J 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!