Living with a stationery addiction

The first step to recovery is acceptance

addiction binders Cambridge Obsession pens rehab revision Stationery Student

Every genius has a vice. For Jordan Belfort, the “Wolf of Wall Street”, it was sex, wealth, and Quaalude sedatives. For me, a wide-eyed undergraduate, it was an addiction just as intense, costly, and physically destructive – stationery.

In October of first year, I came to this country with nothing but my papers, the clothes on my back, and a suitcase full of pens and clear plastic folders. I hopped off the plane at LHR with a dream, and a suite of stationery large enough to fill the offices of a multinational corporation. Little did I know that my trove of tools would only continue to grow, and that my control over this obsession would only continue to wane…

Packing light for university

The monster reared its ugly head in my first week, when I was making my way to Sainsbury’s for my first ever uni student shop. Turning onto Sidney Street, I was blown away by the range of shops and cafés, but never once lost focus on my mission to get groceries. That is, until I heard the soft siren call of Ryman Stationery, a slow and enchanting song that soon crescendoed into an irresistible beckoning.

I took my first step through its glass doors and immediately forgot (1) where I was, (2) what year it was, and (3) who I was. The next few minutes were an exhilarating blur, and in the blink of an eye, the store had spat me back out onto Sidney Street with my backpack and both arms full of ring binders and packs of PaperMate InkJoy pens.

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Caught some soldiers trying to escape. Not so fast, deserters!

It’s worth noting that I engage very little with pen and paper in my degree, save for in exams. My approach to my Law degree has been mostly digital; I make notes and write my essays almost exclusively on my laptop. I don’t do supervision notes by hand, I don’t draw mind-maps, I don’t make revision cards, and as far as I know, I don’t pursue very many craft projects that require access to gel pens in 24 colours.

So, what on God’s green earth was I doing with four pouches full of ink pens, ballpoints, and mechanical pencils in all colours of the rainbow, when I pretty much worked paperless? It was all a sick cosmic joke, a spectacle of cruel irony.

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Woefully underemployed.

For the rest of the year, things only got worse, especially come exam term. On my walks through town, notebooks and Pukka Pads attached themselves to me like magnets, and my sticky fingers picked up combo packs of Post-It Notes without any agency on my part.

In the first half of 2017 alone, I acquired seven planners; not one of them was a gift. I tried every planner on the market, to the point where the lady at the Paperchase in Market Square learned my name.

In an attempt at an intervention, a concerned friend warned me that juggling seven planners at any given moment might actually defeat the purpose of keeping a planner to organise my life. But at that point, I wasn’t even listening anymore. I wasn’t me; I was my addiction, and it blocked out everything it didn’t want to hear.

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My drawer of shame

Like Demi Lovato coming out of rehab and making a YouTube documentary about her cocaine addiction, I want to be honest about my own recovery. I’m better now, thankfully, but the demons still haunt me at every turn. As I sit working in Waterstones, or even when I pass quickly through the Home section at Sainsbury’s, the voices of Moleskine planners and Oxford Campus Notebooks still call to me, appealing to my vulnerable sensitivities and enticing me with the sweet prospect of a beautiful, colourful, organised life.

But I’ve been down that dark path before, and ultimately, now know that I can find the strength within me to choose better for myself. Take this as a cautionary tale – you can buy all the Bic pens in the world, but be careful; you could end up writing a tragedy in that smooth blank ink.