Hero Arts offers a wide selection of stamps perfect for bullet journaling or planner use.
Photo courtesy of Hero Arts.

Not quite a planner, more than a journal, definitely not a calendar. The Bullet Journal® is a trendy combination of all those, but oh, so adaptable, with a cult-like following of devotees, from busy moms and college students to artists and professionals of all ages.

And this journal has spawned a nice little business, not just in sales of grid-like notebooks, but in stamps, stickers, stencils, pens, washi tape and other accessories. For many, bullet journaling is a passion, spawning thousands of postings on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs, with everything from simple bare-bones entries to books worthy of art journal status.

The Bullet Journal uses bullet points and symbols to help you organize.
Photo courtesy of Ryder Carroll.

The official Bullet Journal® system (or BuJo, as it’s sometimes called) was created by Ryder Carroll, a New York digital product designer, as “a customizable and forgiving organization system.”

The Bullet Journal, he says, “is an analog program I designed to track the past, organize the present and plan for the future. It will teach you to do more with less.”

The main idea of the BuJo is to jot down quick notes, using – you guessed it – bullet points. You create your own pages of daily and monthly logs, future to-do lists, notes, tasks, events, etc. An index page in the front lets you easily find everything because all pages are numbered. Many find this system more flexible than a regular planner because you create your own grids, boxes and lists.

Like any good bullet point system, symbols are key. For instance, a black dot (●) indicates a task; a forward arrow (˃) means a task has moved to another area; a star (*) adds special importance; a circle means an event, etc. And when you complete a task, you get to check it off with a satisfying X.

“As a list maker, I love the flexibility of (the Bullet Journal),” says designer Amy Tan, whose Amy Tangerine line for American Crafts includes stamps, stickers, papers, and accessories. “As a modern day memory keeper, I love the tangibility of writing things down and checking things off. This is a great way for me to document things on paper.”

Jennifer Refat loves the flexibility — and artistic possibilities — of using a Bullet Journal.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Refat.

Jennifer Refat, a New York web developer who is building a craft tutorial site, also loves the flexibility of her BuJo. “With a regular planner I usually run out of space and I feel constrained by tiny boxes. I end up writing my to-do lists on scraps of paper.  It gets messy and I lose the scraps.  This way, I can write as long or short of a list for a day and keep it in one place.”

The downside of the system is that it takes time to set up, to draw your grids and spaces, to write in months, days, etc. “And you tend to want to make it perfect,” adds Tan, who is also the author of Craft a Life You Love.

Naturally, a mini-market has grown around Bullet Journals. While any blank or lined notebook will do, die-hard practitioners love dotted grid pages, such as Moleskine and Leuchtturn, two popular brands. The Bullet Journal website offers specially designed journals, with the ink-proof grid paper, numbered pages, built-in bookmarks, a guide, and more.

Carroll, who has been using a list system since he was a youngster, is amazed at how the Bullet Journal has exploded. In 2013, he posted a YouTube video about his Bullet Journal idea, and in September 2014 he launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000, which he did in eight hours.

“I never imagined (the Bullet Journal) would thrive as it has,” he says. “It’s truly humbling and incredibly motivated to know that in some small way I can help (people get organized).”

Planners in general have been a boon for craft-related businesses as users seek out stamps, stickers, washi tape, sticky notes, fancy paper clips, and more to personalize and decorate their books. Michaels has devoted nearly an entire wall unit to planners and accessories, including the company’s own Recollections brand. Pens, too, are important, as journalers want permanent inks that won’t bleed through pages.

Technique Tuesday’s selection of planner stamps include designs perfect for the Bullet Journal.
Photo courtesy of Technique Tuesday.

“The planner craze has been great for us,” says Shelley Goff, sales manager for the stamp company Technique Tuesday, which has more than 50 stamp sets specifically for planners, including month labels, a “bucket list,” a calendar set, and a “Planner – Goals” set with phrases and icons perfect for list-building.

Designer Kelly Purkey’s planner stamps and dies have been good sellers for Hero Arts, where she has nearly 50 stamp sets with themes from food and exercise to work and TV, as well as some inks. Hero Arts has added to the stamp selection with some fan favorites, such as list-makers Brilliant Ideas and This Week, a box grid, even a specific bullet journaling set with icons and titles (To Do Today, Goals, etc.)

Enterprising Etsy designers have also covered the market. A current look found nearly 23,000 offerings including custom made notebooks, pre-made or downloadable pages, stickers, stencils and more.

Tan, who loves to doodle in her Bullet Journal, likes Tombow brush markers (for creating her headers), Tombow MONO drawing pen 03, washi tapes, clear stamps and Illustrated Faith ink. Of course, she also uses her own clear stickers from American Crafts.

Refat, who used a traditional planner until her BuJo conversion, moved to a Moleskine notebook and a dotted Scribbles That Matter, swears by her Muji gel pen for writing, and uses washi tape, stickers and Tombow pens to spruce up things.

In this day of apps and Google Calendar, an old-fashioned lined notebook may seem, well, old fashioned. But that is exactly the point, says Carroll.

“Technology is a wonderful tool to connect with the world around us,” he explains. “But it’s not good at helping us connect to the world within. We live in an age of overwhelming distraction, fueled by unlimited access to information. Using a notebook forces you to go offline, to process this information distraction free.”

The BuJo, he adds, “helps practitioners unplug to get a clear picture of how they invest their time and energy.” And it’s fun to decorate.

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Roberta Wax is a writer by trade, a crafter by accident. She was a contributing writer with The Rubber Stamper Magazine since its inception and now holds the same position at Crafts ‘n Things. Find her on Instagram @robertawax.

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