Category Archives: organizing

Bullet Journaling 101

The first time I read about bullet journals, I wrote them off as being too complicated and fussy.  The second time I read about bullet journals … I still wrote them off as being too complicated and fussy.    A few months ago, when I was waxing poetic about my love for all things pens and paper and lists, a friend (her name is Sarah, and she’s awesome) said, “I think you’d really love bullet journaling.”

I’ve looked at that before;  it seemed too complicated.

It’s really not, she said.  It’s as simple or as complicated as you make it.  I really do think you’d like it.


Okay, FINE.  I’ll look it up one more time. 

GAME.  CHANGER.  This time it was love at first (third) sight.

So what the heck is it?  It’s part planner, part journal, and part to-do list.  For some people it’s also a sketchbook, and/or an art journal.  Ryder Carroll, the gentleman who created the system, describes it as something to help “track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.”

The video below is from the official bullet journal website, and gives a good basic overview about setting one up.  But if you’re not sure, or you’re confused, or you want to see more…. keep reading for how I set up and use my own.  A Google and Pinterest search showed me that there is a whole world of bullet journal ideas and inspiration and adaptations out there, and that rabbit trail was what got me really excited about bullet journaling.

A few disclaimers before I go on though:

  • Most of the links to products are affiliate links, which just means that if you purchase from them, I’ll get a few pennies from the sale, at no extra cost to you.  But if you don’t want to give me any pennies, look them up on Amazon anyway, because I still recommend them, whether you give me your pennies or not.  🙂
  • A lot of what I’ve done here has been inspired by other bullet journal lovers/bloggers/website owners, especially Kara over at Boho Berry.  She’s awesome.
  • And finally, please, please DON’T COMPARE mine to yours to anyone else’s.  So many people feel like they need to compete, and/or make it look a certain way, but the whole point is that it’s totally customizable to you.  If you want simple and streamlined, awesome.  If you want to decorate it all up with colors and stickers and washi tape and sketches, awesome.  If you want it fancy but don’t have the time or inclination to do it by hand, awesome.  That’s where things like stencils and printables come in handy.  I belong to a few Facebook groups for inspiration, and there’s thread after thread filled with people worried they’re not doing it “right”. There is no right and wrong.  For real.  This is supposed to be fun.  At a minimum, it’s supposed to be functional.  If you hear nothing else, hear this:  Your bullet journal is WHATEVER YOU WANT AND NEED IT TO BE.

Supplies & Getting Started

All you need to get started with bullet journaling is a notebook of some sort, and a pen or pencil.  That’s it.

Some of us have turned ours into more of a… project… but you absolutely don’t have to.  A notebook and a writing utensil, and you’re good to go.

The notebook I use is the Leuchtturm 1917 in the A5 size. I love, love, love this notebook. It’s pretty and sturdy and the perfect size. All of its pages are lightly gridded, so it’s easy to make nice straight lines, and keep everything nice and neat.  Its pages are numbered too, which is incredibly helpful when setting up the index.


If your notebook isn’t numbered, you’ll want to number the pages before you get started, so that you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for later on.

Some other supplies that are not necessary, but might be nice to have

A selection of pens – I’m a bit of a pen hoarder collector, so I like to have a variety to match my mood/desired outcome.  My favorite everyday pen is the Sharpie fine tip, and I also love the Pitt Artist Pens, and the Micron Pigma pens.  They all write nice and black, don’t bleed to the other side of the page, and come in a range of tip sizes.  It’s nice to be able to get those super fine lines when I want them.  I also have a set of calligraphy markers that are fun for a little extra pizazz.

Markers and/or colored pencils – My favorite markers are the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners, and for colored pencils I like the Derwent Water Color Pencils.

A good ruler – Useful for both making straight lines and helping to plan out your pages.  I like this one because it’s clear, flexible, and sturdy.

A kneaded eraser – Yes, a regular eraser works just fine, but I’m so enamored with the kneaded one I use for drawing that I use it for everything.  And bonus, no shavings to brush away!

Correction tape – I tried to use regular white-out when I messed up, but it always felt lumpy, it was difficult to write over, and it took forever to dry.  Now I use Bic Wite-Out EZ Correction Tape, and it works much better for me.

