I’ll be honest: when I first discovered the bullet journal tag (#bujo) on Instagram in 2018, I was intimidated. There was calligraphy, watercolor paintings, and elaborate drawings everywhere I looked. It wasn’t long before I discovered a palpable desire amongst the community to make spreads that were Instagram-ready—a pressure for perfection and individuality.
Still, as a lover of organization, creativity, and notebooks, I remained. Since I’m not an artist and can’t draw to save my life, I mostly lurked the hashtags and discussions. I rarely shared my own spreads online. I bookmarked inspiring posts to keep me motivated, but as each new month approached, a sense of dread filled me: What theme was I going to do this month? And would it look as pretty as all the posts I was seeing?
Over the years, I have heard many people say they want to keep a bullet journal but don’t think they are “artistic” enough. They see all the watercolor illustrations and elaborate themes and think this is the standard. They doubt themselves and think, “This is too much work. I can’t recreate this. I’m not good enough.”
It’s time to embrace minimalism.
After trying to keep up with all the artists and hobbyists on Instagram for months, I finally admitted this just wasn’t working for me. I considered quitting bullet journaling altogether and going back to a traditional planner, one that was already laid out and didn’t require too much extra thought.
Then, one day, I decided to take personal inventory of what mattered the most to me. I discovered minimalism worked best, and I could still make my bullet journal pleasing to look at. I shrunk down my supplies to just a pen, a marker, sticky notes, stamps, and stickers. Then, after making some major setup changes, I became much happier with my no-pressure journaling routine.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with keeping a beautiful, artistic bullet journal, the original bullet journal method was designed with minimalism in mind. Elaborate setups just aren’t for everybody.
If you feel overwhelmed about creating artistic bullet journal spreads, this minimal setup might be for you.
Start with a simple cover page.
At the start of each month, I create a designated cover page. This typically includes the name of the month along with a small at-a-glance calendar and quote. Finally, I decorate with stickers, sticky notes, and other craft paper I might have handy. This helps me set the tone for the month without spending too much time on it.
Plan your month with a focus on tasks and goals.
If you’re anything like me, you have a set of goals in your mind for each month. I like to look at each month as one big picture. I ask myself, “What would I like to have accomplished by the end of the month?” Then, I track my goals (big-picture ideas) and tasks (one-step chores that are equally important) on my calendar overview spread. Sometimes, I also track a few habits, like when I read and do yoga, and see how they affect my mood, but this is by no means necessary.
I like to keep this spread very similar to the cover page. I tend to stick to a pen, marker, and alphabet stamps for the days of the week. Then, once I’m all done laying this out, I decorate with illustrated stickers. This adds a bit of personality and color without the stress of not being able to draw well. Finally, I fill in the calendar with events for the month.
Create a spot for daily gratitude and weekly tasks.
Next, I like to keep a dedicated page divided in half for daily gratitude and a monthly master task list. I revisit this page quite often during the month. It’s where I jot down small things I’m thankful for, so I can look back at them at the end of the month and see how great the month really was. This is great for monthly reflections!
Then, on the right side, I have a space for my weekly task list. Since I don’t lay out my weekly spreads in advance (more on that below), this helps me plan ahead. Like the previous section, I stick to pens, markers, and alphabet stamps, and then decorate with stickers.
Meet the rolling daily format.
Laying out weekly spreads in advance limited me. I used a traditional weekly planner since grammar school and it has become too restrictive for my documenting style. Even those beautiful, elaborate weekly spreads on Instagram are still restricted to space. What if I had more things going on in my day than the allotted 6-box-wide column allowed? What if I didn’t have anything to say that day and the spot remaining empty, thus wasted, or an eyesore?
The rolling daily format is a write-as-you-go method. There is no preplanning. There is no wasted space. And there is certainly no feeling pressured to fill up space. You just write however much or little you need for that day and keep going as the days progress.
This method is a combination of traditional rapid logging and long-form journaling. It works best for me because I still like to use my bullet journal for long-form journaling. Instead of having two separate notebooks, I can keep everything here in one place. Plus, seeing my daily tasks and notes alongside lengthy entries has given me much more context when looking back.
Decorate the margins with stickers, notes, & doodles.
My favorite thing about my notebooks in grade school was the margins. I make faux-margins in my bullet journal to allow for any extra notes or space I need. I put the date there, as well as the weather, or any fun little things that might have happened that day.
Then, I decorate the margins with doodles and stickers if I feel like it. The possibilities are endless. Plus, it doesn’t take away from your writing at all. If anything, it just adds more character to your spreads. And the beautiful thing is it can be spontaneous and not pre-planned at all!
Plan ahead with sticky notes.
Since I don’t lay out spreads in advance, when I need to plan ahead, I use sticky notes. Sticky notes not only add a pop of color to your journal, but you can then choose to either keep them, remove them, or—shock!—even migrate them to a later page.
The plan-as-you-go freedom of sticky notes is so liberating. They can become part of your spreads or they can be thrown away once you’re done with them. There’s no crossing out and there’s no mess. If you make a mistake or change your mind, you can always just remove them and add another.
Remember: your bullet journal is for YOU.
Don’t let your lack of artistic ability or Instagram culture drive you away from bullet journaling. Bullet journaling was originally intended to be a minimal, at-a-glance experience. While it’s perfectly fine to be artistic and use your journal to showcase your art, it’s important to remember it doesn’t HAVE to be. Once I switched to this minimal method, I became a lot happier about my bullet journal because it felt more like myself—a writer who isn’t perfect, who’s still trying to figure it out.
Pigma Micron 03 – 0.35mm Fineliner in Black
Wooden Plant & Flower Rubber Stamps
Ranger Archival Ink Pad in Jet Black
Alphabet Letter Wood Rubber Stamps
PILOT G2 Premium Rolling Ball Gel Pens – 0.38mm
Dingbats Wildlife Dotted Hardcover A5+ Notebook in Brown Bear
Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pens
Rifle Paper Co. sticker sheets
Girls Sticker Set by pion on Pinkoi
Mossery food sticker pack
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Megan Portorreal is a professional writer, editor, and creative in the New York City area. In her spare time, she enjoys reading books, writing about her life, and playing video games.