First Steps to Start a Bullet Journal (So It’s Not Totally Overwhelming)

Are you thinking of starting a bullet journal? After some trial and error, I’ve found the first steps I think any new bullet journaler needs to take when they first start.

The complicity of a bullet journal lies, unfortunately, in its simplicity.

Because bullet journaling is so customizable, it can feel sometimes crazy overwhelming to start bullet journaling.

This is especially true if you’re a Type A like me, who hates the idea of screwing something up that they then have to look at every day for a year.

But I’m here to tell you that after 3 full months of bullet journaling, I’ve finally worked out my beginner kinks, and I’m now moving onto the next stage.

And with those beginner kinks now behind me, I thought I’d share with you five simple steps to starting a bullet journal that I wish I’d been a bit more considerate with in the beginning. If not for anything than nailing these steps might’ve saved me a bit of time and reorganizing once I realized what I needed!

Ready to hear what the best first steps are in bullet journaling? Ok, let’s begin.   

(But first: pin this post so you can refer to it as you go!)

First things first: Get comfortable with the idea you’ll make mistakes and it won’t be pretty right off the bat.

Honestly, this was the biggest hurdle for me to jump over. And for you, dear reader, planner, busy person: I recommend you try to move past the idea of perfection from the get-go.

Instagram, Pinterest, Google, Youtube…. they’re all FULL of gorgeous spreads and fast motion videos of talented calligraphers and artists that make completely breathtaking spreads. I watch them as transfixed as my kids watching disembodied hands unwrap Kinder eggs; it’s a little in awe, a little jealousy, and fully wishing those were MY hands.

But like everything in social media, we need to move on from the idea that the only presentation is a perfect one. You won’t be perfect right out of the gate. The bullet journal will have some ugly spots. Just keep going and you’ll find your rhythm. Promise.

Next Step in Starting a Bullet Journal: find a sizable journal that fits your life.

I started out with a giant bullet journal, this A4 size. I initially really liked it, since I write big and I could fit EVERYTHING on a page.

But after a while, I found myself not bringing the journal out with me when I left the house… only to wish it was nearby so I could add things to it.

So I’d write things to remember on little scraps of paper, which I would inevitably lose. Or I would add thoughts to the list app in my phone, which is just a wasteland of grocery lists and random links.

And then I’d forget to write it in the bullet journal, anyway!

This meant I was using my bullet journal way less than I should have been, and it wasn’t as useful as it was supposed to be.

I mean, that’s not the point of a bullet journal, right? It’s supposed to be an extension of your brain, not a desktop-only item.

So I bought a new small one and spent a few days transferring over the best and most important spreads. It goes everywhere with me, and it suits my lifestyle way better than the huge one.

Think about how you’ll use your bullet journal: as an everything planner? As something strictly for work? Take these things into consideration when you’re buying one.

Third, start your first few pages with these spreads: yearly, monthly (start with this month), and weekly.

I did it like this (you don’t have to do it this way!)

Yearly

Monthly

Weekly

I’m still tinkering with the style of weekly spread I use (and I blacked out some private info), but I like the simplicity of the year and monthly spreads.

Then, make a brain dump page.

This is my favorite spread and the one I use most often. If you’re like me, especially sleep deprived and trying to find the creative part of you that got just too tired to function after kids came along, then you’ve probably got a head full of ideas that slip away like your sanity during a prolonged bedtime routine.

If so, then brain dump pages are the BEST. I have a quickie page that I just write down half assed thoughts like, “Finish docs December” and “Spreadsheet Shutterfly”.

I usually think of things to add to the Brain Dump while I’m doing something else, like wiping a butt or washing dishes. If it doesn’t get written down, who knows when I’ll remember it again, so this page is amazing for keeping random thoughts in one place until I can organize them better at a later date.

If you think of it, a Brain Dump page kind of controls the crazy in your journal, so you can put things a little more organized in other locations.

