Skip to content

Why a Bullet Journal was perfect for this Hot Mess Brain

Last updated on August 27, 2019

You’d think after reading these entries over the years that there was absolutely no hope for me to get my shit together. I’ve never been an organized person. Not once. Not ever, never. Getting diagnosed with BP II and depression officially helped to sort of understand why I was a constant mess of GET EVERYTHING DONE and NAH, IMMASTAY IN BED FOR THIS WEEK…But to get all of my shit in one shit-stack and take it to a shit store and get it shit-organized? Was it even possible?

Surprise! It is almost impossible.
And that is O.K.

To do perfectly anything in my life is impossible. Admitting to this and being alright with not doing something perfect is a god damn senseless struggle I go through a lot less now at 41 and medicated–but a struggle still. And listen, I don’t make any sense. Neither does being human. So let’s all get together and admit that nobody has their shit together and if they say they do, they are lying liars.

But back to the actual god damn subject of this post: starting a bullet journal back on June 13th 2017 was a very perfect choice for this hot mess that is me, because it makes me a slightly less hot mess. A tepid mess. A cooler, more easily handled without burning yourself mess, if you would.

2017 bujo
First bujo entries.

It’s not easy and it doesn’t look at all like those hip hoppinin’ “bujo,” blogs with aesthetics out the butt and Tombow collections worth more than my monthly grocery bills–my bullet journal is a sprawling pile of laundry that starts mountainous and eventually peters down into something that started being somewhat manageable and working for me, and not against me. And that was hard. (Pssst: still hard.) But what’s that cliched saying? Anything worth doing is difficult something-something-darkside, something-something complete? Yeah!

So here’s why it worked for me, what didn’t and maybe, maaayyybeee it might help you. I don’t know. We’re all floating in our meat-sacks together winging it. So here’s how I’ve been winging it:

How to fail at Bullet Journals:

  • Compare yourself to every bullet journaler out there on instagram and facebook and reddit and their blogs. Don’t. Do not. What they do for their bullet journal is what works for them. You are not them. You are you. So feel free to start looking to get inspired yes, but do not expect to make perfect everything out of the gate.
  • Waiting for the “right,” supplies before starting, or waiting to be able to afford higher end supplies (Tombow, Zebra Midliners, Sakura Microns, a LEUCHTTURM1917. Start with whatever you have.
  • Don’t experiment or expect absolutely perfect layouts every time.
  • Thinking there is a wrong way or a right way to bullet journal.

How to Win at Bullet Journals And Win a Little Bit At Life

  • S.S.S. Start Stupid Simple. Some of you beautiful angels out there are already organized as-fuck kinda people, but the rest of us are disastrous chihuahuas trembling at the dishes in the sink. So we probably get overwhelmed and quickly. Overwhelming yourself with a bullet journal made to try and help organize stuff is a tinsy bit counter productive. So S.S.S it.
  • Maybe your first S.S.S layout will just be the weekdays spread across a page and below them, things you did that day. “Washed face, got out of bed, put dishes in dishwasher,” for example as a simple list. CONGRATS. YOU ARE A BULLET JOURNALER.
  • Do that for a week. Write down everything. Everything, yes. Even that thing you just muttered to yourself, “but, everyone showers, why should I–” LISTEN TO ME YOU BUTTERFLY OF BEAUTIFUL DISASTERS. WRITE. IT. DOWN. I don’t care if it’s, “had good poop,” (Which, if you’ve ever suffered from any sort of chronic bowl disease IS A THING TO CELEBRATE AND WRITE DOWN ANYWAY)–Write. It. Down.
  • Do that for 1 week.
  • Look at your week. Surprising, isn’t it? Surprising how much we do and can get done in a week when you stop dismissing the little things we all do–like showers, tooth brushing, or just getting up at a certain time. It’s time to celebrate. You’ve done a thing, everyday for 7 days.
  • Start to Experiment. SLOWLY. You’re new at this. You don’t yet know what’s going to work for you. The only way you’ll know is by fucking up and trying new things. So DO that. Don’t be afraid of your first bullet journal being filled with a few unfinished pages or layouts that you never touched because you didn’t like and started over–but keep going. Don’t stop. Keep trying new things, and don’t feel guilty about discarding what didn’t work.
  • Use the crayola markers, pencil crayons, your kids’ crayons and pencils, go to Dollar Tree and buy 1$ rulers, a composition notebook, a binder, a one dollar set of pens and pencils–use whatever you have on hand first. Don’t add complications to your bullet journaling when first starting out. You’re supposed to be trying to do something to help relieve stress, not make more.

