ournaling was a habit I started in 2nd grade. When I was that young, my journals were more of a logbook. One sentence about the day and I had fulfilled my duty.
I also filled in books that had various prompts. Here is Exhibit A:
(I promise that I was a happy kid, but I was also a worried little ball of stress.)
Eventually, I started to get more ambitious and felt like a one-sentence diary wasn’t a “real” journal, so I graduated to writing longer tales about my day.
Perfectionism would get in the way, though, and I wouldn’t end up writing anything if I didn’t have the time to do several pages. Then I’d have to play catch-up, and so I would have even further resistance to writing. After awhile, my journals would just sit, untouched in the bottom of a drawer.
I started to feel guilty. My journals signed up for therapy.
No, dear little journals, YOU weren’t doing something wrong, it was my system that was all off. I had set up a system and an ideal that was unattainable for me to complete on a daily basis.
In college, I all but abandoned journaling. I started to write briefly again when I studied abroad on Semester at Sea…but then I met this cute golfer named Bobby and suddenly had very little time to document my days.
Here’s what I wish I would have realized, though: journaling itself wasn’t the enemy. The way I was documenting was the problem. And I SO wish that I could go back in time, look myself right in the eyes and say, “Look. These days are wild and precious and you’ll find later on that you have a terrible memory for specifics. So don’t worry about writing a novel every night – but PLEASE capture it in some small way.”
Two years ago, I finally came to my senses and said, “NO MORE! DAYS MUST BE DOCUMENTED!” (If Braveheart were a movie about journaling, I would be the star.)
In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes about this “secret of adulthood”:
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
It took me long enough, but I finally developed a journaling system that I can stick to. One that isn’t perfect but is definitely good. Because of this, I’m actually able to keep up with it, and that beats perfect any day.
Ironically, I was right back where I started in second grade: a one to two sentence logbook.
I was inspired by this project, consisting of simple index cards and a date stamp. A couple years ago, I created one for myself and several to give away as Christmas presents.
Each day of the year had it’s own card and the whole idea was to write down the year, then jot down a simple sentence with a highlight from the day’s events. Multiple years go on one card. Simple, effective, amazing!
I went to a few antique stores and found vintage postcards to separate each month. I attempted to make the postcards match each month or season. Here are some of my favorites:
I tried to find some that had significance to my life. Since I grew up in South Dakota, that was an obvious pick. I was also able to find a postcard of Audubon Park in New Orleans and even one from Charleston, where Bobby and I got engaged.
Searching for little berry baskets that could contain the postcards and index cards was a trickier process. I was able to eventually find a set of six on Etsy that were the proper dimensions . Tell me truthfully, is that not THE cutest berry basket you’ve ever seen? Yes, yes I’m sure it is.
Miracle of miracles, I was able to keep up with this system! I had turned a new leaf! 2013, 2014 – BOTH successfully documented!
As you can see from the examples below, my method slightly evolved as time went on:
In the beginning of 2013, I tried to take up as few lines as possible. I chose the absolute highlight of the day and that was the only thing allowed on the card.
A few months into 2013, I realized that sometimes, a day has multiple highlights, and so I started to allow myself a little leeway.
By the end of 2013 and going into 2014, I found that this record was helpful as I was working on my Project Life (a photo/journaling memory keeping system – I’ll write about that on a different day). As such, I wanted to include many parts of the day and this took up multiple lines.
It’s funny to see all of these days together. It makes it seem like Bobby and I end the majority of our days watching various TV episodes. I promise that’s not the case, but we do love certain shows. (Homeland! Downton Abbey! We’re your biggest fans!)
Here is the evolution of my system described in folk-art fashion (aka best way possible):
Here’s the key, though: amidst all the tweaks, the unifying theme to each of those stages is that they took me a grand total of one to two minutes to write at the end of the day. I LOVE that I can look back at my index cards and know, roughly, what I did on July 8th, 2013…or any other date I randomly choose. I LOVE that my future kids and grandkids will be able to do the same. It’s like magic.
For 2015, I’m keeping the same general framework but the journaling “rules” are evolving yet again. It’s keeping things fresh and I’m already hooked. Stay tuned for Part II!
Grace, five years ago you gifted me with a small, five year journal, with room for a few lines a day. I’ve mostly kept at it and have been very pleased with the results. It’s totally doable. And so fun to look back on the entries. Now here I am, filling in the 5th year. Thanks for the encouragement, Grace!
I’m so glad you have been successful with that, Mom! That will be so cool to look at years down the road. Wow, 5 years – time flies. Looks like I know what I could get you for Christmas this upcoming year… :)
This is genius! I love it!!!
Yayyyy, thanks, Jessie! PS. Your work is GORGEOUS! I loved looking at your blog post about the Chapel Designer Workshop. Your bouquet is a breath of fresh air just to look at it!
I just absolutely love this, Grace. You’ve re-inspired me for 2015 – no kidding. Love from the snowy north.
Aw, amazing! I’m so glad I could play a part in your 2015! Thanks so much for the comment, that gives ME energy. Sending you love and sunshine – stay warm, friend xoxo
I love your drawings!
I will say that I think for me a book might be better, because a box is hard to travel with. I tried a journal app last year, but I like the physical page much better. I should try something different this year. My weasel comics were quite successful because its so easy to bring a sheet of computer paper wherever you go. But eventually as my bedtime routine changed, so did my habit of journaling. Sigh.
Thanks, Leah pants! They’re more fun to draw them when you’re around and we can laugh ourselves silly. :) I definitely hear you on the ease of having this in a book versus index cards, particularly for traveling. I love the display aspect of the berry box and the index cards, but it was always a challenge to take out a few cards for the duration of any trips and then faithfully write on them. You should totally start again with a little book! Those weasel comics were my FAVE.
Pingback: Other People’s Couches | Manresa, Maine
I’m humbled by the mention in your post – honestly, it made my night. Thank you! I can only imagine what it’s been like to start your PhD while straddling between Boston and Maine. If you ever find yourself in Miami, know you have another couch to welcome you!
Journaling is a great idea… there is so much I wish I’d kept track of over the years. Grace, I love your ideas, your drawings, and the photo of you and Bobby on Semester at Sea!
Wow! What a beautiful journal system and what a beautiful result.
Vintage postcards are so awesome! I hadn’t really discovered the joy of them until a road trip from New Orleans to Minneapolis back in 2011. My mom and I made a lot of stops in small towns with little streets of shops that were often ridiculously disorganized messes of belongings that no longer belonged to anyone. They had crates and shoeboxes full of gorgeous postcards. Unfortunately, there never seems to be enough time to properly sort through them all!
I love the idea of having the same date in different years on one card. What a unique perspective. You’re totally right about keeping things manageable! I’m in a very similar state with my journals, where I fear if I pick it up, I’m going to need to write a Russian novel in one sitting. Journaling binges can leave you quite exhausted!
Great pictures and post. :) So fun to read snippets from your past days!
It would be fun to take a road trip with the goal to be antiquing and flea market hunting…I bet you could find some good deals on postcards! (One thing I realized was that I got a WAY better deal on postcards in Rapid City than I did in New Orleans…the more “antique-y” of a town it is, the higher the prices! So I bet you could find some amazing gems in small towns.) Hmmmm, bucket list trip I’m thinking!