The last step in starting a bullet journal? Once your first few spreads are done, THEN find some fun hashtags, bloggers, YouTubers, etc to follow.

You’ve planted the first few seeds of your journal- now’s the time to grow those seeds into something fun and personalized. I follow different bujo accounts across the web and save fun ideas I like to an Evernote folder.

From there- you’re all set to add more ideas to your bujo as you see fit! But these few beginner steps set up a system that lets you build on it, meaning you’ll be more likely to continue with your bujo as time progresses.


Gotta great bujo spread? Having trouble knowing where to begin? I wanna hear it! Upload a pic to Instagram Stories and tag me in it. I’ll share your idea to see who else can help, and maybe have some thoughts of my own., Let’s get more organized this year- together!

How to Set Up a Family Command Center When You Have No Space

I’ve always loved the idea of a Family Command Center, but living in our oddly shaped, small apartment made it tough to find a spot that worked. So when we moved to a new apartment back in September, I decided the first thing I would do would be to research what makes a great Family Command Center, how to fit it all in a small space, and try to create that on the tiny wall I had to work work.

First up, if you’re new to the idea of Family Command Centers, here’s what the realllllly pretty ones look like:

A good Family Command Center almost always has these things:

Places for the items you grab as you leave the house (keys, checkbook) (like this key shelf)

Somewhere for your mail to go (I love this set of three mesh organizers)

Somewhere for kids’ artwork to go (corkboard tiles like these are handy for odd shaped spaces)

A family calendar (like this dry erase one from Amazon), including school dates

Optional additions that are nice to have:

Hooks for backpacks and handbags (sturdy and simple or cute and kid-approved)

Cute inspirational quote or a family photo

Meal Plan (like this magnetic board)

Daily schedules, like chores

Lunchboxes

Etc, etc.

I’m still in the process of figuring out the system of a Family Command Center that works best for us, and I’m on the lookout for cute, functional pieces that I can incorporate into the tiny wall I’m using.

Here’s the Family Command Center I’ve set up for us just off our kitchen:

I like how I have hooks for bags, a spot for essential oils, the family calendar and a dry erase board. But I have nowhere to sort mail, no bulletin board for artwork or paperwork, and it feels disorganized. So I’m working on it, still.

<h2>But as I planned, one thing struck out about how to decide what to add to our Family Command Center:

“Do we need it in the morning?”

In our house, all four of us need to be dressed and out the door no later than 7:45am.

While we can usually make this time, I keep finding more and more that SOMETHING is forgotten every DAMN. DAY.

  • My daughter left her nap mat and blanket behind and her teacher will have to make her nap in her coat.
  • My son left his backpack behind and with it, his pacifier, ensuring he too will not not nap at school today (the groaning about how we are still using pacifier to sleep at 2.5 years old is another story, believe me. #judgeaway)
  • I forgot to send a check for the school fundraiser and now the secretary will call me at lunchtime asking about it.
  • I left a full thermos of hot coffee sitting on the kitchen counter and will only realize this once I’m 6 blocks away, which is too far to double back and grab it.

And so on, and so on.

The thing I wanted my Family Command Center to do most for me? Make my MORNINGS a little more organized!

What do you need to pull off a Family Command Center? Here’s what you should keep in mind as you put one together.

First: Decide on a location.

If you’ve got a nice, big, empty wall in the big, airy kitchen of your nice, big house, then good for you, sister. For the rest of us, let’s look at what’s got to work with now. Here are some sneaky spots to place your Family Command Center in slightly more…. Cramped…. Quarters (like mine!)

Inside cupboard doors

Over your countertop

Right when you walk in the door (above the coat rack)

Along the side of your fridge

See how Landee at Landeeseelandeedo.com put up a sheet metal wall? That way, everything she needs on her Family Command Center and be held up with magnets.

And Jenna at JennaBurger.com did something similar, by hanging corkboards and metal sheets inside her cupboard doors. I LOVE how she can just shut the door and keep their calendars private from guests, and the room less cluttered.