Decorative things like washi tape, stickers, stencils, stamps – Go crazy, or skip it altogether.  I think a lot of us are somewhere in between.

The Initial Set-Up

I started setting my bullet journal up in December, in preparation for the beginning of the new year.  But the great thing is that you don’t have to start at the beginning of a new year!  Since it’s hand-made and prepared as you go, you can start a new one 365 days a year.

As mentioned above, if your pages aren’t numbered, you’ll want to start there.  Part of the genius of the bullet journal is that you put everything into a table of contents, so then you won’t be frantically flipping pages trying to find the list of books you wanted to read this year, or all your meal-planning ideas, or little Johnny’s soccer schedule.  Just check the index and you’re good to go.  Every time you add a new page to your journal, you’ll add it to your index:

The next thing I included was a key.  I don’t use all the same exact symbols as Ryder Carroll’s system, but I use many of them:

Next, I did a year-at-a-glance.  Not everyone includes this, but for me it doesn’t make sense not to be able to have an overview of the whole year, right up front.

Speaking of white-out, if you look closely, you can see that I messed up the numbering on the last full week of April, and had to white-out the whole row. Mistakes happen. 🙂

The next page I included was a Mood Tracker.  I track my mood anyway because of my bipolar (I have an app on my phone), but I loved the idea of seeing it in colors this way.  This was shamelessly copied/adapted from a whole bunch of examples I saw on Pinterest.   I’ve seen people do mood mandalas too, and those are super cool as well.  Again, this isn’t something everyone is going to want to do, but I love it.  Add what you love, forget about the rest.

The last thing I included, in terms of my initial set-up, was the Future Log.  I mostly use it for birthdays and events that I know about well in advance.  If you want a simpler version of what I made, you can simply divide each side into six boxes (or three, if you think you’ll need more space)

Using Your Bullet Journal

The whole point of using a bullet journal is to keep you organized.  I use mine to keep track of what I’ve got going on on a monthly and weekly basis, plus keep track of…. a whole bunch of other things:  daily habits I want to try to do on a regular basis, books I’ve read (or want to read), blog post ideas, hikes I’ve gone on, etc.  People use it to track their exercise habits or weight loss goals, to meal plan for the week or the month, places they want to visit, Netflix series they’d like to watch.  Etc. Anything you can think of can become a page in your bullet journal.

One thing that I had trouble wrapping my head around when I started was how to plan out the pages.  How much space did I leave for each month?  Did I want to do a monthly page, then a weekly page, AND a daily page (some people use all three)?  Did I want to have all my lists/collections together, and if so, how much space should I leave for them?  What if I want to add something later in a place that doesn’t make any logical sense?  Phew.  Exhausting.  (And it all brought me screaming back to my earlier opinion of “Too complicated.  Too fussy.”)

But t turned out that I was single-handedly making it too complicated.  I do that.  Often.  Yes, it took a bit of thinking/researching/looking around at other examples to figure out what I wanted to do, but once I did that I was ready to jump in.  And it wasn’t nearly as daunting as I’d been making it.

I do a monthly page, and then I do weekly pages (photos to follow).  The original system relies on daily pages, but I found that doing weekly pages still gave me enough room to write down all my tasks for each day, plus I was able to see and plan the whole week in one glance, a drawback I was having with the idea of doing daily pages.

I might do a page or two of weeklies in advance, but otherwise, I just build as I go.  When I think of some list or something that I want to add, I just do it on the next free page, and add it to the index.  It’s why we have the index in the first place!  No fuss, no muss.  If I know what I want to do with the next few pages, but don’t have time to do it at the moment, I just reserve them with sticky notes to mark their spot until I’m able to get to them.

