bullet journal 101: the tools you need

I love a pretty planner. New planners with gorgeous covers and fun stickers are launched by brands like every August but, as pretty as they are, I don’t buy them anymore. I started bullet journaling a couple years ago and now I’m addicted. I feel better organized and more on top of my sh*t, plus the act of bullet journaling is a therapeutic and creative outlet for me.

What is a bullet journal? It’s basically a blank notebook that you make into your own catch-all planner. My bullet journal has calendars, weekly schedules, to-do lists, lists of movies to watch, scrapbook pages of mood boards, and about 20 other functions. Check out my Pinterest board to get a sense of how others use their bullet journals.

Getting started with a bullet journal can feel a little overwhelming. When I started, I didn’t know what kind of journal to buy and which pens I should use. I was really focused on making my journal look perfect and wasn’t sure which functions I needed my journal to fill for me. I’ve figured out through trial and error which tools and functions work best for me, so I’m sharing them with you.

I’m doing this post in two parts, starting with the tools.

Notebook You’ll need a blank notebook. There are about a million options out there and I’ve probably only tried six of them, but here’s what I’ve learned:

  • I prefer dotted or grid pages to blank or lined pages. I find them easier to design and draw on because I can’t draw a straight line on a blank page to save my life. You might be more skilled than I am and I am proud of you for that.

  • I prefer hard cover notebooks to soft cover notebooks. The hard cover makes it easier to use when you don’t have a good writing surface, like when I’m taking notes at a conference.

Canadian brand North of Rosemont launched in 2017

North of Rosemont is a brand new Canadian company. The Montreal-based company just launched and they were kind enough to send me a launch package so I could try the notebook for myself. I really like this notebook. It’s small (about the size of my hand) so it fits well into a coat pocket or small purse. I obviously love the dotted pages, which have been designed to reduce bleed-through from pens. Pen bleed-through is frustrating in a bullet journal and I was impressed with how well North of Rosemont pages kept ink on the right side of the page.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this notebook if you like to travel light and take minimal notes on the go. I use this notebook for the little things, like the TV series recommended by a friend over coffee or the reminder to call your building manager when you run into your neighbour in the elevator.

Purse-Size – Moleskine With dozens of notebook varieties, Moleskine is one of the biggest notebook and planner brands out there. They’ve got hard-cover, soft-cover, dotted, grid, tiny, massive, analog and digital options out the wazoo. I’ve tried my fair share of Moleskine’s and my favourite is the Classic Notebook in XL, dotted and hard-cover. I also quite like the Large size of this notebook, which, size-wise, is between North of Rosemont and the Moleskine XL.

Unlike North of Rosemont, Moleskine doesn’t protect much against bleed-through, so pen selection is key (see next section). I use my XL Moleskine for my primary bullet journal. Together, my North of Rosemont and XL Moleskine are the right notebook pairing for me.

I prefer dotted pages to lined or grid

Pens First things first: there is no wrong way to pick colours for your bullet journal, and there’s no rule that says you have to use the same colours week over week. I usually go with black on white with one or two pops of colour. Sometimes I use no colour at all. Sometimes I use many colours. You do you. Instead of telling you which colours to use, here are a few of my thoughts on pen types and brands:

My absolute favourite pens for bullet journaling (in all colours) are the Faber-Castell Grip Finepen 0.4and the Stabilo Point 88 Fine 0.4. These pens are fine enough to keep my pages looking neat but thick enough that I can do some cool lettering and doodles. The Stabilo also comes in several neon colours which are super cool (although the yellow is super hard to see on the page).


You don’t necessarily need accessories. You can successfully bullet journal with as little as a lined notebook and a black pen. Or you can get all the bells and whistles. Some of my favourite accessories include:

  • Small ruler (I use a 6-inch)

  • Sticky notes

  • Sticky tabs

  • Pencil case with elastic ­– I don’t remember how I discovered this thing but it’s actually the most amazing. It’s a slender pencil case that has an elastic that wraps around your journal, keeping your stuff handy without being bulky.

And that’s really all you need! Reids Stationery in Calgary is, in my opinion, the best place to buy all things bullet journal. I can (and have) literally spent hours browsing and testing pens. If you’re not in Calgary, Michaels, Staples and Chapters/Indigo have notebooks and pens.


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