Mental Storage & Organization

Like lots of people, I’m a list maker. In the past, a basic to-do list worked well enough, whether I put it in a structured planner or on the back of an envelope. And I’m sure I have a lot of company in my admission that I usually struggle to be organized. Even though covid-19 put lots of things on hold or cancelled them altogether, But not everything was cancelled. I finished a copyediting certificate program in early March, the week before the virus began closing schools. So I was looking for work, helping Emma adjust to distance learning, and trying to figure out how to minimize our grocery store trips.

As much as I’m not organized, I’ve always been very effective at planning for hurricanes and blizzards and get it done as early as I can. As soon as the virus landed in NYC, I made a list of what I thought we’d need and went shopping. (Regardless, we ran out of toilet paper by the end of March. My neighbor made me take a few rolls, which is how you now know who really has your back.)


By the end of last month, I was still writing things down, either in my phone’s Notes app or on paper, but too many things were still bopping around in my head to make my old system work well. Besides the daily to-do grind, I’d also jot down lists to help with my job search, minor house repairs, or groceries we’d need soon. Beyond my obligatory tasks, I’d make fun lists of books I wanted to read, things I wanted to make or sew, nearby places to hike. Notepads and paper always seemed to be on flat surfaces all over- one in the kitchen for groceries, one on the coffee table for deep thoughts while watching tv, one on my desk and one on my craft table. I thought this was the best way to capture ideas before I forgot them, but instead I had paper all over and usually couldn’t find what I needed. There are multiple versions of a few lists, because I’d make a list, forget I made it, then re-do it. Making a decision to only make lists in one place was a start, but everything was still scrambled.

Planners can be helpful, since many of them have additional ways to organize ideas and tasks. Since I have an irrational loathing of 18-month planners, and had trouble finding a satisfactory 12-month planner that fits my criteria, I bought one of those undated planners sets. It came with a pound’s worth of stickers and dividers and paper clips, which I loved because I’m still not over my childhood sticker albums and setting up my Trapper Keeper every year. Of course, I had to buy colored markers and washi tape and whatever other crap I thought would help me. Looking back, I’m rolling my eyes at my idea that buying all this stuff was going to help me pare down my life  to fit it into an overstuffed 8×10 binder. I spent one fun afternoon labeling sections and filling in the undated month pages. And it wasn’t was disastrous, but it was too much. Did I really think I was going to faithfully use the additional fitness section I thought I had to have? Go scratch, Happy Planner.

My cat threw up on this a week after I got it. That should’ve been a sign.

I spend too much time on Pinterest, so I was never going to avoid the glut of posts about bullet journaling. I was also looking for something Emma could use, because she was beginning to get a little bored and restless. I thought she’d be engaged by making lists of things we could look forward to and things we could do safely outside of the house. (She wasn’t. Teenagers!)

I’d seen The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll in bookstores, and had thumbed through it a few times back when it was ok to freely touch stuff. My initial scans of the book overwhelmed me, so I passed on it every time. Once again, I needed to create one book where I’d centralize everything, whether it was frivolous or important.

About midway though the book, the author lays out how to set up your bullet journal. I reached this part as August was ending, so I decided to plunge ahead and start on September 1. I don’t know if this is the same for everyone, or just teachers and students, but September always feels like a fresh start for me. So starting on the first of this month seemed a good idea.


I’m still not done reading the book, but my journal’s all set up and formatted. My daily log isn’t really maximized yet, so while it’s tempting to shelve the book, I’m going to finish. I want to get as much from this as I can. Though this is a structured approach to planning and organizing, I already like it better than the traditional planners I’ve used in the past. Pre-printed planners can be great. I will never tire of seeing them in stores and looking at all the lovely covers and art.  But these planners also kind of force you to work your life into the sections and headings they chose, instead of the reality of your typical day or week or month. I’ll update my progress and experience with my bullet journal as I go along- I better make a note of it.

*I’m not being compensated for the above mentions.