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The Journal-Planner Lottery – Lies, Possibilities and How to Get it Right.

With the rise in popularity of journals, diaries, planners and specifically – yup – bullet journalling, the stationery market has seen a mega-boom in sales of notebooks that fit a certain Instagram-lead criteria. The format for this ‘perfect journal’ usually goes something like this:

  • dotted pages
  • hardback – or soft-hardback – cover
  • super petty exterior
  • perhaps a box at the top of each page for labelling the date and other things

The only problem with this format, is that it conceptualises what is essentially a blank notebook as a beautiful, detailed, immaculate #bulletjournal waiting to happen, and sells it to you as though it will make you, your life, your mind, your hand-lettering & illustration skills all suddenly become sleek and shiny, soapy clean, smelling of flowers, and perfectly organised as well as perfectly beautiful. A bit like perfume ads, really.

If, like most people, you don’t have the patience of a saint, a fine art degree and a spare 8 hours a day to dedicate to your journal-in-waiting, then you are likely disappointed with your purchase upon the realisation that you have to watch online calligraphy classes, buy loads of new pens, get rid of your essential tremor and learn an entirely new hobby just to make it look ‘right’ and fill in the blank pages. By the time you have finished attempting to meticulously copy a Pinterest #perfectspread (no, it’s not even Nutella) you’ve forgotten to set your alarm to go to work, do the laundry, phone that friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with, collect your meds and write a to-do list for the week ahead. These things are why you wanted to get into the habit of ‘journalling’ in the first place.

So what’s to do?

There are load of different types of ‘journalling’, diary-keeping, to-do lists, other list-making, CBT self-awareness-homework-style thought diaries, ‘creative journals’, weighing up decisions lists, ‘Art Therapy Journals’ etc. I believe personally – as an experienced stationery-hoarder and journal-attempter – that there are two important things at play in terms of why the #bujo appeals to so many, and why it always disappoints.

The first comes from the desirable luxury to have one’s own safe-space. Think of how we refer to metaphoric ‘nest-making’ when people feather up their surroundings – usually a house or flat – to make it pretty, nice, safe, cosy and personal to them. In reality, not everyone has the financial or social or practical situation that makes this type of luxury ‘nest-making’ an option, however this general feeling of creating one’s own safe space can indeed be put to good practice within the much more accessible confines of a notebook, sketchbook or journal of some sort.

So that is one part: personalised, aesthetically pleasing, fun to colour in and play with, nice, creative, bit arty, yours.

The other half of the bullet journalling craze that draws us in is its seemingly organic ability to organise the mundanities of life in a way that we’d never dreamed of being able to ourselves. Scrolling through Insta-perfect examples, every aspect of life to the minutest detail has been analysed, separated, compartmentalised and broken into manageable chunks of time and ‘to-dos’.

The bullet journal method was created not for aesthetic purposes, but as a simple method of organisation. It doesn’t actually have to be that time consuming. I’m not going into the history of bullet journalling, nor am I going to develop my own how-to guide. Instead, I am going to straight away recommend this book, How to Bullet Plan, which breaks everything into the simplest steps, with guides and photo examples. The example pictures don’t look like works of art, they look like planners, or boring diaries, because that’s what ‘bullet journalling’ should be: a way of helping yourself to detangle life’s various stresses and complicators, NOT a way of making yourself feel guilty every day you forgot to log how many times you drank a cup of coffee or an hourly record of how many times you did or didn’t pick your nose.

So what do I do?

Getting both these things out of one journalling practice is impractical, nearly impossible, and the nature of the freedom of creative or art journalling sort of inherently contradicts the stricter, work-minded organisation of the bullet method.

The answer? Buy two notebooks.

1 – The Art Journal. Get yourself a nice, fat sketchbook with thick pages in which you can scribble, write, try every art material under the sun. This can be next to your bed, left at home, and be just for you; your fluffy nest. For inspiration, if you still want the weird pleasure of scrolling through thousands of images of attractive arty mess, search for #artjournal or #artistsjournal.

2 – The Planner Journal. Get yourself an undated planner! Best if it isn’t dated, because then it doesn’t matter if you – heaven forbid – miss a day because there is no such thing as missing a day. Days are days, they come and go. Have a look at different planning methods. I am still going to recommend this particular book by Rachel Miller as I think it is just the clearest and the best explanation of, essentially, how to make diaries and to-do lists helpful. Then spend some time trying to find a planner that suits the sort of list-making and calendar-syncing that you know will work for you, and that matches how you visualise your week in your mind’s eye. Because guess what? Just because a planner has a template on each page, does NOT mean it cannot be decorated, colour coordinated and fun. Stickers, highlighters, colouring pencils, whatever you want, it still has its place in the planner and actually, it’s more fun and involves putting less pressure on yourself than when you sit there paralysed with the fear of the blank page.

Ellie, you’re just trying to sell us your products.

Erm, yes and no. Yes (because I’m poorly and run a tiny shop, selling fantastic quality products that I have personally chosen and tested and want other people to share in the joy, so I price everything much too low) but no, in that I have spent quite a long time studying the psychological principles of both creative expression and some useful elements from CBT, and have written & deliver a journalling course for adults with long term health conditions and/or mental health difficulties.

Programmes like that at Nice Time Arts are what you are contributing towards buy purchasing from this very shop, Stationary N’ Stationery, and why the extra pound you might save by purchasing off Amazon is important to this shop, and important to the community projects that this pretty little side hustle is trying to fund.

The SNS Chorlton Recommendation?

Below are some particular products available on this very shop that I highly recommend for the various steps I described.

Pink Pig Sketchbooks
You may be bored of me going on about them, but you really won’t find a sketchbook of the size, paper quality and beauty from anywhere at a more competitive price than from Pink Pigs. So have a gander, choose a cover colour and grab some sketchbooks! Made in Yorkshire, they’re an eco-friendly choice of gift, whether that is to yourself or to someone else.

Ohh Deer Undated Planners
For such a long time I had dreamed of selling my favourite day-to-day stationery makers, Ohh Deer. Now, not only do we sell some of my favourite collections (Hello, Twin Pines and Gemma Correll), but we also sell their planners which are perfect. Pen doesn’t bleed through the pages, the covers are sturdy and beautiful, the page templates are practical and just light enough that they don’t detract from any colourful decor you may wish to add.

Sticker Mini-Boxes
They contain between 40-60 stickers in at least 12 different designs. They are a mega super bargain. Buy two boxes for £5, and you will have a variety of decor for your planner and collage material for your art journal. I have been pushing these for nearly a year now – they are so cute and happy-making, and not really found in any other stationery shops in the UK.

Enjoy this article, share it, and I shall leave you with some links to some tasty products below, while I work on creating the ULTIMATE JOURNAL GIFT BUNDLE.



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