The Culture of Philofaxy

In college, I studied Communication—not Communications (the study of media and journalism), but Communication, the study of interpersonal and/or organizational communication, how individuals and/or companies communicate (and learn) with (and from) each other.

One of the classes I took within this area of study was Cultural Communication, the study of different cultures.  But we’re not talking different geographic cultures, though certainly they would be included in this.  We also studied the culture of sub-groups within a larger culture—“subcultures.”  This covers a wide array of groups.  Basically, anyone with a shared group of values, traits, traditions, and beliefs; they make up a certain subculture.  One of our projects was to discuss a subculture that we are a member of.  Some chose to discuss living in suburbia, one chose to discuss the ways of those living in rural areas, one chose the subculture of being Buddhist.  Just about any group can make up a subculture, though according to Wikipedia, certain groups qualify as a subculture, while presumably, some do not.

I often return to this class and that project.  My project was one of the suburban topics, which seemed to be a theme for me that semester.  I read books about it, I studied it, and I questioned it.  I didn’t choose that theme, it just kind of happened that way.  I didn’t want to choose that topic for my Cultural Communications project, I just didn’t know what else to pick.  Looking back, I could have chosen an array of other topics.  More than anything though, I wish I had been a part of the Philofaxy community back then because I could have done one kick-ass project on a topic that no one else would have chosen.  Regardless of the fact that our group didn’t make Wikipedia’s list, and though some may question whether or not the group would actual qualify as an official subculture, I’m going to redo my project from 1998 (this is meant to be fun, not necessarily “officially” accurate).

Wikipedia defines a subculture as “a group of people within a culture (whether distinct or hidden) which differentiates them from the larger culture to which they belong.”  This definition refers to the areas of “sociology, anthropology and cultural studies.”  The traits of a subculture can contain beliefs, practices, values, traditions, and rituals.  With this in mind, let’s look at the Philofaxy community in this way.

Philofaxy began in October of 2005.  It started as one person’s passion for daily planners, specifically where the Filofax brand is concerned.  People started reading and following the blog.  During the next seven years, the community grew beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  Other Filofax planner blogs began popping up, all for the same purpose—to discuss the beloved brand and product.  Today, the community has over 370 official followers, though I’m sure the numbers are greater and include many “unofficial” followers.

Shared Traits Among the Community
The community is made up of people from all over the world, unlimited backgrounds, and a variety of professions.  There is no set standard of the members of this community—young, old, male, female, English-speakers, German-speakers, teachers, business professionals, freelancers, etc.—we all have our own backgrounds and experiences.  No two members are exactly alike, and that’s what makes us great.  We each share our lives in some way.  There is no set standard of traits within this community.  But that in itself is the set standard—we don’t exclude anyone so long as they have a passion for planners.

  • As a community, we believe in the power of pen and paper.  Sure, electronic gadgets are great, and many of us use them for a variety of reasons.  But ultimately, our passion lies within the traditional format of tree fibers and flowing ink. 
  • We like to create. 
  • We like to organize. 
  • We like to plan, both for the future and for the next day. 
  • We believe that our lives are better and more productive because we outline our days on paper. 
  • We believe that goals are more clear and often met because we’ve outlined them on ruled paper, tucked away behind the corresponding tab. 
  • We believe a little flair can go a long way to enhancing blank cardstock. 
  • We believe in making a binder one of a kind and truly our own. 
  • We believe one can use more than one binder at a time (if we so choose). 
  • We believe that we can make order out of a chaotic and frantic world (if only for ourselves).

Individuals of this community engage in certain organizational practices. 
  • We buy binder after binder, always searching for the perfect fit.  Sometimes we’re lucky; sometimes not so much. 
  • We try different sizes of binders—we may start with personal only to find we need more room; we then move up to an A5, only to realize we cannot fill the pages; so we downsize to a pocket, only to realize that maybe personal was the best size after all.  We may even have different sizes for different uses.
  • We engage in conversation as to how we can make our systems better. 
  • We offer tips and tricks to each other on how to do just that. 
  • When we see someone doing something that we like, we adapt it to ourselves and make it our own. 
  • We constantly search for the perfect inserts, the best tabs, the highest quality paper, and the purest leather scent and feel. 
  • We buy and sell used items from each other.
  • We buy an endless supply of pens and accessories to enhance our systems, not only for the systems themselves, but also for the pure joy of using those pens and accessories.
  • We read each and every Philofaxy post as soon as humanly possible.

As members of this community, there are many things we value.
  • We value each other’s opinions.
  • We value the respect that each of us gives and receives from other members.
  • We value the trust and support this community has been known to show.
  • We value the friendships we have cultivated.
  • We value what we have in common as well as what we don’t.
  • We value that we’re a very unique group.
  • We value the fact indeed there are others out there who share our obsession.
  • We value that those who share our obsession actually “get it.”
  • We value that when we have a dilemma, we have somewhere to turn.
  • We value that someone is always listening to those dilemmas.
  • We value that someone always offers a suggestion to help us alleviate those dilemmas.
  • We value new information and new members.
  • We value company feedback from Filofax.
  • We value giving customer feedback to Filofax.
  • We value good inserts.
  • We value useful inserts.
  • We value diary inserts and specialty inserts that we can make ourselves.
  • We value the binders and quality of days long gone.
  • We value tabbed monthly inserts (even though they may come from another source).
  • We value a good deal on a second-hand or hard to find binder.
  • We value seeing planners in action.
  • We value our enablers when we need that extra little push to plunge into a purchase.
  • We value trying anything to get a little closer to planner nirvana.

