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sticky notes, a guitar and a calendar
(Image: Tina Tiller)

SocietyDecember 18, 2023

It’s planner aspiration season

sticky notes, a guitar and a calendar
(Image: Tina Tiller)

You do not have to be organised. Or do you? Perennial organisational aspiration victim Shanti Mathias meditates on the desire to buy new stationery at the end of the year. 

It’s nearly the end of the year, and I’ve already purchased the planner I want for 2024. It’s blue, shiny, and in the perfect layout – a week for each double spread. There’s a pocket in the back which I will use to store postcards to send at odd intervals to my friends, and miscellaneous bits of paper which I will think I should keep even though I will never look at them again. 

It was hard to find this planner, I explained to my boyfriend, because most of the places that sold them seemed to have sold out of the cool designs. He nodded as I demonstrated its useful features (paper and numbers), with the face of someone who would have preferred that the discussion was taking place on r/notebooks, rather than with him. 

“2024 is going to be a whole new year,” I explained to my music teacher, rather obviously, a few days ago. (This was the preamble to a non-disguised request for some new sheet music.) But I had to go further: I suggested to her that I would categorise all the sheet music I already have into a spreadsheet, ordered by composer and the scale of “I bought this” to “accidentally didn’t return to my twice former music teacher” to “blatant copyright abuse” that each piece has. We imagined me, who finds doing the bare minimum amount of practice to improve difficult, sitting down to diligently enter songs into digital boxes, and we laughed. 

Yes, it’s nearly the end of the year, and if my single anecdote – the coolest planners seem to be sold out – is representative of a larger trend, then the trend would be this: it’s planning aspiration season. 

a pile of calendare dates sort of crumpled looking
(Photo: Getty Images)

I have always been susceptible to the desire to organise, which is an entirely different thing to actually carrying out the organisation. My first year of university was a particularly acute example of this. I had a weekly wall planner and a yearly wall planner helpfully given out by the student association. I had a teeny-tiny weekly diary (handbag sized!) for my social engagements, because I wanted to be the kind of person with a handbag and friends to see. I also had a large diary for marking class timetables and assignments, because I was determined to not be a gormless fresher wandering around looking for the right room. There was a third notebook that I felt obligated to use because someone had given it to me, which I believe was supposed to be a combination of all the others, but in reality barely made it out of my bedroom. 

While this system allegedly had a purpose (I could look at yearly dates in the room while getting dressed; I could take my social diary out with me wherever I went; I could look at my weekly assignment dates on the wall next to my desk) in reality it was nearly unusable because it required a ridiculous amount of copying the same information onto different collections of paper. I mostly ended up just writing things on my hand, because I had at least picked up the habit of always having multiple pens on my person. 

The next year, and all the years since, I simplified my system. I have one diary now. Ideally it’s pretty on the outside. Inside, it’s simply functional, ugly and inexplicable to anyone else. There are little arrows over the pages where events have been rescheduled, names scrawled on evenings where I’m supposed to call or visit people, to-do lists lumped in corners. I have a system, and it works. 

For the most part, this method requires no extra thought, partially because I tend to concentrate more on what the planner reminds me I have to do than the object itself. But there’s something about the arbitrary approach of a new calendar year that sparks that same old desire to be more organised, and to exercise it through buying things. I know myself well enough that elaborate, customisable bullet journaling is way too labour intensive, and I saw all my favourite bloggers fall off the bullet journaling wagon in 2017. But what if using reminders on my phone or a digital calendar could make me more productive? What if a new organisational system really would be a whole new me? Maybe all the people who have been selling out the planner sections of the stationery stores of Auckland have had the same thought. 

a clock in an infiintite spiral
Your time is not wholly yours to control (Image: Getty Images)

But the thing is that most people find a way to remember the things they have to do, in a more or less timely fashion. Some people “calendar block” by scheduling time for particular tasks. Other people rely on friends to text them reminders to go to things. Others leave items that symbolise tasks on their bedroom floor as a reminder (“I’m tripping over my dirty clothes – it must be time to put on a wash!”). And I guess some people simply store tasks and commitments in their fallible brains. There’s a fascination to glimpsing other people’s organisational methods and feeling judgement and/or amazement that they are so different to yourself.

Some of these methods use the most up-to-date digital tools, the entire suite of productivity software that is meant to make us better at doing stuff. Others are more communal, reliant on the people around us: an explicit reminder that, as writer Jenny Odell has said, time is experienced differently for different people. A parent who can afford childcare may have to list the task of paying people involved in such employment; another parent doesn’t have to carry out these administrative tasks, but instead the less structured order of entertaining and feeding a small person, day after day, and forgoing paid employment as a result. This is a particularly obvious example, but the reality of the world around us will never quite reflect the simplicity of an organisational system, as the disabled researchers who named the concept of “crip time” know well. 

In my planner, days are even and structured: no matter how much I aspire to be more organised, or whether I succeed, I can’t account for a rainstorm beginning when I’m on my way to work, causing me to double back to my house to get a raincoat. If I write down “replying to emails” as a task for the day, I must depend on other people’s emails or replies to do so. Maybe all of them want to be more organised too. I have a beautiful planner and the aspiration to use it: but I have to remember that no matter what year it is, no matter how organised and systematic I want to be, I cannot control the flow of time itself. 

Keep going!