Writing down your first week will help you see just how much you actually do and give you a real, tangible list of things you can see to work with. Writing everything down for 1 week will also give you a starting point of the things you DO want to keep track of.

Starting your bullet journal with 2929323 trackers and 203232 month pages and 2932932 step counters and 23232 goals when you’re overwhelmed, stressed, have a non-normal brain or chronic illness is going to discourage you very quickly. Because you’ve set yourself up too many expectations all at once. Also, maybe keeping track of what time you woke up, work hours, what you ate, how many steps, how many glasses of water, how many hours slept, how much food, when and where and why–and so on–is too much for you at first.

I want my bullet journal to ease my sorry ass into adulting better. I don’t want to look at it and see all these trackers empty and feel like shit because I “failed,” to do something that was too much energy for me to do.

So–look at your first week. Think about one thing you’d like to improve. Could you work on drinking more water next week? Do you want to try and wake up at a certain time every day next week? Do you want to make sure you take your medications every day, at the same time? Pick one goal for next week and maybe make a tracker for that if you want. Or just add a little box for ticking it off and write whatever you chose for that day.

For the first six months I made the mistake of overwhelming myself. I would add so much bullshit to my weekly spread. I’M GONNA SPRING OUT OF BED FULLY CLOTHES AND SHOWERED AND DRINK COFFEE WITH ONE HAND DO LAUNDRY AND GARDEN AND SWEEP AND VACUUM AND SMELL FLOWERS AND PUNCH NAZIS AND HUG KITTENS AND MOW 50 YARDS AND SOLVE WORLD HUNGER, I’d write, for my Monday mornings. And guess what?

I’d do one or two things and be unable to do the rest, leaving an unfinished list staring at me accusingly. And I would then get discouraged. And then that discouragement would tip off my thinking about what’s the point of keeping a bullet journal if I never do anything? And then that can topple over other thoughts that lead to a shitty spiral that nobody needs.

Bullet journal July weekly spread with detailed flowers and plants.
The most challenging layout I’ve done in years.

This is why I decided to go back to absolute basics for a while. Some weeks or months I simply wrote the hours I had to go to work and anything else I remembered to do that day were added, including just brushing my hair. Anytime I found myself thinking the bullet journal was too much, I dropped any fancy formatting, drawings, doodles, trackers and what have you and went back to my S.S.S theory.

Your bullet journal should reflect who you are and your life. I don’t know of anyone’s life that is absolutely the same every single week or month. Emotions are not a flat-lined chart. Events in life don’t happen to you on a schedule, so drop the expectation that your bullet journal should look amazing and aesthetically perfect and level and nothing out of place while, perhaps, your life around you is a shaking hand holding a marker wrong trying to wing a straight line while dancing in an earthquake.

When I realized that my journal could and should reflect my real life and be honest with myself, reflecting that in my layouts that changed from month to month? That’s when the bullet journal bloomed into something I loved doing, and, something that was actually making a difference, from self-care to laundry doing to waking up everyday on a schedule. That’s when I decided to finally start challenging myself at more detailed layouts as well–but only when I was extremely comfortable with my bullet journal. It took me years of working at it. And I am still doing so–but it’s changed my hot mess self for the better.

Maybe it’ll work for you too.

Published inPhat Life