As with any culture (sub or not), there are certain traditions and rituals we can always count on to make us feel at home and comfortable.

So there we have—the 1998 project that should have been.  I give myself and this community an A+!


  1. I so enjoyed this post! Semper Phi, as Tommes would say.,.

  2. What an awesome, amazing post! Thanks for this tribute to the Philofaxy community.

    And if I were your instructor and you submitted this as your essay on subcultures, I would definitely give you an A+ and even extra credit too! ;D

    1. Thanks Laurie! Yes, could any instructor not give me an A+ with such a great topic! ;)

  3. I would give you an A+ for that too!
    This is such a great post. I would never have thought about Philofaxy in that way but it fits in perfectly with the traits of a sub-culture.

    1. Thanks Denise! It's funny how one project would come back to me so many times. And while I've thought about other groups fitting this definition, Philofaxy is one of the best (if not THE best) example I can come up with.

  4. This is an excellent post, you have managed to capture in words my thoughts on the Philofaxy community that I've been trying to put in to words when people have asked over the last 2-3 years!

    Whilst all our electronic communications are very useful and excellent at shrinking the world so we can talk to each other and see each other over a spread of several time zones, I often wish there was a way of bringing us all together in one place and spend some time to get to know each other even better.

    We are one big happy family I think.

    1. Thanks Steve! Should ever need the words, feel free to borrow mine - I would be very flattered. ;)

      I too wish we could have a world-wide meeting. That would be so great. Maybe we should start a Philofaxy camp - one week of nothing but Filo talk!

  5. This made my morning! Perfectly stated!

  6. What an accurate description and great history lesson! I know you would have aced a project on organization - I was witness to your skills way back when, and I can't believe you've evolved to become even more impressive! I would think that Philofaxy is probably a "division" of a larger sub-culture - Organization - as the people of the brands of organizational products probably have their own similar group (or wish they did!).

    ... and we had a "Communication" major at our school? And all this time I thought you were a "Communications" major - lol!!

    1. Thanks, Sheila! Yes, you not only witnessed my organization skills, you had to live with them! You're right - Philofaxy could be considered a division of a larger sub-culture. But I'd say we also fit the definition of it too.

      And yes, we did have a Communication Studies program, where you concentrate in one specific area - I had enough credits to go the Nonverbal Communication track and the Organizational (for organizations, not for being organized) Communication track.

  7. Some other numbers about Philofaxy...

    Philofaxy on average gets 1300 visits a day with an average of over 3000 page views a day, typically people are reading 3 posts/pages on each visit. This is about 10 times the numbers of about 3 years ago. Our growth rate has slowed down a bit now, but still new people are finding us.

    We have 768 followers on Twitter

    Nearly 600 likes on Facebook.

    There are about 550 people in the Philofaxy Flickr group

    But still people are surprised when they discover us!

    1. Thanks for the additional statistics Steve! It's amazing to see how Philofaxy has grown over the last couple of years. It's grown a great deal since I started reading, and that almost two years after it was started.

  8. Great post. I lurked for a long time before I joined or posted - I'm sure there are many more popping in to visit. I never thought of this group as a "sub culture" before, but reading over these comments I'm inclined to agree now! And I'm delighted to be a small part of this. It's a lovely place to visit and learn and get organized!

    1. Thanks! I was a long time lurker too, before posting my first comment. It is quite addicting! Once you start, you can never leave. ;)

  9. Such an interesting post, and includes so many of the reasons why we all love Philofaxy - everyone is welcome :o)

    1. Thanks! And yo're right - I love that we all come from different backgrounds and experiences, and yet can be so close based on this one passion/addiction.

  10. What a wonderful post & thanks for sharing such a structured way of looking at the community! Some people I know complain about the internet, but it would be very hard to bring so many folk together like this before its invention :)

    1. Thanks, Anita. Yes, getting this group to come together as it has without the Internet would have proven difficult. I have to say that this community takes up 90% of my online time. =)

    2. Great post! I'm with you on the 90% - at least!

  11. Wow, what an amazing post. I think you have successfully articulated why we all love Philofaxy, what we give to the community and what we gain from the community. Why we go back and find a little peace in knowing that our thoughts, ideas and issues can be shared and in return we get useful, helpful and insightful ideas to move on. A community of people who accept everybody no matter who they are.

    Thank you for your 'assignment' I would give you A+ too!

    1. Thanks, Jenny. Yes, it is such a unique community that offers so much. So thank you, Steve, Laurie and Nan for doing that!

  12. I love this post! I am certainly glad that I belong to this subculture!

  13. A very excellent post. I have a Filofax Family (like most of us) and have used them for many years. You can't beat paper and pen/pencil! I also use my phone for many things - calendars, agendas, notes, contacts, etc.

    1. Thanks, Pat! For some things, I just prefer pen/pencil and paper. I do keep phone numbers in my phone, but I also have them in my address book, just in case I lose my phone or it gets damaged. I'm too paranoid not to. =)


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