September always gives us that new term, autumn refresh feeling – a mentality that can stay with us long into adulthood. There’s definitely a ‘moving forward’ sentiment about this season, as muggy nights give way to cooler weather and changing leaves.
And back-to-school means new stationery. Psychologically, the habits we learn as children often become deeply embedded, so it’s no surprise if you still have that love of turning over the first page of a fresh notebook or planner.
Look up the hashtag #stationeryaddict on Instagram and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of pictures of perfectly lined up new pens, colour-coded files and beautiful – empty – notebooks.
But why does new stationery tap into that feel-good feeling, even as an adult?
The promise of possibilities
Niels Eék, psychologist and co-founder of mental wellness platform Remente (remente.com), says it’s about the promise of new possibilities.
“It can offer the opportunity to change your mindset and allow for success,” he notes.
Whether it’s the first day of a new year of school, college or university – or you’ve long left education, “A fresh notepad and new pens can represent a bigger significance of a fresh year of hard work and refreshed efforts”.
It represents structure and order
Many people find using notebooks and planners gives them a form of order and control. But, on top of that, it’s representative of a time when years were structured into term times, and some of our first memories of routine.
Very few would have looked at the length of time at school or uni as a solid block, explains Eék. “Breaking the academic year down into chunks of time makes it feel more manageable, making success feel achievable.” It can be a helpful mindset to take into adulthood too – whether it’s setting new goals in your career, relationships, home life, hobbies, wellbeing or fitness.
“Many of us will adopt specific routines into our lives very early on. As people get older, they will likely subconsciously hold onto these learned habits and behaviours for the rest of their lives,” Eék says. Routines, like resetting every September or writing a to-do list every morning, can “allow us to stay focussed and motivated, even if you might not feel it right then and there”.
He adds: “Settling into a familiar routine can help your mind get into a state of ‘flow’ and stimulate your brain for a productive day ahead.
“As adults, we may not need to carry out the same routine of buying a new bag or uniform to go to work in September, [but] the practice of buying a new notebook or pen can offer us the same refreshed mindset that we carried as children, heading back to school.
“The new diary, notebook, and even the pen you write with are representative of the new efforts that are going to be put in, and your intentions for success.”
It makes us feel nostalgic
We tend to feel nostalgic when we want to return to past moments where we have felt happy or content, suggests Eék. And while school probably won’t hold 100% good memories, for many it was a simpler time with less responsibility. “Whilst some can find dwelling on the past to be painful, others can find it calming and therapeutic.”
One 2013 study by researchers at the University of Southampton found that entering into a state of nostalgia can elevate your mood, boost self-esteem and make people feel more content.
“The process of buying new stationery year-on-year can be a happy nostalgic memory for many,” says Eék, as it can take you back to “a time when the responsibilities of adulthood were not present”.
Physically writing can reduce stress
In a world of smartphones, laptops and constantly looking at screens, writing with pen and paper can give your wellbeing a boost too. “When receiving constant notifications throughout the day, our bodies produce the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, which can overstimulate our brains and affect clarity of thought,” says Eék.
“Writing with pen and paper can be a therapeutic activity in itself, but also gives us the chance to have a mini digital detox, away from the pressures that come with the flurries of messages we receive every day. Taking the time to write notes down with a physical pen and paper, journaling or even writing in a diary, for example, can give us the break we need away from our phones.”