Rethinking the Stationery World Post-Pandemic: Overcoming Burnout

It really doesn’t even need to be said, but I’ll state the obvious: the last 15 months have really been something. And just like everything else- the stationery hobby has looked significantly different over that time than we imagined it would have in the early days of 2020. While we are not out of the woods entirely- we are cautiously but increasingly optimistic. We are beginning to see signs- even in our little stationery world- of things returning to “normal.”

There are a lot of unanswered questions we could discuss about what the stationery world will look like as we attempt to slowly and safely climb out of our homebody shells over the next many months. But there is one small, but personal and important question that’s been on my mind that I wanted to address first.

There are signs everywhere of new and creative things to arise out of this time in our hobby, and many people increased their stationery use during the pandemic or maybe even dipped their toes into the stationery world for the very first time. But it’s also possible that many of us are experiencing a bit burnout- both in life overall and specifically in relation to our hobbies.

Even though the pandemic was an all-encompassing shared experience across much of the human race- I think it’s important to remember that each of us experienced it a little differently. The pandemic gave rise to increased engagement in a variety of hobbies like baking bread and playing video games and gardening. However, that doesn’t mean that engagement with the stationery hobby was the same for each of us over this long, and difficult time.

Speaking as a healthcare provider on the the tail end of the longest year of my working life- I’ve struggled at times to remain as connected as I would have liked to be to the stationery world. I haven’t been as active in online communities, or even text chains with my closest pen friends. I haven’t sent as many packages or letters or cards as I wanted to, and I haven’t kept up as much with the stationery news or new releases like I used to. I was in survival mode.

As I try to get back into the swing of things, I’ve found myself stuck in the “mehs,”which is usually always cured by a “booster shot” of enthusiasm and connection at an in-person pen show. Realistically, I probably won’t get the opportunity to attend a show until at least the very end of this year or early next year… so in the meantime… now what?

I’ve been collecting and trialing a few ideas over the last couple of weeks. If you’ve been struggling to re-engage with any of the things you love or you’ve felt like you’re on the outside looking in- I hope these will remind you you’re not alone and spark a new idea or two about entering or re-entering the stationery world.

Give Yourself a Fresh Start

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I STILL had a few pens inked from all the way back at the last pen show I attended in Little Rock 2020. I also had a couple of notebooks that I had started and had been attempting to continue journaling or planning in for many months with very little progress.

So last weekend, I took every inked pen I could find- and cleaned them all out. And then I took some of my half-finished notebooks and I **gasp** put them back on the shelf and replaced them brand new blank ones.

Sometimes even the smallest actions can act as a signal to yourself that it’s time for a new phase or a new start. I’ve used more pens and paper this week than I have in the rest of all of 2021.

Get Back to the Basics

If you’ve been in the hobby for a while, and especially if you happen to have an increasingly large and unwieldy collection- it might be time to just get back to the basics.

For me that’s any TWISBI Eco (sorry Ana!) with a matching ink, my Kaweco Brass Sport inked with Platinum Carbon black, and a 0.38 Signo DX Gel Pen. Maybe for you it’s a Platinum Preppy or a Lamy Safari or the first ink you ever purchased. Whatever it is, removing the complexity and getting back to the basics can help remove the mental blocks to getting started- and remind you of the simplest joys that got you into this hobby in the first place.

Find a Hobby within the Hobby

If nothing else, this stationery world is a hobby of a million rabbit holes. Even if you’ve been around forever and seen 15,000 new releases come and go, there’s still likely something about the hobby you haven’t explored.

Maybe it’s dip nibs or glass pens or bank paper or one very specific vintage pen brand or model. Maybe it’s even pencils. If you’re just not that excited about the barrage of limited edition everything hitting your inbox every other day, maybe it’s time to temporarily narrow your focus and learn more about something you previously overlooked.

See the “Who” Behind the “What”

In some ways, the stationery hobby uniquely prepared us for pandemic life by teaching us to stay connected with friends all over the world both online and through the written word of snail mail. But I still think it’s easy to lose sight of the “who” when it’s been so long since we’ve seen each other’s faces and seen the actual physical products that come across our screens each day.

Yea, I’m psyched about Ian Schon’s latest experiments with ultem- and I love all his Instagram stories from his shop. But it’s still not the same as seeing how freaking excited he is behind a pen table holding one of his latest designs in his hands and showing it to someone new.

And yes, I love joining in on and watching Jonathon Brooks’ live Instagram streams explaining his pen turning and urushi processes- but it’s still not the same as seeing the smile on his face when he’s sold out of every as pen at his table 24 hours into a pen show.

