Embracing a Messy Bullet Journal

If you’ve been around a while, you might know that I not only highlight photos of spreads and layouts, but also do a lot of flip-throughs and laughing at the mistakes I make in my bullet journal.  And if anyone has read my captions or have spent time with me as a teacher, you know that I see the world in a lot of metaphors – so this is another #realtalk post coming from my heart.

Instagram is a funny place, as is the blogging world.  The pressure to have the beautiful lighting, the right props and flatlays, and pristine bullet journal spreads is very present in a curated world.  This has created the idea that the bullet journal is a work of art or features super neat handwriting and watercolored sketches amidst big accounts.  This has made it hard for me sometimes, because, if we are honest –

Life is not like that.

The illusion of our bullet journals being perfect has made new planner folks anxious at the idea of starting, of ‘messing up’ their journals with any stray mark or strikethrough, or not having the “right” layouts or supplies.  I’ve seen people apologize for their “messy pages” or the spots where they’ve messed up, as if it is something to be ashamed of, to hide, to gloss over.


How often have I been told that I have to apologize for my messy moments, the times I’ve messed up, to diminish because I didn’t live up to an impossibly high standard of unrealistic perfection?  How often have I glossed over my own messes in my spirit in order to maintain the put-together image? It got to be so automatic, so ingrained in my everyday functioning, I hardly ever thought about it – the times we wipe away our tears when someone approaches, the times we say “I’m fine,” the times where I don’t admit if I’m struggling with feelings of validation and my self worth.

Through a variety of forces in my life, I somehow learned that mess was a bad thing – that it is ugly, it is something to get rid of and fix or suppress.  Sometimes if I had episodes of depression or self-doubt and anxiety, I would hide it with a smile and brush it off. Sometimes if I had made some kind of mistake that made me look incompetent or dumb, I would ignore that it happened to save my pride and family honor.  Sometimes I would hold myself back from being goofy or silly because I was afraid of looking dumb – messy. And through all that self-editing, I suppressed some of these parts of myself. The mess.

I somehow learned that people don’t love messy, bad, ugly things or people.

I somehow learned that I shouldn’t fully show or embrace myself, mistakes and mess and all, because it wasn’t lovable – by others or worse, by myself. And over the last year I’ve been learning how to undo this in my spirit.  I’ve learned that people love me AND my mess, not in spite of it – which helps me dismantle some of the myths I’ve had about needing to have it all together all the time.  And slowly, I’ve been recovering and reclaiming those parts of myself that I’ve ignored for so long.

So, that’s why I am often highlighting the silly mistakes in my journal, laughing about them and rolling with them instead of trying to apologize for them. It’s why I don’t try to create elaborate layouts with handwriting that is too neat to be mine, or skip those pages during my flip-throughs – those mistakes are how I learned what I needed, and they are just as important as the pretty outcomes.

Embracing and incorporating mess in my bullet journal:

How i have learned to embrace mistakes and messiness in my bullet journal - and a little bit of real talk.

Just cross it out. If I make a mistake, I have gotten to a point where I just need to cross it out.  I do it with intention, just a few lines – and other times I’ve also covered it with washi tape as well as use white-out.  There is something freeing about being able to say, “Whoops,” and just striking through before moving on.  Especially for the function of the page, I can live with a little bit of a misstep.

How i have learned to embrace mistakes and messiness in my bullet journal - and a little bit of real talk.

Turn the page.  If I’m really feeling a layout and I make a mistake or I realize I needed something different, I turn the page and start over.  Sometimes it sucks when you may have put in a lot of time into a page and you have to begin again – but that’s probably why I don’t do anything too ornate to begin with!  We can always have a fresh start with the flip of the page – with a good night’s sleep, with a deep breath, with a new day.

How i have learned to embrace mistakes and messiness in my bullet journal - and a little bit of real talk.

Intentional Mess. Knowing how my brain works, I might do this dual-spread where I mind-map on one side to get all my thoughts out, and then organize them on the other side into a coherent process.  Leaving that open space is helpful in allowing creativity to thrive.

As we create and transform, the process in and of itself is a little hectic, messy, and free.  This is where magic happens. This is where thoughts, ideas, epiphanies happen – and then they are incorporated back into ourselves.  So I’m learning to embrace the mess and know it is all a beautiful part of this process.

The bullet journal is a really personal extension and expression of yourself (at least, it can be) – so if we can start to love our journals, beautiful and messy pages and all, perhaps we can also translate that to the love we might have for ourselves.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments – do you resonate with any of this? Or, you could also email me instead at jessica@prettyprintsandpaper.com



40 thoughts on “Embracing a Messy Bullet Journal

  1. I definitely agree! My journal is very messy, and a mix of Turkish and English, too, but I was never satisfied with it or thought about sharing it until recently because I thought 1) it’s too disorganized, and 2) it’s as if I’m running away from my native language by writing in there in English. I judged myself well before the others did! But I’m starting to feel okay about it now, and feel freer. Cheers 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve learned to accept the mess too. I use my bullet journal for work so I can’t (and don’t want to ) spend the time to pretty over the messy. I do try to stay organized though – and that also meant I had to accept that once I found my layout, the experimentation had to decrease dramatically – so one layout most of the time.