(P.S. You can also grab a can of magnetic paint, instead of hanging sheet metal! Amazon has this can here)

Plus, I love this small little command center with key hooks that goes in an entryway:

Second, Figure out what you need.

This is part I’m at, and I figure it’ll be a work in progress for at least a little while, while I decide what we needs, what works, and so on. It’s the same for you: don’t rush to add ALL THE THINGS and then wind up with something you don’t actually need or use. I say this to you with love because I do it all the time and it drives my husband insane.

For us, these are the things I need either on hand or within easy grabbing distance:

Family calendar

Mail sorting

Checkbook

Essential oils

Backpack station

Pens and paper

Corkboard

Also, our current sleeping situation here means my son’s crib is in what will soon be my office, so my office supplies (ruler, tape, etc) are currently in our Family Command Center, too.

Third: Decide how it all fits together.

Since I’m still piecing together my Family Command Center, I don’t have a rule of thumb for deciding on size, arrangement, etc. But I like how Dayna over at Lemon Lime Adventures spaced out her command center using construction paper, before placing items on the wall. Super smart:

Here are a few other examples of Family Command Centers I love!

How To Build a Family Command Center from Southern Living

Build This: Quick DIY Command Center from The Shabby Creek Cottage

Taking Command of the School Year from I Heart Organizing

Hey, mama: my life is messy, too.

Picture this:

You’re me, a meal planning expert who has been asked to sit in on a fellow blogger and parenting expert’s Facebook group to talk to her members about how they can Take charge! Simplify! Find routine! Cook dinner without going crazy!

…And your 4 year old choose that night, that very freaking night, to stage a protest about bedtime.


Here are the facts, as we know them to be true:

My daughter’s bedtime: 7:30/8pm.

The time I was supposed to be presenting on Facebook Live: 8:30pm.

My husband’s whereabouts: at work that night til around 1am.

The time my daughter finally stopped appearing in the shadows of her bedroom door with some other inane question or request: 11 pm.

ELEVEN PM. Sweet mother of dragons.

Guys, I nearly lost it. In fact, I kinda did. I was almost 30 minutes late for my live broadcast in Rebecca Bailey’s Parenting Academy private Facebook group, and my 4 year old was parading around the apartment, asking about her Halloween costume for nearly three hours after her bedtime.

I even started filming Instastories of the craziness and back-and-forth of it all, which you can see here on my Instagram profile under the title, “Kids, Man.”

I mean, how ironic is it that the night I was supposed to showcase how cool, calm, and collected I was as a working mom, that that would be the night I wound up instead showcasing that my life is just as insane as yours is.

Anyway, at the end of the day, I was able to get on the Live and share my story, ideas, and shortcuts with Rachel’s members. My daughter eventually went to bed. And then we all got up the next day and battled the crazy some more.

It’s real life. Kids are crazy. I’m always tired. But we’re making it work.

Check out the Facebook Live recap below!

5 Ways Busy Moms Can Practice Self Care That Aren’t an Effing Bubble Bath

If you’re feeling stretched and pulled in a million directions, you’re not alone. Here are some of my favorite ways a busy mom can de-stress… that aren’t a freaking bubble bath.

When you’re a mom, whether you work inside the home or out, it’s not always easy to find time for YOU.

I’ve struggled with this forever.

Because sometimes, trying to relax when I know there is a mountain of laundry to fold or bills to pay or dishes to wash and my daughter needs permission slips signed and my son needs new socks but Amazon is a black hole of scrolling and, and, and… it makes it really difficult to actually chill out.

And honestly? Sitting in a bubble bath doesn’t do it for me. Neither does a mani-pedi (I literally get antsy waiting for the polish to dry).

I’m too wound up for relaxing, I used to tell my husband.

Side note, he is REALLY GOOD at relaxing and not doing anything. And nope, that’s not a dig. He just knows how to turn his brain off and it makes me jealous.

