to Make a Handmade Journal Using Recycled Paper

  1. This post was timely! I had a bunch of scrap paper I had been wanting to make into notebooks, but hadn’t gotten around to looking into it further. Now I have some ideas for moving forward.

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