And yes, I love meeting up with Well-Appointed Desk crew online but it’s not even close to the same as playing with pens and inks with Ana and Jesi until we pass out asleep with pen still in hand at a show at 1am (or sometimes 8pm).

For one thing, I think this continues to the the reason that getting back to in-person meet-ups and brick-and-mortar stores and pen shows as it becomes safe is so important for this hobby in the long-term. The entire hobby is built on the benefits of physical goods in a digital world- and now more than ever I feel the necessity of being face-to-face with not just the products- but the people behind them. You know what brings meaning to all the pen and ink releases that don’t really personally speak to me and my tastes? Meeting the person who is not me who those products DO speak to.

But until we can get back to all those crucial in-person events, I’ve still been working on shifting my focus to the “who.” Next time you go to ink up a new batch of pens- pick them based on what they mean to you for a week or two instead of just your favorite looking pen or the best writing pen in your collection. Maybe even instead of just writing the name of the pens and inks you are carrying once you ink them up- write about who made them or sold them to you or gave them to you- and where and how you acquired them.

Just Start. And then, Start Again.

If you feel like you’ve been out of the loop and can’t jump back into the community or the conversation for any reason, I urge you- just jump in. Comment on a post if you have something to say. Join a live Twitch or meet-up even if you can only be there for a short time and your office isn’t perfectly organized for the video (that’s what they make backgrounds for)! Ask the question you’ve been dying to know the answer to on a blog or a video or a Slack channel. Text your pen friends back even if it’s just a quick hello (earth to Jaclyn). Write a sentence or two on post card and slap a stamp on it if a letter is long overdue.

And if you get stuck in the “mehs” once again- when you’re ready- just start again.

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6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Oh wow, thank you for this. This explains something I’d struggled to name. Thanks for the tips for how to overcome it, too. Will definitely have to put them into practice and see how it goes!

  2. Jaclyn,

    First, thank you — and I feel as if it's hard to say this with out it sounding pro forma, but I mean every word — thank you for being one of the people who worked with such dedication to help all of us deal with the ravages of COVID-19. As a pharmacist, you must be, I think, now standing on a new line of defense as pharmacies are where many of us are getting our vaccinations. When I got my shots at a Walgreen's, I tried to let the pharmacist (and it was the actual pharmacist who have me my shot) know how much I appreciated the pharmacy workers providing these vaccinations, and was appalled to hear how many people were rude and angry while getting vaccinated. I am sorry for the unavoidable strains of the past year-plus with which you had to contend and for the ones that should never have been part of what you had to handle. Thank you.

    Next, I honestly don't know when I'll feel safe gathering in large groups, though a lot of that has to do with my personal health situation as well as with the uncertainties of variants and those who choose not to get the vaccination (I know there are also people who cannot get for health reasons), but I too hope to attend our local show at the end of the year. My stationery vocation ("hobby" seems too weak a word) has seemed a much more human way to keep in touch with people than electronic communications and I hope to keep up the habit.

    The wisest part of your sagacious post may be your reminder that "Even though the pandemic was an all-encompassing shared experience across much of the human race — I think it’s important to remember that each of us experienced it a little differently." While you tie that truth specifically to "engagement with the stationery hobby," what you wrote will be true for every aspect of our emergence into whatever it that is coming next (I'm not looking for a "return to normal"; I'm hoping for a shift to something better). I can barely begin to imagine what so many people endured as grocery clerks who couldn't quit their jobs, as primary healthcare providers, as EMTs, as someone who was intubated for months, as a member of a family grieving the loss of one or many beloved relations, as a child unable to play with friends for so many, many months.

    Let us all be as kind as we can possibly can.

  3. <3 I think I need to hear this today. The mehs have been rattling around in my brain for awhile now. It’s time I start something new and if that doesn’t work, start something new again.

  4. Such a great article. Thank you. You captured my mood exactly; I’ve been feeling “meh” for a while now. Normally I write several pages per day in my journal; lately it’s been a few lines one day, then skip a couple of days. I’m supposed to mail out some pens to Mike Masuyama to have work done, including stubbing a new one, and normally I’d be super excited about that. But I’m having trouble just getting the pens cleaned out and ready to ship! Well, our state (Colorado) has opened back up, so I’m hoping my pen club will be meeting sometime in the near future. I really miss my pen friends!

    I’d better count my blessings, though. Our family did not lose anyone to the pandemic. I feel super sad for those who did lose loved ones. I’ll try to keep that in mind while I get off the couch and go clean out some pens. My problems are NOTHING.

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