My 2020 DIY Address Book

As a lover of pencils and analogue writing, I’m obviously a fan of taking the time to write snail mail. I’m all for e-mail or a quick text, but there is something special — even more so these days, given the prevalence of electronic messaging — about taking the time to write a letter or card. In order to do so, you need addresses; and in order to keep your addresses straight, you need somewhere to keep them.

Toward the end of every year, I do two things. I update my Rolodex, which is a neat and tidy place where I keep all of my addresses organized and in one central location. Then I make a new address book, so I have a portable version. However, it’s pretty hard to find an address book that I like, which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg — and anyway, considering how few people there are that actually want paper mail these days, most commercial options are overkill. So, what to do?

I get all punk rock and DIY it, of course.

The basis of my address books are the simple, saddle-stitched kraft notebook format; similar to a Moleskine notebook. These are easy enough to DIY, which has a couple of benefits: 1) it’s way cheaper, and 2) you can design your notebook with whatever paper stock, cover stock, shape, ruling, etc. you want! In fact, it’s a great way to use the excess paper at the end of a completed notebook.

I decided that the size and shape of my address book should be such that I am able to tuck it into the pocket of my Traveler’s Notebook pocket insert. I counted out the number of addresses I have in my Rolodex to determine how many address blanks and leaves of paper I would require — then bumped it up by a few so I can add new entries over the course of the year.

Choosing the paper stock was a little more difficult. Previously, I’ve just used a nice, narrow-ruled paper, but this year I decided to do something different. For one thing, the paper I used last year didn’t have the right dimensions to fit into a booklet that opens with a left-handed spine, so I ended up making it a top-flip book. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it just wasn’t my thing. For another, I wanted to go with something a little more “systematic” than just going free-form with lines. Therefore, I reached for a blank kraft notebook, which I had obtained on the cheap from AliExpress, and had an ivory paper with nice tooth. I cannibalized the paper and found it to be just right for the purpose.

The systematic method I referenced above meant that, instead of having just blank lines, I wanted to specify a space for names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails — and designate a portion of each page to a specific address block. In order to do that on a blank, unruled page, I used an alphabet stamp set. I taped the blocks together in a column — N, A, P, and E, with a few stamps turned around backwards to leave a space for the address between the A and P. Then I simply stamped the column twice on each page, and used a ruler and gel pen on each page to draw a double line between the columns and form separate blocks for each entry.

I also stamped the cover, using a DIY custom stamp kit from Office Depot to make a stamp that says “Personal Contacts”. I used my date stamp (with the day and month taped off) to make a 2020. For whatever reason, this turned out to be harder than I expected, and I wasted a couple sheets of card stock before I got it right (and, as you can see, it’s still not perfect but whatever. It looks really “artisinally crafted”) The cover material is simply made out of some cardstock I bought, which contained different shades of kraft paper.

With the pages and cover stamped and cut to size, I folded each one individually and nested them together. Then, I unfolded them, clipped them in a stack, and went about poking the series of holes along the spine that would be used to sew the binding. It’s much easier to do this ahead of time than to try and push a needle through the stack of papers while sewing them — and if you mess things up midway through, it’s also better if the stack isn’t already sewn halfway together. I find that if you use a few thick pins to punch the holes, and leave at least the first and last two imbedded in the paper, it’ll make it easy to stitch and also keep all of the tiny holes aligned.

Once I had the stack perfectly lined up and the spine full of holes, I sewed the binding using a simple needle and brown thread. I doubled the thread and went over each space at least twice, so it would be firmly stitched, then tied it off inside. I like to start and end my stitching on the inside, so that I can tie off the final knot on the inside as well. You can go over the spine as many times as you like to reinforce it.

Viola! There it is. Ready to be filled in. I like to do a new one every year because new addresses typically don’t get added in alphabetical order (unless I get lucky), and these things attract coffee spills and the inevitable wear and tear of being carted around. Plus, the process of doing this and updating my Rolodex at the end of the year gives me a good motivation to reach out to friends and family and make sure I have their most current contact info.

Hopefully walking through this will be useful to anyone in the market for an address book — or any other type of saddle-stitched notebook! — and is willing to give making their own a try. It probably won’t be “perfect” (unless you’re way handier than I am) but that’s OK. It’ll have more character than something mass-produced, and can be customized to your exact needs.

What do you think? Does anyone else carry an address book? What do you use for yours?

4 thoughts on “My 2020 DIY Address Book

  1. robertbburnham December 30, 2019 / 12:36 am

    I’ve used a Filofax/Lefax since the 1990s, and it has the address book and a whole lot besides.

    However, to your solution, I carry a Rosetta Notes (currently) in my pocket which is similar to your homebrew solution. The Rosetta, plus a 1930s Scripto mechanical pencil with 2B lead (1.1 mm), does the trick. (And the paper is fountain-pen-friendly, which is a plus.)

    I do save the finished notebooks, but I since I X-out the pages where everything’s been done or carried forward, I can see a day when I’ll chuck ’em.

    Convenience (pocketability) matters more than completeness, in my view.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jesse December 30, 2019 / 9:03 pm

      I save the used-up “scratch” inserts from my Traveler’s Notebook, and my pocket notebooks, just because I think it might be fun to look back some day or maybe there will be some piece of info I need that I forgot to carry forward. But, I’ll probably recycle them or use them for firestarter eventually (Polar Pencil Partner hates clutter!)


  2. notesoflifeuk December 30, 2019 / 11:53 am

    A great idea! I’ve currently got an Excel file of addresses, but maybe I should make it an analogue thing… 🙂


    • Jesse December 30, 2019 / 9:01 pm

      Keeping an Excel file is great too. I could see that serving the same role as my Rolodex — kind of a “master file” where you can easily update addresses and insert new ones in alphabetical order. If you are up for keeping two versions, though, I definitely recommend a compact analogue carry-around. That way you can always stop and write, even if you don’t have your computer/wifi/service, or just want to get off the screen and do something “real” for a minute.


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