Commonplace Books and Journaling: Jumping on the Bandwagon

I am greatly intimidated by a blank journal. On one hand, I love them and all their potential but on the other, I hate the thought of filling one up with anything less than perfectly painted watercolor flowers and calligraphy.

Which is why I didn’t think my dollar store notebook filled with scribbles from my favorite books was much to brag about when I shared it on Instagram.

But, the idea really struck a chord with several of my followers, one who mentioned I’d created a commonplace book without realizing it. In actuality, I have a rather disjointed collection of tablets, planner margin notes, Evernote entries and book page snapshots versus a true commonplace book. However, I still love the idea of one volume where everything is lovingly contained in the best handwriting with watercolor illustrations. I would also love to be able to inspire my children to keep journals but thus far all I can do is contain their random¬†ephemera in boxes and folders and the occasional three ring binder.

Sarah’s blog is where I first read the term commonplace book and she’s got a few posts for the beginner.¬†

But the idea isn’t new at all;

Commonplace books are not diaries nor travelogues, with which they can be contrasted: English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke¬†wrote the 1706 book A New Method of Making Common-Place-Books, “in which techniques for entering proverbs, quotations, ideas, speeches were formulated. Locke gave specific advice on how to arrange material by subject and category, using such key topics as love, politics, or religion. Commonplace books, it must be stressed, are not journals, which are chronological and introspective.” [1] By the early eighteenth century they had become an information management device in which a note-taker stored quotations, observations and definitions. They were even used by influential scientists. Carl Linnaeus, for instance, used commonplacing techniques to invent and arrange the nomenclature of his Systema Naturae (which is the basis for the system used by scientists today) ¬† ¬†-Wikipedia

Clearly, I’m out of the loop.

Jennifer has put together an extensive post on the benefits of journaling from a Charlotte Mason perspective. She mentions commonplace books about midway through.

The history fan in me loved Ryan’s entry on keeping a commonplace book and his unique index card system. (Please be advised the ads at the bottom are not family friendly. Beware scrolling down too far!)

I’ve also noticed that, based on the scientific study of my Instagram feed,¬†¬†bible journaling seems to be surging in popularity and now there are bibles printed with huge margins just for taking notes.¬†

OSV makes a Catholic journaling bible!

I also like the idea that Leila shared of a five year journal. I mean, some details of our lives we can record privately right? I don’t need to blog everything. And the five year journal seems a great way to record milestones that otherwise get forgotten because ain’t no one got time to keep up with a baby book.

Do you keep a commonplace book or journal? Any journals or blank books you recommend? Do you have to overcome feelings of journaling inadequacy before you put pen, pencil or brush to paper?


  1. Thanks for mentioning my little post. I too have great journal-commitment anxiety. But it’s so appealing! I think the most appealing types are the ones you focus on: the commonplace book and the sort of “daily log.” At least, those are the ones I’d like to read. And you know, re: the 5-year diary — no one would read my blog if it consisted of “plumber came, Bob dropped by, heard from Sue” but I think that so often I would like to look back and see when the heck it was that Bob dropped by!
    Anyway, great post — thanks for the round-up!

  2. My husband gets a regular wall calendar every year and each day writes in the date square what we did that day. He started it when Lucia was born. His mom has done it for 30 years or so. It’s neat to be able to look up any day in the past and see what we did that day and it’s also helpful for looking back to figure out what day something happened (like the exact start/end date of a job, when Lucia got shots, etc.)

  3. Wow, I’ve never heard of the term commonplace book before, but turns out I have one! I’ve gotten away from using it in the last year (since baby #2 arrived), but I kept it with me allllll the time and wrote random thoughts, like things I wanted to journal or blog about later. I also brought it with me to chapel and spiritual direction, wrote down quotes and Scripture passages, and it’s just so fun to look back and see what God was showing me at the time.

    I’ve also been journaling for almost 12 years (yikes! I’m only 28), and while I used to be picky and get the same notebook over and over, now I just use whatever. Michael’s has some pretty cheap and cutesy journals that go on sale often.

  4. I think I have something similar, in three little notebooks I take everywhere with me. Quotes, ideas and prayers. Bits of writing, sentences that make the loops in my head. I quite fancy the idea of a 5-year journal though!

  5. I’ve been doing things very close to this — I always have notebooks on me. A prayer journal (which often becomes a quote journal), a quote journal, a task journal… I think what I need to do is embrace the commonplace idea and unite them under one roof. Let all the crazy meld together in one place.

  6. I love the one line a day journal. What a great idea! On average I try to keep my notebooks by subject just because of the mess I make and then I can’t find anything!

  7. I remember that Insta post, and that comment! Swell!

    “Do you have to overcome feelings of journaling inadequacy before you put pen, pencil or brush to paper?”

    Oh my word, yes! I am the worst combination of perfectionist/procrastinator. I’ve been trying to just hold my breath and dive into things.

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