But I’ve been on the hunt lately for ideas that work, that don’t require me needing to scrub the bathtub out beforehand or hold hands with a stranger for 20 minutes while she tuts at my lack of cuticle care.

Here are my 7 favorite non-cheesy ways to relax as a busy mom with many balls in the air:

Journal I’ve gotten into bullet journaling lately, and while the activity of journaling my thoughts is not always a soothing activity for me, mindless doodling and coloring makes my brain calm down like no other.

Podcasts and Walk Is the new Netflix and chill, as far as I’m concerned. I rush around a lot in a typical day, but sometimes my favorite way to unwind is a walk/hike in aimless directions with a good book or podcast in my ears. Preferably also with a decent coffee in hand.

Skype with Old Friends My husband and I have moved a lot in our 16 years together, and I feel like some of my closest friends are flung to the far reaches of the planet. Decompressing with an old friend is just as goods as having wine together, and bonus if we are drinking together on Skype/Whatsapp.

Solo Lunch Date In the middle of a busy day, sometimes it’s nice to go grab lunch by yo’self and people watch for a bit. Bonus points if you can go the whole lunch without scrolling Instagram.

Meditate I’ll be the first to hold up my hand and say I am not a woo-woo kinda person, and meditation never seemed my thing. But a friend recommended Headspace to me a while back, and it has been amazing for keeping my head clear! Headspace (and Calm, and a number of other similar apps) take you through guided meditation, often centered around a theme. The meditations are 3 to 10 minutes long (you choose the length) and they are perfect to use in those pockets of time on the train or commute, waiting at school pickup, trying to fall asleep but your mind is racing with your to-do list, etc. Grab it here on Google Play or in the App Store.

Here’s the thing: self care is not a one-off thing you do when you’re feeling stressed to the max. It has to be a regular thing if it’s going to work at all.

Make a promise to yourself that you’ll keep your working mom self-care breaks.

One of my favorite books (that I listened to on a de-stressing walk, because I don’t have time for sitting down with real books anymore) is Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis.

In it, she talks about setting promises to yourself and then keeping them. Think of it this way: what would you think of a friend who constantly promised you they would do stuff with you, and then flaked at the last minute? Treat yourself as no different. Keep the promises of self care, of quiet  time, of working out, of you time, because you are as important if not more important than the promises you make to your family and friends.

Sending self-care vibes to you, busy mama bird. You deserve the break!

Starting a bullet journal as a busy working mom

Have you hear of bullet journaling? It’s a type of planner that is totally customizable, making it perfect for all the moving parts of a working moms’ life. Read on to see how I started my own (and how you can, too!)

I am a digital girl with an analog heart. 

I love using new technology and connecting with others online (I mean, hi hello, welcome to my online space).

But when it comes to planning, I’ve been a diehard paper planner since middle school. If it doesn’t get written down with a pen, it’s not gonna get done.

And while I have cycled in and out of plenty of planner brands over the years (The Happy Planner was a recent favorite) I kept hearing about this new thing called a bullet journal.

A bullet journal is a planner with a system you create yourself, following a few simple rules.

If I’m being honest, it seemed like too much work to get started, and I didn’t want a new system to learn.

In any case, I started following the hashtag for it, #bujo, on Instagram, because seeing things organized neatly and prettily makes my heart happy. And for a while, that was enough.

But I’ve been struggling with my paper planners these last few months. I have a ridic amount of balls to keep in the air on any given day, and the spaces and organizational systems in my planners just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Right now, I’m juggling:

  • My personal life, including stuff I do alone, stuff I do with my husband or friends, and babysitters’ comings and goings.
  • My kids social and school schedule.
  • Freelance work.
  • My part-time day job as cooking coordinator at a local preschool, which involved different lesson plans for classes as well as organizing all the kids’ meals.
  • My blog work for Percolate Kitchen, like scheduling social media promotions and blog posts.
  • The course work for my workshop, Uncomplicated Kitchen, including interviews and video trainings.
  • Plus things like bill paying, meal planning, etc.