Ryder Carroll’s system has you do your monthly log as a single list of dates down the side of the page, like this:

Then you’d just write whatever plans, appointments, etc you have on the corresponding date.  If you want simple, this is definitely the way to go.  I knew that I wanted something different for this (that would still serve the same function), so after a whole lot of looking around, playing with different ideas, and trying things out, I came up with this:

I’ve got traditional calendar boxes to write upcoming events and plans, space for a general to-do list for the month, and a habit tracker to fill out at the bottom.  I put washi tape on the edge of my monthly pages so they’re even easier to find and flip to.  This is what my month looks like when it is fresh and brand-new, and this is what it looks like when it’s been used and written all over:

Immediately after my monthly pages, I start my weekly pages, and those are really the heart and soul of the bullet journal (in terms of keeping me on task).  All my daily to-dos, appointments, and tasks are written on the appropriate day, and it makes it really easy to see – in black and white – what I’ve got going on.  Here are a couple of examples:

And finally, here are just a few of the “extra” pages I’ve done so far.  They’re sort of addictive, so I know I’ll be adding more and more as I go:

Bullet journals aren’t for everyone, to be sure, but if you’re someone like me who loves putting pen to paper, loves lists and organizing or writing or doodling or planning…… DO IT.   It keeps me more organized, it makes me more apt to do what I need to do, AND it allows me that meditative/creative time that I so badly need. Try it.  It’ll change your life.

And maybe (hopefully?) you won’t have to wait for your third exposure like I did.  🙂







Filed under organizing

the kids, the housework, and me.


It’s a series of questions I hear a lot.  A lot a lot:

Do you really not require them to do chores?  Do they still help around the house?  How do you get them to help?

Yes, I really don’t require them to do any particular chores.  Yes, they all still help around the house.  As for the last question:  It’s the wrong question.  It’s not about getting someone else to do what you want them to do.  If something isn’t working, it’s about changing what you can change about you, and letting the rest fall as it falls.  But I’ll get back to that later.

Not too long ago, I had a bit of a breakdown (and a resulting breakthrough) when it came to housekeeping.  I’ve admitted this here on my blog more times than I can count, but I’m not the most naturally tidy person out there.  I pretty much make a mess everywhere I go.  For most of my adult life, I’ve tried to make peace with that. I thought the answer was to embrace it.   Messes are good!  Messes are happy!  Life is a mess!  And while I still agree with that when it comes to many, many things, I finally faced the fact that I personally function so much better when my home –  my haven – is running smoothly.  When things are organized.  When my desk is tidy.   When my counter is shiny.

The problem was, none of that was happening.  Nothing was running smoothly.  Nothing was organized.  Nothing was tidy.  Nothing was shiny.  My own house was a source of stress, and a big one at that.

I eventually realized that 1)  This was MY issue.  (Well, mine and my husband’s, but he already works like 17 jillion hours a week outside the house, and contrary to popular belief can’t always put out my fires too) 2) Making desperate, impassioned, embarrassing speeches begging people to help me didn’t work… and made us all grumpy in the process, and 3) The only person I had the ability – and the right – to control was me.

So I decided to do something.

Borrowing and adapting ideas from both Flylady and Motivated Moms, I started digging my way out.  (“Borrowing” and “adapting” instead of flat-out following because I took what worked for me, and chucked the rest, with no apologies.  Put on shoes in my own house??  What kind of crazy crap is that?)  I started with baby steps, and am gradually working my way to household sanity.  My own personal 12-step program for slobs.  I didn’t do it to prove anything, didn’t do it for anyone else, didn’t do it for any other reason than because I wanted to.  As with any other new habit, the first few weeks were painful difficult, but now it’s all second nature, AND my house doesn’t stress me out anymore.

This is the daily plan that works for me (your mileage may vary):

  • Tegan sleeps in our bed about half the time.  If she’s in her bed, the first thing I do when I get up is make the bed.  (Otherwise, I just do it later) For most of our marriage, the bed’s been unmade.  I sort of never saw the point, if you’re just going to unmake to get into it again.  But lo and behold, it’s really really nice to come into a pretty and freshly made bed every night.  If your home is your haven, your bedroom should be your haven’s haven, right?  Plus, it gets me in the “tidy-up” mood I need for the rest of the morning.  So I take the time to do it.  It takes approximately 8 seconds and makes a huge difference.
  • Next I go into both bathrooms, and grab the toilet brush.  Quick swish of the toilet, and then a quick wipe down of the sink/counter/mirror with a damp cloth.  Two minutes.
  • On the way to the kitchen, I stop at the closet to grab a fresh dish towel.  It’s nice to have a fresh towel every day… and plus there’s that whole issue of kitchens being germier than bathrooms.  Which is gross.  So a new towel it is.
  • I start the pot of coffee, because I must.  While it’s brewing, I:
  • Empty the dishwasher
  • Run a broom just over the kitchen/dining area
  • Wipe down the counters, stove, and sink
  • Put any stray cups, etc, from the night before in the dishwasher.
  • If there’s laundry to do, I’ll throw that in then too.  (I’ll fold it later with a cup of iced coffee and Netflix to keep me company)

