How a Cynic Came to Know and Love the Bullet Journal
Over the past few years I've seen bullet journals become more and more hyped. I immediately found them obnoxious. I have, for the entirety of my life, been an organized person. Proof: When I was a kid and I went to friends houses, they'd apologize for the state of their rooms because they thought I'd be bothered by their un-organized ways. (I wasn't, I was bothered by my being labeled as uptight and judgmental by a fellow eight year old.) When I saw the bullet journal spreads posted on Pinterest, with their elaborate illustrations and detailed charts of who knows what, my gut reaction was, "That's a great way to waste time while claiming to be 'getting organized.'" But I've changed my tune. Completely. As in, I am now a bullet journal devotee. Now I'm going to rip the sparkly veneer off the bullet journals of Pinterest and Instagram and expose what convinced me that this system isn't only for expert calligraphers and illustrators who seem to have three hours a day to devote to their "bujos."
I started bullet journaling in December. I had a flimsy little journal laying around from awhile ago and a pen, and it turns out that's all you need. No fancy stickers or a $25 journal or a set of nice pens. Honestly, you could staple a stack of printer paper together if you didn't have a journal, it's that easy. In fact, I had an entire conversation with my friend Ashleigh, who is a professional in the stationery/paper goods biz AND is a bullet journalist about this very fact, and you can read it above. I decided I was going to try the bullet journal system for a month with my bare bones supplies and if I stuck with it every day I could spring for a cute hardback journal and a variety of pens come January. I sat down with my notebook and my pen and a fantastic blog post from The Lazy Genius Collective that covers the bullet journal basics and lays out very simply how to set up your journal in just a few minutes. In fact, my first little journal looks almost exactly like the photos from that blog post - I was so worried about not getting the system, and to be honest, it took me a few read-throughs to get the gist, but oh my is that post a great jumping off point.
In hindsight I think taking a month to very casually "trial" bullet journal in an old, unsentimental journal with a plain old pen (albeit one that lights up and came from the Kardashian Khaos store in Las Vegas) was a great idea. It let me get familiar with the system and find out what my bullet journal style was before I felt like things were getting serious. When I did end up getting my perma-journal, I knew exactly how I wanted to lay things out and use my planner. Even so, if I ever want to change things, I can just switch things up as the months and weeks go on - that's one of the great things about the bullet journal method. By using a blank journal and creating a custom system that suits you, you can create whatever works best for you, and if that changes, great! Change it! On the other hand, if you bought a month-to-month planner in January and in March realized that week-to-week was going to work better for you, you'd need to buy a new planner. Then what if in August month-to-month was more useful again?! See how flexibility can be so attractive?
In addition to being a planner, a bullet journal can also keep track of anything else you want. This is where the Pinterest and Instagram bujo (I truly hate that abbreviation) inspo posts get out of hand, at least in my opinion. They aren't inspiration for me - they make something that's actually very simple seem completely unattainable. You can make a list of books you want to read, meal plans, packing lists, a chart of how you planted your garden, literally anything you want to track or plan or list, you can make a page for it in your bullet journal. And you can make it look however you like! This year I'm taking on Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge, and my page for it in my bullet journal is insanely simple.
But I could have gone in the completely opposite direction. I could have drawn little pictures of books and colored them in as I read them (that's one you see pretty often). I could have drawn visual representations of each task on the list and conveyed them in that way (I'm not even sure what that means, but I'm picturing a map of South America for one challenge, a unicorn for the fantasy challenge, etc). But I just wanted the literal checklist from Book Riot to be in the same place as my other to-do lists. I alternated ink colors, but that was just so that all that text was easier to read. Throw some washi tape on it and boom: It's decorated!
I did look at a few bullet journal blogs for some ideas on how to create calendars or weekly spreads before inking up my fancy new journal, and I've gotta tell you, for every helpful blog I found, I found some blogger who made me stop in my tracks and say, "Jesus Hannibal Christ... WHAT." I won't link you up to the ones I think are batshit nuts, but I will tell you a story about one! There's a woman out there who has a page in her bullet journal that is undeniably beautiful, but is a list of vegetables. Vegetables in her garden? Vegetables that she can eat based on a strict diet? Vegetables she has to avoid? Vegetables her picky child will eat? No to all of the above. It was, as far as I could tell, a gorgeously curated list of vegetables in existence. I thought maybe this was a meal planning tool of some sort, but there were similarly enigmatic collections posted on her blog, so... I don't know. Again, everything that was posted looked like it took about four hours to create, and it was aesthetically spectacular. This is why when you type "bullet journal" into Pinterest what comes up can send you running for the hills.
I gave you an example that made me shudder, now for some things that I found helpful! I have printed out this free bullet journal reference guide and I keep it tucked in the pocket in the back of my journal. It's so helpful that Ryder Carroll, the creator of the bullet journal, actually asked that it be featured on the official website! A blog post like this one from Gurl.com shows all the different ways you can organize your planner, and I got a lot of ideas from reading many articles like this one. I need to keep track of a lot of health stuff, so I got the idea to make a separate section for each day to record any health-related info in its own special, easy to find place. I also learned there's a whole community of minimalist bullet journalists! My people! Well, I'm a minimalist bullet jounralist who also uses poop emoji stickers to illustrate her journal. It takes all kinds. Luckily, bullet journals are completely customizable, so I feel right at home.
Here's a little haul of what I have in my "fancy" bullet journal toolkit now that I've upgraded my system (sorry, Kardashian pen).
Folding Template/Ruler/Stencil (This is a link to the exact ruler that I have being sold on Etsy for $6 plus shipping. I bought mine at Daiso, so it was $1.50. You can also buy small templates on Amazon for about $3. Shop around!)
Various Washi Tapes and Stickers: Michael's is the best place for this stuff. They always have a coupon available, at least for 40% off one item, and there are often sales you can benefit from. I went when they had 30% off all planner accessories and got lots of stickers. I fell particularly hard for this one set that featured familiar pups and useful phrases. I may have bought a few packages of stickers from that line.
I've also bought washi tape at Paper Source and, believe it or not, Ikea. Plus, I'm a collector of stationery and paper goods, so I only had to rifle through my collection to find stickers from all kinds of sources (including a little book of stickers from In-N-Out!). I keep all my journaling accoutrements in a photo box I got at Michael's (on sale for $2) so if I'm in the mood to gussy up my bullet journal it's right there. But, as fun as it may be to put some fun stickers in your journal, I hope the takeaway is: It's completely unnecessary! The point is to see if it helps you stay on top of your shit, not to make you feel inadequate about your doodles or your scrapbooking skills. That being said, stickers are always fun.