Why I’m Switching to Refillable Journals Instead of Single-Use

I love writing, and I especially need to journal. The oldest journal I have is from when I was 9 years old, so I’ve been journaling now for 3 decades, at least.

Throughout my life, choosing a new journal has been a fun experience for me. Possibilities seem endless, and that made choosing new ones to match my moods and interests that much more fun. Most often, I would favor journals with thick pages and hardcovers.

Not long ago, I tried digital journaling to save paper, money, and physical storage space. That didn’t work for me, unfortunately, but I still need to manage the issues I wanted to resolve when I tried digital journaling. I usually find journals made from recycled materials, but what about storing the journals when they’re full? The hardcover journals are beautiful, but they’re bulky to store and heavy to move.

Plus, I would sometimes buy journals when I saw them even if I didn’t need a new one yet, and I’d end up with a backlog of blank books waiting to be loved. Normally that’s fine, but sometimes I would be excited to use a new one and would end up trying to fill the current journal just to start a fresh. New journals are fun, but filling up a journal for the sole purpose of moving to the next one doesn’t make sense. How many of my journals in storage are filled with impatient gibberish?

Journaling and writing serve an important purpose in my life. I want to give myself permission to play and not worry about wasting pages, and I don’t want to feel forced to fill up pages for no good reason.

I thought about it for a while, and I decided to try a journal cover with softcover refill notebooks instead. Here’s my thought process and experience so far.


Hardcover journals can cost $20 or more. Refills are only around $8–13 for a set of 3, depending on where you get them, though they can be more if you get the really nice ones. Page count on the refills is pretty low, usually 30 or per notebook (or 90 for a set), whereas hardcover journals can easily be found with 200+ pages. At first I was worried about having so few pages, but then I realized that means I won’t feel the need to fill them up. And if I need more, I can simply buy more refills.


I like to buy high quality journals with thick paper in case I want to use my brush pens or do any other mixed media, but I had a hard time finding refills with paper thicker than 80gsm.

I found some 120gsm on Etsy, but shipping would have been super expensive since they’re from the UK. But the Baronfig notebooks I found are 90gsm, which I discovered is more or less thick enough for my purposes.


I was worried about missing the pretty colors and designs of the hardcover journals. With refillable journals, you generally buy one cover and use that long term. I’m guessing that’s why so many of them are leather, since it’s notoriously good at taking a beating over a long period of time.

Covers can be really lovely though, and I found a cork notebook cover I really like on Etsy that will work well. I could also have a few covers and rotate between them if I want to get fancy or have a little variety.

Most refills are kraft paper or a solid color, so I could also draw on the covers of the refills or decorate them with stickers, which sounds fun! I always put stickers on the inside of the covers of my journals, but this way, I can see them every time I go to write in it.


I have a huge box full of old journals that I’m not quite sure what to do with. Every time I have some time off work, I consider reading each one to see if it’s worth keeping. I’ve had plenty of time to start this project, but I’m sure this will be an emotional process, and I’m not sure I’d be able to accomplish the goal — letting the journals go — at the end.

Some people have suggested scanning the pages or sending them to be shredded. Others suggest just letting them go because I’ve rarely looked back on them in all the years I’ve had them. My brother’s wife burns hers when she fills them up.

Switching to this refill system will make storing the refills after they’re full a lot easier since they’re thinner and soft cover. I can pack many more refills in the same space as it would take to store hardcover journals. This doesn’t completely solve the storage concern, but the refills reduce the amount of space needed, and they are also a lot lighter.


I didn’t realize comfort would be affected until I started using these refills, but it is! Writing in the refills is more comfortable.

Hardcover journals tend to sit much higher on the writing surface when you’re close to the beginning or end because of how thick the book is. Even that seemingly small amount of empty space between the page I’m writing on and my desk makes writing pretty uncomfortable, especially as I write lower on the page.

Because the refills are thinner than hardcover journals, they allow my hand and wrist to rest fully on my writing surface for the entire page, and the discomfort I felt with thicker journals all this time completely resolved. In fact, I didn’t even realize this was causing my hand and wrist to fatigue until I felt how much more comfortable the refill notebooks are to write in.

Lighter travel

I don’t usually take my journal out and about on a regular basis, but I always bring one with me if we go on a trip or on retreat. In fact, I’ve been known to fill entire notebooks while away from home. So at first I was worried I’d run out of space, but then I realized using refills make traveling easier for several reasons.

Bringing refill notebooks is easier because they’re lighter and take up less space, so I can bring a little extra without a big difference in my luggage.