It was too much for one planner!

And believe me, I tried everything with my old planner to figure out some sort of a system that worked. But I kept feeling like I was missing something and it was driving me crazy.

I tried lists. I tried blocking time using washi tape. I tried Google planners and Evernote and Asana and Trello.  But nothing I tried made me feel like I could sit down and look at a DAY and see WTH was going on. Everything was all too entwined and too messy!

So I started looking at bullet journaling, again. Maybe it could be the thing for this busy mom?

I bought a Luechtturm 1927 notebook on Amazon and some finepoint Sharpie pens, and watched this 5-minute video tutorial on the bullet journaling webpage.

Then I crossed my fingers that I had finally found something that worked with all the moving parts in my brain.

You guys. Two months in, and I can totally see what the fuss is about now!

I love that I can create new sections as I need them, move things around, rip out a page and start over….and it doesn’t ruin the organization of other stuff.

Here are a few of my favorite pages so far in my bullet journal:

Our November has been mellower than the last few months, but I’m trying to strike a balance between functional and keeping memories. 
As a preschool cook and instructor, I’ve got different classes, menus,and lessons to keep track of. I’m not crazy about this system yet, so it’s a work in progress- but it’s better than storing everything in scattered Evernote folders like I had been! 
As a diehard 4am waker, I loved this quote and doodled it in my journal one night while watching Netflix.

Here’s a basic outline of what bullet journaling is and how it works:

To begin, bullet journals are what you make it (which is why they can seem so overwhelming at first). You can use different journals for different sections of your life, or one big daddy journal to track it all with a simple system.

Here’s how to start:

  • Begin with a blank notebook (The Leuchtturm 1927 brand is the gold standard, but people also dig Moleskin or the Bullet Journal brand. Or a regular 5 star notebook! Whatever works for you.)
  • Number the first 20 or so pages to get started, and leave the first page blank to fill in an index as you go.
  • Then rock your thing, mama bird. Create a page where you list your kids activities, then index it. Or your meal plan, then index it. Start tracking how much sleep you get at night. The world is your oyster, organized lady.
  • Every morning (or every night), spend at least 5 minutes with your journal, checking off what has been completed and what needs to be done. Pour the lists that are sitting in your brain out onto a page. It feels so good!

What I use when bullet journaling:

I use fine point pens to write and markers to highlight and decorate.

And I love these paper sticky note flags. I use the little flags as a color coordinated way to plan out the posts I plan to publish on the blog, and I love that I can categorize them by color and get a visual representation of how the month is laid out: 

I currently have the A5 size Leuchtturm 1927 notebook, the biggest size they offer, which works for me since I write big and I like seeing more things laid out on the page. I also like how this brand of notebook includes an easy index page at the front and has a small pocket at the back for receipts, etc.

What else is bullet journaling good for?

At night, I’ve started doodling in my bullet journal and it is SO DANG SOOTHING. I’m definitely not much of a doodler or artist, but I still love unwinding this way.  

I used to just mindlessly scroll Instagram with Netflix on in the background and it always made me feel anxious. And for reals, I am not an artist. My drawings are childish at best.

But lately these doodles help SO MUCH to turn my brain off after a long day. Here’s the full-page drawing I did the other day, of my favorite quote from Jack Kerouac:

My favorite Kerouc quote, as a bullet journal doodle.

The thing with my bullet journal is it took such little time to set up, which is the opposite of what I was nervous about in the beginning. I watched the short video on the website and then created an index and a monthly calendar.Then I did another page. Then another. Now I’m obsessed with how easy it is to mold to my life!

I love how customizable the entire thing is, and how it helps me feel like I have control over my schedule. I mean, lolololol I totally don’t have that much control because that’s how #momlife goes, but I FEEL like I do.

Here are a few of my fave inspo websites and Instagram accounts for bullet journaling, if you want to to look into it more:

BulletJournal.com

Boho Berry

Planner Simplicity

Tiny Ray of Sunshine (great starter pages!)