BAM.  Ten minutes from the time my feet hit the floor and I’m ready to sit and enjoy my coffee and answer my emails.

The only other thing I do housework-wise consistently every day is spend 15 minutes (yes, I set a timer) on cleaning … something …  whether it’s putting toys away, tidying up the living room, or working on decluttering.   I’m convinced that getting rid of the superfluous “stuff” in the house is one of the biggest natural highs in the world.  Right now my big project is the room that was originally built to be a formal dining room that has since become a computer room slash play room slash dumping ground slash all-around thorn in my side.  It’s not where I’d like it yet, but it’s looking a lot better, 15 minutes at a time.   15 minutes is nothing.  I could easily spend four times that much watching TV, or working on a blog post, or ::cough:: checking Facebook.

One day a week, I do the bigger jobs:

  • Properly clean the bathrooms
  • Sweep the whole house
  • Mop
  • Vacuum
  • Dust
  • Clean end tables, etc
  • Change everyone’s sheets
  • Take out the trash

The whole thing takes about an hour, less if the kids help me.  And speaking of the kids:  Last night after dinner (because he likes to give me real-life examples for my blog posts without even realizing it)  Mike asked Everett – 9 at the time of this writing – if he’d take out the recycling bins.  Spencer does it more often than not, but his shoulder is still not quite up to it.  So he asked Everett.  And that’s how it works… no more complicated nor more simple than just … asking.  As is the case I’d say, oh, 75% of the time, Everett said “Sure”, brought his plate up to the sink, and went to get the recyclables.

20% of the time, the answer is “Sure…” followed by a, “when my show is over” or “after I finish this level”, or “in a little bit.”  And 5% of the time, they decline.  Because they’re too tired, or busy, or just plain choose to opt out.

In the past, that 5% caused a huge problem.  But not because of the kids.  Because of me.

The kids don’t exist to be at my beck and call.  We’re a family… we’re all equals here.  We’re on the same team, the kids and me.  I knew all of that intellectually, but until I’d fixed my own messed-up relationship with housework, my words might have been asking, “Would you please help me with xyz?” but everything else about me was screaming, “Kids!  Help me with this unpleasant task that I don’t even want to do myself!  I’m going to frame it like it’s a question, but I’m going to get all grumbly if you say no.  Stupid housework.  Stupid messy house.  If I could just get some HELP every once in awhile, instead of doing it all myself.  Grumble grumble grumble….”   I mean seriously, would you want to help that person?   Once I’d adjusted my own frame of reference, it changed everything, and that 5% became a non-issue.  Now when I ask, I’m honestly asking, and if the answer is “Not right now” or “No thanks” or “Can someone else do it?”, I’m cool with that.  Because things are running much more smoothly overall, it’s not a big deal for me to do most of the cleaning projects myself… and it’s also not a big deal for others to pitch in:  sometimes when they’re asked, and sometimes just because they want to help.   And it should go without saying, but it’s also a whole lot more pleasant to deal with housework in general when it’s with someone who’s calm and cheerful about it instead of, well, stressed out and scary.

Most days, I’m honestly happy to do housework now.  It feels good to create and keep a nice space and a happy unschooling “nest” for my family.  It’s easier to find things and work on our various projects, and I’m no longer stressed out by all the inevitable – and often necessary – messes.  Messes are easy to clean when they’re made on a fresh canvas.  It’s the messes that fall on top of messes on top of messes that are overwhelming.  Am I always cheerful and happy about cleaning?  Well, no.  This is the real world.  And some days the best I can do is recognize that it’s a necessary part of life, and something I can still choose to do without complaining.  And on “those” days?  The rare days when I’d rather stick a fork in my eye than pick up a broom or handle a dirty dish or run one more load of laundry?   I give myself the day off, and I don’t feel guilty about it.