Also, refills are pretty common at bookstores and stationery stores, so I could also pick up a new refill on the road if I needed to. The refills I’m using are a weird size, so I probably wouldn’t be able to find them anywhere, but I could use a standard size in a pinch.

Finally, I don’t have that pressure to fill up an old notebook before I take one on a trip. I can simply dedicate a notebook (or set of books) entirely to the trip, then return to the one I had in progress when I got home.


This goes with the travel section a bit, but I wanted to call it out separately.

I naturally tend to collect flat things like paper coasters, stickers, brochures, and things like that when we go out, so adding them to my notebook is a wonderful way to remind myself of the outing.

But hardcover journals don’t have much give in the spine or covers, so I could only add a few photos or keepsakes before it starts to strain. I made a habit of tearing out pages to make space when starting a new journal, but it was hard to know how many pages to tear out. Too many would leave the book feeling incomplete; not enough would mean I’d have to leave photos or other things out. Or I’d put everything in and the book wouldn’t stay closed or wouldn’t fit neatly in storage or on a shelf because of the fanned-out shape overstuffed books tend to have.

Softcover notebooks are more forgiving and don’t look as weird when they are completely stuffed to the brim — actually I kinda like them better that way. They don’t have the interior pocket like hardcover books do, but that’s just more incentive to make sure anything I want to keep with these thoughts and memories gets affixed inside rather than tucked in the back pocket.

In closing

When I set out to try this new style of journaling, I didn’t know if it would work for me. I thought letting go of my lovely hardcover journals would be too difficult, but actually, once I found a notebook with good paper and a size I like, I felt reinvigorated about journaling. Not that it was getting stale, but I’d been doing it the same way for many years, and I think it’s a good idea to mix things up a bit sometimes — as much as I might resist at first!

I’m trying to simplify my life, and not having to choose a new journal every time would certainly do that. Sure, choosing a new journal can be fun, but the way I do it, the process is time consuming, and my time is better spent elsewhere. I want to change these habits, spend my energy more intentionally, and focus on filling the journal with my musings and memories.

It’s a bit early to tell, but the refill route seems like a much better idea and more in alignment with my current style and values. I’m looking forward to spending more time with this new type of notebook. Maybe I’ll even look at new pens next.

This content may contain affiliate links for products I use now (or would use in the future). If you subscribe or make a purchase after clicking one of these links, I’ll earn some money at no extra cost to you. I deeply appreciate your support so I can keep doing what I love — providing helpful content to readers like you! Thank you!

Photo by Baronfig

I tried not to like these Vanguard softcover notebooks by Baronfig. I did everything I could to make them NOT work for me because 1) the size I prefer is not quite A5, and 2) I didn’t want to tie myself to this size since it’s only available with this one supplier. The peculiar size also means if I want to use a cover and pencil board for them (which I do), I’m looking at custom stuff. And the size also makes it more difficult to get refills on the road if I don’t happen to bring enough notebooks.

In any case, despite my best efforts, these little books won me over. And as much as I complain about the weirdness of the flagship size, it’s an excellent size for a journal. But these are available in 3 sizes, and Baronfig also offers these with dot grid, lined, and blank pages.

Get $10 off your first order at Baronfig

Photo by krodesigns

If you want a custom pencil board (or shitajiki), I found a great seller on Etsy who created an inexpensive one that fit the Baronfig journals perfectly. At first I didn’t like how clear it is, but the simple design with the ruler is actually nice. I also added a tab on the long side to help me find my spot a little easier.

You can personalize it with custom text as shown, but I chose to keep mine plain with the ruler. I reached out to the seller directly, and it was easy to get a custom size.

Buy a custom pencil board from krodesigns

Photo by CottonStitchCA

As soon as I saw this cork journal cover, I knew it was the one I wanted. It reminds me of a journal I bought for our trip to Japan, and it is just the right amount of color while maintaining a simple and earthy look.

It’s available in pretty much any size you’d want, and you can customize with a pen holder or additional elastics (extra charge). I got a custom size for the random Baronfig size journals.

Buy a cork journal cover from CottonStitchCA

If you’re looking for really thick paper and more standard sizes, try these 120gsm notebooks. I haven’t tried them myself because I didn’t want to ship from overseas every time I wanted new notebooks. Plus with shipping to California, the cost ends up being about $10 per refill, which is pretty steep.

Other than being more expensive, they also have fewer pages and are staple-bound, but if you need thicker paper, here it is.

Buy set of 4 dot grid 120gsm traveler’s notebook refills on Etsy

Feature photo by cottonbro studio