  3. I completely agree…I was nodding my head vigorously while reading this entire post!! Social media has allowed us all to ‘gloss over the mess’ and because of this many people start to believe there is no mess, or there shouldn’t be…that’s a real shame. We’re all human and we all have or make messes – it’s part of living. I struggle mostly with worrying what others think – ugh, I hate it – but over the last few years I’ve been letting that go and WOW do I feel better!! Thanks for sharing your struggles 🙂


      1. Well, let’s hope some I am a grandma and one would thing by this stage I would have this all down pat. However, life changes and so do our needs, so in some ways I am busier than I was when my children were little. My best method as a busy mother was something akin to a bullet journal but I was using a steno pad and one of those wallet two year calendar things you used to get at the card store. I lost too many pages to the rough life of being pulled in and out of my purse, and lost appointments to erasures and faded pencils or when I got fed up back to using a pen and marking out and rescheduling things. Surprised I got as much done as I did.


  4. YES! Thank you! Permission to be messy is accepted! Life isn’t all neat and in pristine order so why should our bullet journals be expected to be so! #realtalk


  5. My bullet journal is a mess and it still works. Everything is in one place. It keeps me on track and I love it. Not good with the beautiful spreads, but I still use the functionality of the spreads I see. The most important thing, I think, for our bullet journals, is that they help us get shit done and move forward in our lives.


  6. You’re awesome. I love your blog. Thank you.

    On Sun, Mar 12, 2017 at 9:20 AM, Pretty Prints & Paper wrote:

    > PrettyPrintsAndPaper posted: “If you’ve been around a while, you might > know that I not only highlight photos of spreads and layouts, but also do a > lot of flip-throughs and laughing at the mistakes I make in my bullet > journal. And if anyone has read my captions or have spent time with” >


  7. My bullet journal is messy. Who wants to be perfect all the time? That’s boring! And too much work. I love bujo because it gives you the freedom to change and adapt your spreads, unlike printed/structured planners. I mess up all the time. LOL So I just turn the page and try again or if I mispell a word, scratch through it and move right along. Embrace it, don’t be ashamed of it. It’s only paper! It may take you a while to find your groove, it’s ok. You have to find what works for you.
    Thanks Jessica for sharing your mess. It helps to see those we admire show us their mess. 😉


  8. I really like artistic touch in journals, to admire other people who are doing this, but personally, I am aiming for what is efficient.


  9. Love love love this idea. I actually found myself using a second journal for the messy stuff so I wouldn’t mess up my planner! Crazy! So now I embrace the mess. And if a page really drives me crazy, I print out an inspo picture from he internet and tape it over it!


  10. Your post is something the bullet journal circle was lacking. Kudos! Each one is different and the focus must be on what works for you.


  11. I’m a real perfectionist, and I ofter get sad and annoyed because the things look so much better in my head than in the paper… So when I got in the BuJo boat (just this month!), I decided that I wouldn’t do anything to make it look perfect – for example, I absolutely refuse to use a ruler! My friends same that I’m crazy, and that my BuJo is just great, but I see the imperfections and choose to ignore them. Yeah to messy BuJos!


  12. Thank you Jessica, I’m just staring out and really love the concept of a bullet journal but I’m daunted by the beautiful Pages I’ve seen on the internet. You have given me a reality check, I have so much I want to do in the journal, but hesitate because it SHOULD look beautiful…..I will now go and put all my thoughts down in the book, hen work out how I best represent them.
    I really appreciate your honesty and the articulate manner in which you expressed what I was feeling.


  13. I found this article searching for “non-instagram-worthy” or “non-pinterest-worthy” pictures of bullet journals. I’ve avoided doing things because “ugh, I have to set aside time to use a ruler, plan out the amount of dots needed, color coordinate, and come up with some cute header and then execute it well EVERY week and month?!?!” So I recently decided I could work hard to make my spreads that last all year look good but other than that I am going to grab the closest pen (in some fun color if it is nearby!) and guesstimate the sizing of the boxes and lines I need. As a elementary teacher I went to a training for a bunch of strategies that use a lot of charts and lines and such and their advice was to make squiggle lines. If you are intending to make squiggly lines it doesn’t matter that they aren’t straight! hahaha! Amazing how that simple switch of the mind just makes it not only ok but expected to have not-so-neat lines. So this is now my philosophy for school and for my bullet journal- especially my work one since that is where I need the bujo more than anything for day to day organization. For home it’s more for budgeting/savings goals, weight tracking, and that kind of stuff that isn’t as time sensitive to write it down and keep moving on.

    Anyway, thank you for this post! Hopefully more and more people will take pictures and proudly claim their rushed or mistake-ridden bullet journals. Even just showing me that their weeklies or dailies are just written with whatever pen and not their best handwriting ever.


  14. This is freaking awesome. I’m an engineer so going back to an analog system inspires me to question my sanity and intelligence. Looking at YouTube videos on the subject and how people setup their systems looked to be a cross of old-school pre-formatted organizers with scrapbooking! This led me to change my google inquiry to “realistic bullet journals” and I found your article.

    Reading your article reassured me that I didn’t have to learn calligraphy and spend more time drawing calendars and whatnot just for the sake of esthetics and focus on more important things like organizing my life in ways that makes sense for me.


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