Do I think my kids are going to be stellar housekeepers when they’re out on their own?  I have no idea.  I’m not nearly as concerned with how they “turn out” as I am with their living in a happy, cohesive, peaceful household right now.  If I had to guess, I’d say that it’s largely just a matter of personality, and how they’re individually hard-wired.  Some of my kids have always loved to keep everything around them neat and tidy… and some have always been, well, more like I was as a kid.  And neither is right or wrong until or unless THEY decide it’s right or wrong in their own life.

I do know that they’re finally able to see and experience a mom who is happy to do it, to do her best to take pride in, and take care of this place we call home … humble though it may be.  And on a deeper level, a mom who recognized a problem within herself and is taking steps to fix it.

Surely that’s got to count for something.




Filed under about me, family, learning, organizing, unschooling

How Housekeeping is like Advanced Math

Photo by Minibe09

On the heels of my little cleaning freak-out the other day, yesterday I decided that I needed a new approach and a fresh perspective.   I would set a timer (a la Flylady) for 10 minutes, and 10 minutes only.  I’d give my full attention to picking up, cleaning up, and generally getting things done cheerfully for those 10 minutes, then I’d take a break.   I asked the kids if they would join me, and they were very willing (probably because I asked like a friendly mom instead of a crazy person).   We did our 10 minutes, and later did the same thing twice more.

That combined 30 minutes of cleaning was a million times more productive, and honestly more enjoyable, than my entire previous day of frustrated huffing and wandering around, picking up this and that, and overall spinning my wheels.  Why?  Because 1)  I was ready to do it, 2) I wanted to do it. 3) I was motivated to do it, and 4) I was willing to give it my full – positive – attention.

Really, isn’t everything like that?  How much more efficient, and productive, and useful is our time when we’re doing something that we willingly choose to do, that we’re personally invested in, and truly motivated to do?

It’s the same exact concept I learned 20 years ago in my advanced math class my senior year of high school.  I’ve written about that class before, but the short of it is that it was a class that made me all kinds of miserable.  A class that I wasn’t interested in.  A class that I felt I didn’t need (and I didn’t).  A class that I struggled with to the point of tears.  And after a l.o.t. of torture, frustration, and a fair amount of humiliation, I dropped it.  What I didn’t mention in my first re-telling is that before I could drop the class I had to be passing the class, which meant that I had a whole lot of make-up work to do.  I’d pretty much stopped doing my homework, for the simple reason that I didn’t understand my homework.

My teacher suggested perhaps having another student tutor me during a study hall, and in desperation I took her up on it.  Pete was a straight A student, and was one of those people, like my husband, who finds math – even in its advanced varieties – easy and fun.  He patiently sat with me during one study hall, and went through the work point by point.  And for the first time, it made sense to me.  For the first time, I actually saw a glimpse (though a teeny one) of what math-inclined people find so cool about all those numbers and formulas.

I learned more in that one 45 minute tutuoring session than I had all semester.

And it wasn’t because he was a better teacher than the teacher.  It was because I was ready to learn it.  I wanted to learn it.  I was personally motivated to learn it.  For a myriad of reasons, I needed not to be in that class anymore.  In order to do that, I had to finally learn what I’d resisted learning for most of the semester.   Once I had that motivation, the learning came quickly and relatively easily.

The same is true for learning anything, and is a big factor in why I unschool.  The only time we truly learn something is when it “arise(s) out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner.” (John Holt)  The rest of the time?  The times when we’re daydreaming sitting through classes that don’t interest us or are not meaningful to us, or wandering around our house pretending to clean when our minds are clearly somewhere else?    We’re wasting our time.

I recently learned that the teacher of that math class has since passed away.  I was genuinely sad to hear it.  Like any good teacher, she wanted to me to do better, and try harder, and live up to my own potential.  I think I’m finally doing that.  And as it turned out, I did learn a lot from that class.  It just didn’t happen to be about math.


