Why and How I Switched to Digital Journaling

Since I discovered it around the tender age of 9ish, journaling has been an important outlet for me to be creative, process life, and sort things out. As a result, I have amassed two sizeable boxes filled with every blank book I’ve ever filled with my thoughts: diaries from elementary school with useless little locks, high school notebooks with bent up spiral binding, hardcover B5 or A5 dot-grid bullet journals. These two boxes are among the few possessions that survived every purge and move. 

But as I moved towards minimalism and reducing waste, I’ve been noticing the waste created by my essential journaling and hobonichi tools. Paper is needed to make all the materials I’m using, and most of them are not made with recycled or even recyclable materials, the stickers and sticker backs can’t be recycled, and the transportation needed to bring these items from the manufacturer to the retailer to me has an impact as well. Each of these weighed on me when I thought about my impact to the environment. I know one person discontinuing physical journals and stickers is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a change I can make.

Digital isn’t the perfect solution. Local digital storage means keeping files on a hard drive that may need to be replaced or upgraded periodically; cloud storage and servers take energy, air conditioning, sometimes water, and other resources to run properly. Digital journaling definitely isn’t free to the environment, but I decided to switch to digital journaling. Here’s why I decided to make the switch, what made me hesitate when making the switch, and how I managed the drawbacks of going digital. 

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Why I moved to a digital journal

My main reason for switching from physical journals is that digital journaling doesn’t generate the same kind of waste that stickers, washi tapes, single-use pens, and other physical journaling supplies do. Most of my pens are disposable, and even though they last a long time, I get a little pang every time I have to throw away plastic. The backings for stickers are made of unmarked plastic or coated paper, neither of which are recyclable in my county. 

In addition to being less wasteful than physical journals, a digital journal is easy to take anywhere without having to choose which pens or stickers or tapes to bring. Everything is already on your device, so you’ll always have your favorites with you. Some programs even allow you to sync your account on multiple devices, so you can continue to journal on your phone, tablet, or computer.

When you’re out and about with your journal, you have a backup of your journal on the cloud even if the physical device is lost or stolen.

You don’t have to store the completed physical journals. As I mentioned, I keep boxes of my old journals in my closet basically because I don’t know what else to do with them. I’ve thought about it but have never actually gone back and read them, yet I can’t bring myself to discard these parts of my history and the record of who I was at that time — or at least what I was thinking (even if my 9-year-old self was only thinking about becoming Mrs. Jonathan Taylor Thomas).

Why I resisted digital journaling and how I transitioned

Digital journaling certainly had a learning curve and took some getting used to. I’ve only been doing it since July, but I’ve found ways to adapt to this new style of journaling. Here are the 3 major reasons I waited this long before making the switch to digital journaling and how I made digital work for me.

1. I adore my washi tapes, stickers, and pens.

Physically embellishing washi tapes, stickers, and pens was part of the fun, so the absence of these items held me back from going digital for a long time. When I discovered digital versions of all the fun things, I felt a lot better about going digital. Not only can digital stickers and washi tape be used over and over instead of the single-use counterparts, they can also be moved and resized to fit your spread. Plenty of artists online create digital stickers, planners, sticky notes, washi tape, and more for you to purchase. You can even create your own!

If all that wasn’t exciting enough, another benefit of digital washi tapes, stickers, and pens is that you don’t have to go anywhere to get them or wait for them to arrive in the mail. You can usually download them immediately after purchase and start using them right away. For impatient people like me, that’s the dream. 

2. I like the feeling and ritual of writing on paper.

Writing or drawing on glass feels different than in a physical notebook or paper. My already-messy handwriting appeared worse when writing on glass, a slick and unfamiliar surface. And my palm stuck to the screen when I was trying to write across the page. This might sound strange, but I also missed the sound of the pen marking the paper.

I addressed this issue by using Paperlike, a screen protector-like accessory that helps the iPad screen mimic paper. Paperlike helps a lot with traction while writing and even makes a sound when you write on it.

I’ve read online that this kind of screen protector wears down the tip of the Apple Pencil faster, but they’re not expensive to replace. I don’t know if the Paperlike itself wears out and has to be replaced after a while, but I’ll update when I’ve had more time with it.

Even with the Paperlike, I needed some time to get used to writing on the iPad. With physical journals, I would write as fast as possible to get my thoughts on paper. It was sometimes a frantic experience, but it was helpful if I was trying to process my thoughts. I have to write much slower to make sure my writing is legible, and I’m much more likely to go back and correct a sloppy letter than I was with physical journals. I also had a tendency to write less when I first started with the iPad because of the pressure to my handwriting neater. As time went on, I found a balance between writing quick enough to get my thoughts down and neat enough to not have to go back and correct everything.

3. I didn’t want to buy an expensive iPad.

The startup cost of digital journaling can be steep, depending on which device you choose to use. While plenty of touch-screen and pencil-enabled devices are available, the Apple iPad series remains the gold standard of tablets — but they’re not cheap, and you have to pay extra for the pencil or keyboard. Depending on which model you choose, it could set you back several hundred or even thousands of dollars. In fact, one of the main reasons I made the switch when I did was because the iPad Air was on sale at Best Buy in June. Sales on Apple products are not common, but they can happen.

On top of the hardware costs, some notes or journaling apps may require a monthly subscription. I purchased Notability, which requires a one-time fee. Good Notes is also a popular app for a one-time, and many of the sticker books and planners on Etsy are made specifically for it. Whatever you decide, choose wisely: I don’t know how often apps are removed from the app store, but I made sure the app I chose allowed exporting to PDF so I could save my data in a universal format if needed. 

Closing thoughts

I was resistant to making the switch from paper to digital journaling, which was similar to the difficulty I had switching from real books to a Kindle, despite the obvious benefits of having a Kindle. 

Cleaning out my journaling storage was bittersweet. I was excited to clear out my physical space, but everything there brought me so much joy for quite a while. I don’t know what I would have done in the pandemic without the refuge I built in my creative space with my journal, hobonichi, and embellishments. I admit it: When I cleaned out my journaling supplies, I kept a few stickers and washi tapes. The rest I passed on to my nieces, who I knew would appreciate them. 

Whether or not to start journaling digitally is a personal choice, but for me, it was clear because digital journaling is much more in line with my values to do my part in reducing waste for the Earth and clutter for myself.

Photo by Jess Bailey Designs from Pexels

Teena Merlan