A few months ago, in November 2020, I stumbled across a video by bujo YouTuber Amanda Rach Lee. Lists and writing have always been a necessary part of my daily life – my four years at Northwestern were filled with to-do lists longer than a CVS receipt, and I had already taken a few journaling habits for a test drive, like gratitude journaling. And yet I never had the time or motivation to do anything more creative or consistent, despite my thoughts and worries bouncing around in my head, practically begging to be written down in an aesthetic journal page. But this time, for some reason, I binge-watched Amanda Rach Lee's channel and immediately ordered a Leuchtturm dotted notebook. I spent hours typing out ideas for spreads in the Notes app on my phone, until the new month finally arrived, and I could really make my journal come to life.
Now, let's get two things straight. First, I cannot draw. I am not artistic in the slightest, and haven't been since a particularly ugly piece of pottery from 4th grade art class. And second, I have no money. As an English teaching assistant in France, I get paid around $900 USD per month, and let me tell you – I would rather spend it on a good raclette or bottle of wine than stationery. Oh, and one more thing. I have no time. I have three jobs, and I'm currently completing a Masters degree at the same time, so learning calligraphy is the last thing on my mind.
And yet, my anxiety was hitting a peak due to the global pandemic, a particularly overwhelming schedule, uncertainty about the future, and a feeling of isolation from family and friends. I needed an outlet. So, I sat down and resolved to make bullet journaling work for me, a list-lover with no experience, money, or time. Here's how!
3 Tips For BuJo Beginners, Like Me
Keep It Simple. First of all, (and they all say this), but keep it simple. Start off slow. Don't worry about drawing detailed spreads, painting an exact replica of Monet's water lilies, or tracing perfect straight lines in your journal. Keep your materials simple, too. I use a 60-pack of cheap markers from Amazon, plus one splurge Tombow brush pen (and Wite-Out, of course). Then, I asked for washi tape for Christmas. And there's no shame in pictures printed from the internet, people! Your bullet journal doesn't have to be perfect, but it can be a great chance for you to bring back some color and creativity into your life (it was for me). This said, I recommend pre-planning your spreads. Choose a few classics that work for you, and incorporate them month after month so that you know what's coming.
Create Spreads That Work For You. But what kind of spreads? Spreads that work for you. Some popular ones include habit trackers, a monthly calendar, and playlists, but for instance, I've never been a big online shopper, so I didn't include a package tracker. However, with my insanely busy schedule and brain that never shuts up, I created spreads like a tracker for getting work done on my thesis (which I have yet to fill out...), or brain dumps for lesson planning ideas. And finally, my favorite: "Things I Cooked." Make space in your bullet journal for things that you want or need, not stuff that you've seen on Pinterest and won't give a second glance once you've finished painstakingly drawing it.
Carve Out Time. I often find myself overwhelmed by the laundry list of things I have to do, so stressed by the prospect of starting one of them that I distract myself with TikTok, and suddenly, two hours have passed. I've been trying to change my habits, and instead, use this time to work on my bullet journal rather than overthinking or scrolling social media. Carving out this time to journal, and making it a daily habit (for example, taking 10 minutes to fill out my habit tracker and gratitude page right before I go to sleep) can help me get refocused on the important tasks.
Now that you have some tips to get started, let's talk inspiration. What do you want your bullet journal to look like? Minimalist or bright and colorful? Search the internet, Pinterest and YouTube for creators who match your style, and follow them (I like Amanda Rach Lee and Caitlin Da Silva). Make a vision board for design elements that you like. And above all, incorporate your own interests – for example, as a Francophile, I try to include a little French touch in every spread, whether it's a theme inspired by doors in Paris (TBD!), or a French quote here and there.
My March Spreads
As for my March theme, I was inspired by the @fruit_stickers Instagram account, which I read about in Bon Appétit magazine a few years ago. The design is drool-worthy, and the colors, too. Plus, I thought it would be cool to step outside of the box and do more than just a simple "fruit" theme. I'm also loving the gay pride look that emerged.
Check out my spreads below: