Making a list, checking it twice. That’s pretty much December summed up for a lot of us. A month of urgent scribbling and ticking off.
There’s the supermarket list as long as your arm – goose fat, gluten-free Christmas cake (individual portion), small bottle of brandy (crossed out), large bottle of brandy.
Then there’s the “things to do this week” list – what to take to Roger’s on 24th? De-flea cat (urgent!)
Not to mention the kids’ wish list for Santa (ok, maybe not just the children’s).
Yet we live in a digital age, with numerous apps for organising and planning on screen. So are those of us still using a notebook simply stationery dinosaurs?
My boss certainly thinks so.
“These people should wake up and smell the coffee,” she suggests. “It’s all over for pen and paper. That’s just more stuff to clog up the house.” (Hope no-one’s bought her a notebook for Christmas.)
Figures from Verdict Retail seem to back her up. The amount we’re spending on stationery is barely growing, up only 3.2% over the past five years. The words Verdict’s analyst Michael Coombs uses to describe the sector are “stagnation” and “decline”.
And just last month the owner of stationery specialist Staples said its UK stores would be closing.
But while Staples may have suffered as a result of people buying less of the day-to-day stuff, more of us seem to be falling in love with the more specialist, crafted products. The smooth, cool Bauhaus lines of a Leuchtturm notebook. The Potteresque magic of a Paperblank. Or we want to cheer ourselves up with rose gold paperclips and metallic finish pencils.
So for every stationery Grinch, there’s a stationery superfan.
And for these superfans, there are still plenty of places on hand to cater for their every whim and desire: newcomers on the High Street such as Smiggle, an increasing number of independent stores, the old stalwarts like WH Smith and Rymans, as well as the stationery sections of department stores.
And some are seeing a very good trade.
“There’s no question that our stationery business at present is doing incredibly well, and in fact it’s somewhat of a surprise,” says Geraldine James, buying manager at Selfridges, where stationery sales are up 20% this year.
“It’s the same as carrying a handbag you’re proud of. It says something about you,” she says.
She’s a Moleskine devotee herself. “I think a Moleskine person is [a] purist, people who like things very pure, very neat.”
Where stationery is really selling is when it’s tapping into trends in gift giving and in fashion.
The biggest trend this quarter, for example, is shiny, iridescent, opalescent and silver, says Ms James. And coming soon she predicts mock concrete, and perhaps rubber or cork finishes, following current homeware trends.
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Lisa Rutherford, buying manager at John Lewis, agrees that stationery is a “fashion accessory” these days. “It’s really cool now,” she says. “There’s lots of creativity with stationery right now.”
Personalisation is important, she says, for instance items that say things like Master Plan or Busy Bee “send a message about your personality”.
And, she adds, you don’t need to feel guilty about spending the money because stationery is useful. It’s a virtuous purchase.
So could stationery actually provide a balm for our overloaded, over-digitalised lives? Psychology writer Oliver Burkeman thinks perhaps it can.
“I definitely feel like my life is more under control when things are on a list, but the interesting question, I suppose, is why that feels more the case with a paper notebook than a digital list,” he says.
“Perhaps it’s because the world of digital technology is ultimately mysterious – I don’t truly understand how my laptop or smartphone work, after all – whereas a paper notebook is physical, down-to-earth, easily understandable.”
A desire for reassurance may help explain the appeal of upmarket Kikki-K, an Australian brand with a cool, Scandinavian vibe, that has just opened UK outlets.
“There’s nothing like putting pen to paper – the tactile nature of it and the connection to the childhood joy of stationery,” says its founder Kristina Karlsson. She says the future for stationery is rosy.
“Sure, people will continue to use smartphones, computers and tablets, but nothing can ever replace the feeling of a paper and pen. At a time where technology is at our fingertips everywhere we are, there’s almost been a real resurgence in finding joy in the nostalgic. Slowing down. Being present.”
But in an ironic twist, it’s actually on the internet that stationery is currently most celebrated.
Twenty-year-old Australian medical student Amelia is one of a vast community of bloggers who write in personal notebooks, but then share them publicly online.
Amelia produces possibly the most photogenic study notes on the internet, prompting praise and even gratitude from her 28,000 Instagram followers, who seem to experience a kind of catharsis from the flawless neatness of her notes.
She says writing it down is to meet her own needs, but she gets pleasure from the positive response.
“I’m able to keep track of major aspects of my life such as when I need to pay my bills, when my assignments and readings are due, what topics I need to revise, what groceries I need to buy etc. Some people count this as ‘procrasti-working’ but I usually only spend around 5-10 minutes a day to organise my schedule and my tasks.”
So maybe the digital age doesn’t signal the end of stationery at all, just a whole new way to celebrate it.
Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38288739