Notebook Therapy

How Kids Can Help at Thanksgiving Dinner

Want to involve kids in the Thanksgiving meal… without going crazy? Read on for my favorite tips, broken up by age appropriateness!

Thanksgiving calls to mind a few important themes: families and friends gathering together, eating a ton of food, and gratefulness for the blessings in our lives and country.

But if we’re being honest, kids are usually an afterthought to the whole “cooking and gathering” thing. Right? They’re cute, and their little turkey-themed crafts are adorable, but other than that they are often underfoot when in the kitchen, which relegates them to other areas of the house.

But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, this year, I’m going to take a deep breath, set aside my perfectionist tendencies, and involve my kids in the meal.


Read: How to Survive Cooking Your First Thanksgiving in 6 Important Steps


I wanted to gather some ideas for age appropriateness, so obvs I turned to the web and Pinterest. Turns out, there’s tons of ways kids can help that don’t involve the possibility of them stabbing themselves or each other with sharp knives or touching a hot stove.

Here are some of my favorite ideas to get kids helping at Thanksgiving, broken down by age:

Ages 2-4

Cook items in a crockpot or Instant Pot

I highly recommend any busy cook utilize one or both of these awesome timesaving devices in their Thanksgiving prep! Crockpot garlic mashed potatoes is one of my favorite, and little kids can easily turn it on or even monitor the doneness of the ingredients.

Mash potatoes

Whether you made them in the crockpot or on the stove, kids are great at mashing potatoes- both white and sweet.

Stir stuffing before it’s added to the bird

If you’re making stuffing from scratch, little hands are great at mixing the bread cubes and other seasonings and additions to the stuffing.

Set the table

Kids can lay out plates, silverware, glassware, and even bring some of the lightweight dishes to the table before everyone sits down to eat.

Decorate the table

Pinecones, (unlit) candles, placemats, place cards, pretty branches and flowers- let the kids go wild with creativity when it comes to decorating the holiday table.

Help clear the table after the meal

Use those short legs to ferret items from the table the the kitchen in double time.


Read: Harvest Rice Bake (perfect for vegan Thanksgiving)


Ages 5-7

Make place cards

Kids with writing skills make great place card designers. They can also cut out and decorate placemats.

Wash and prepare produce

Kids can tear lettuce, wash produce, break apart cauliflower, destem herbs, etc.

Grate cheese

Tip: freeze blocks of cheese for a few minutes before grating it so it’s easier to shred.  

Mix meringue or pie filling with hand mixer

Licking of the beaters afterwards is explicitly encouraged.

Peeling potatoes

Their small fingers are more adept at getting peel off of every nook and cranny.

Setting the timer

Let a more responsible kid be in charge of the timer and alerting adults as to when specific dishes are ready.


Read: Leftover Turkey Pot Pie with Biscuit Topping


Ages 8-12

Rolling out pie dough and pouring in filling

Pie is simple to make, whether it’s from scratch dough or refrigerated dough. Kids can roll it out, combine fillings, and pour the filling into the pie shells.

Checking the temp of the turkey

If kids can handle a hot oven, they can pop the thermometer into the turkey in the correct location (this is a great starter recipe) and monitor the temp as it cooks

Prepare balls of dough for baking rolls

The parker house rolls are simple to make and kids are great at rolling them into balls to place in the oven for baking

Basting the turkey

Show older kids how to carefully baste the turkey in its own juices, whether you use a baster or a spoon.

Making cranberry sauce or gravy

Cranberry sauce and gravy are simple, though they require a hot stove. If kids are responsible enough to manage a hot pot, they can make cranberry or gravy.


Want ideas and breakdown on how to prepare Thanksgiving dinner from top to bottom? I’ve got a whole meal plan, full of recipes, grocery list, tips, tricks, shortcuts, an hour-by-hour gameplan, and more in my Thanksgiving Survival Plan download!