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Filed under about me, life, organizing, unschooling

Our Big, Huge, List

The kids and I have been a little… uninspired… lately. I blame part of it on decompressing after a very busy 2010 (even though that was now over 3 months ago), and I blame part of it on myself. I haven’t been sleeping for a long time now, which as anyone who suffers from insomnia can tell you, starts to make a person, well, kind of crazy.

Things haven’t been bad (bone crushing exhaustion aside), but they’ve been… safe. Familiar. Like we’ve been in a rut, and not a terribly exciting one.

So, inspired by my lovely friend Erica (aka Sierra Mama) I decided to make a list of goals. I invited the kids to join me, and together we sat outside and brainstormed a bunch of things that we want to do, see, and learn about the rest of the year… things to work towards, things to be excited about, and things to get us going again. Everyone had something to add, and it was all put in one big list with no designations, because we’ll all work together and help each other in our pursuits. I’m sure we’ll add to it, and swap things out as we go, but this is our list as of today in all its beautiful, optimistic glory:

1. Pan for gold
2. Learn how to fix lawn mowers
3. Learn how to fix vehicles
4. Learn how to play hockey
5. Learn to read well
6. Make a paper-mache volcano
7. Make homemade pasta
8. Drive go-carts
9. Get better at skateboarding
10. Learn to ice skate
11. Learn to roller skate
12. Learn about scorpions
13. Learn to drive a riding lawn mower
14. Learn about sting rays
15. Learn about jelly fish
16. Learn how to do Algebra
17. Go on roller coasters
18. See a panda bear
19. Get a gerbil
20. Ride a segway
21. Make our own sushi
22. Finish watching the US History DVDs
23. Build something out of wood
24. Learn about classic muscle cars
25. Learn about the weather
26. Learn about horses
27. Make our own organic chicken feed
28. Have a lemonade stand
29. Have a yard sale
30. Practice writing
31. Learn about computer repairs
32. Learn about elephants
33. Go to unschooling conference
34. Go on cross-country trip
35. Save up for Disney trip in 2012
36. Save up for a DSi
37. Learn about electrical system
38. Learn about heating and cooling systems
39. Learn about architecture
40. Go fishing
41. Take vitamins every day
42. Learn how to sew
43. Keep working on expanding blogs
44. Finish book
45. Learn how a lawn mower is made
46. Build a playhouse
47. Learn how to do flips n stuff
48. Practice yoga every day
49. Learn about flexibility
50. Learn how to use our camera better
51. Go in a steam room
52. Learn about the presidential election
53. Learn about branches of government
54. Learn about trees
55. Paint the hallways
56. Put in the new security door
57. Build a run for the chickens
58. Paint and redecorate bedrooms
59. List Paxton’s DS on Ebay
60. Finish Personal Trainer program
61. Go camping
62. Ride in a canoe
63. Get up to 500 geocache finds
64. Hide a new geocache
65. Dig in the ground
66. Go to Science Center
67. Landscape the front yard
68. Knit something
69. Make jewelry
70. Finish turning the Maverick into a MavFinder
71. Get another tattoo
72. Dye our hair
73. Do more science experiments
74. Grow crystals
75. Go in the lava tubes
76. Go to the zoo
77. Put up a new swing set
78. Start cub scouts
79. Learn how to play football
80. Make a poopy
81. Learn about digestion
82. Go back to Japanese garden
83. Take an art class
84. Build a remote control car
85. Read something every day
86. Write something every day
87. Pray every day
88. Make daily to-do list
89. Learn how to cook
90. Make more cupcakes
91. Learn how to make homemade chocolate
92. Sand and paint Tegan’s little table and chairs
93. Sign up for 2011/2012 yoga teacher training
94. Write 3rd Nano book, and edit 2010 Nano book
95. Pay off Amazon credit card
96. Upgrade our cell phones
97. Get cell phone for big boys to share
98. Get an indoor hammock
99. Figure out how to make Paxton his own room
100. Get a digital piano
101. Learn to play drums
102. Learn to swim
103. Make a movie and post it on YouTube
104. Get braces off!!



Filed under life, organizing, unschooling