The return of the paper diary
Sick of saving appoinments to Google Calendar? Why not write it down? Emily Cronin finds out why pencilling it in should be your New Year's resolution
The heart of any home is the kitchen. The centre of our household, however, has less to do with hearth or table, and everything to do with a calendar hung on the door. Its creamy, 20x12in pages are key to the logistical bustle of daily family life. We log dinner plans, babysitter bookings and work trips. At the end of every month, I tear off the page with a satisfying flourish. Done, the move says. On to the next. This wall calendar complements my pocket diary - so invaluable that leaving it at home leads to a low-grade sense of being unmoored, and a freeze on plan-making.
I'm not alone. Despite iPhone calendars, Google calendars and a dizzying array of other digital options, we're rediscovering the joys of paper diaries. At Smythson, where founder Frank Smythson pioneered the pocket diary in 1908, sales have clocked double-digit growth in the past year. The numbers are convincing enough for the London stationer to more than double the number of its diary permutations for 2017, from 76 to 196.
"People don't want to rely on their phones," says heritage manager Sophie Martin. "They want something physical." Newer brands note a similar elevation of analogue over digital. Since opening seven years ago, British stationery emporium Present & Correct (presentandcorrect.com) has increased its stock of diaries by up to 20pc every year. They always sell out. "A paper diary can't be beaten for usability and aesthetic," owner Neal Whittington says. "Flipping pages and scribbling details with a pencil is more agreeable than typing into a screen."
Anna Bond, co-founder and creative director of Florida's Rifle Paper Co, agrees: "So many of our customers are passionate about their planners. Even with all the technology available, a large group of people prefer to write down their tasks and check them off as they go."
"Oh my God, I can't live without mine," agrees stylist Maya Zepinic, hands splayed protectively over not one, but two, Smythson diaries pulled from her designer bag.
One is cobalt blue, one is yellow, and both are very much in play (cue knowing nods from devotees, all too familiar with the double-diarising that accompanies the transition to a new year). Zepinic always pencils in commitments, since shoots and campaigns are prone to move. "Everything is in there. Physically writing it down helps me remember it more."
She's on to something. A 2014 study in 'Psychological Science' found that taking notes by hand is better than typing for memory retention. It also seems to lead to more deliberate planning - I'm much less likely to break a commitment if I've taken the time to consider it and write it down, rather than just clicking 'yes' on a digital invitation. It's harder to ignore something written in pen, circled and starred, than to silence a pinging alert on a phone.
Then there's a diary's memory-saving function - I take comfort in knowing I can pinpoint my movements on any January from the past five years, thanks to slim volumes on my office shelf.
"People love keeping them and looking back," says Smythson PR manager Jonathan Rhys Abbott.
"Appointments just disappear from your phone once they happen - you never get that with a diary." (As the Paper Lovestory blog puts it, 'Technology: I love you but I don't trust you.')
Diaries aren't a Luddite affectation, either.
Julia, the first-name-only founder of London stationery shop Choosing Keeping, says that many of her orders originate in Silicon Valley: "We sell a hell of a lot of paper goods and diaries to people who work in tech. Online calendars and paper diaries are complementary."
It's hard to beat a personalised diary; though choosing which model requires careful consideration. Front-row fans will relish Fashionary's planner, with its pocket fashion dictionary in the front. Design-heads will drool for one of Astier de Villatte's floor-tile-patterned, gilt-edged diaries - it's one of the only letterpressed varieties on the market.
"They're expensive, but you only use one a year," says Choosing Keeping's Julia, who stocks both large and pocket-sized versions.
"People are very loyal to diaries. You find the right one for you, and you hold on to it."