Bullet journaling is the most versatile planner system in existence—the rules are created to be broken (or rigidly adhered to, depending on your personality) to create the perfect planner for anyone. Ryder Carroll, who invented the system, has a great summary: "The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less." You can check out his website for an overview of the system and some more ideas. I also have a Pinterest board dedicated to Bullet Journal systems. (If you are local to Spokane, I occasionally teach a workshop on this topic; see if I have any upcoming classes on it here).
I’m often asked for recommendations on notebooks and other supplies for bullet journaling. I could recommend a lot of supplies, as I’m a pen and journal aficionado, but for the purpose of this post, I’ve distilled it down to my five absolute favorite items—the essentials.
Leuchtturm 1917 A5 Dotted
This, hands-down, is the best notebook for anything, ever. If you do any writing by hand, you will not regret purchasing this notebook—even if you ultimately decide bullet journaling is not for you, you will want to continue using this notebook. The pages have a slight antique color to them and are nice and thick; you’ll immediately recognize that it is made out of high-quality paper. You can use highlighters, create drawings, and not see them on the other side of the sheet. The paper is also acid-free, which means that, especially if you use archival ink, you will be able to keep your notebooks for decades, if not generations. They also come with nifty, stylish spine labels so you can organize them on a shelf.
No matter what notebook you buy, I do recommend you get a dotted notebook rather than grid or lined. You'll receive the convenience and structure of guides, without those guides becoming obtrusive. Leuchtturm's dots are not quite black; they are visible, but they do not detract from your writing or pretty designs.
Most Moleskines have fallen apart by the time I’m done with them and require some duct tape or washi tape to get them through the final weeks of its life; not so with Leuchtturm notebooks, which have held up long past when I am done filling its pages.
When it comes to notebooks, you get what you pay for. That is why I will also here include AmazonBasics A5 journal. It is half the price of the Leuchtturm, and it feels like it is worth just that, no more and no less. It is also not dotted, but grid, but that's livable. The pages aren’t quite as thick, the cover not quite as durable, but if you’re looking to dip your toe into the water and don’t do any journaling outside of your BJ aspirations, it makes sense not to commit to a Leuchtturm. The AmazonBasics notebook is a good economy model. Though I have not personally used this notebook and therefore cannot 100% recommend, I have heard good things about it from other bullet journalers; pricing-wise, it happens to be a good middle option between Leuchtturm and AmazonBasics.
Pentel Hybrid Technica .03mm Pen
This Pentel Hybrid Technica .03mm pen is my absolute favorite. You can achieve a very fine line with this pen, and it does not smudge. It is also archival, and like I mentioned above, this will improve the longevity of your bullet journal’s notes, lists, drawings, etc. It also writes incredibly smoothly and does not skip. You can buy them in a larger pack for cheaper, too.
Gelly Rolls and Microns are good alternatives; they are also archival-safe and sometimes cheaper. I love them for hand-lettering. But, for just plain writing, none can compare to my love for the Pentel Hybrid Technica .03mm.
There is nothing worse than digging around for a pen when you need to quickly jot something down or create an appointment with a friend in your calendar. If you’ve purchased a Hybrid Technica, it’s even worse to rummage around in your purse or bag for your one bullet journaling pen which you are very particular about. And trust me, if you invest in a Hybrid Technica, you will become very particular.
So, I highly recommend investing in the bullet journal pocket-protector-equivalent: a pen loop. These come in many different forms; sadly, I can no longer find my favorite elastic pen loop anywhere. Moreover, I have not used any other pen loop with which I've been 100% satisfied, so you are on your own as far as which to buy. I have not had good experiences with clip-on pen loops. On the plus side, there are plenty of other options on Amazon.
This ruler is one of very, very few I’ve found that will fit in the pocket at the back of my notebook, so I can pull it out on the go. It also has a really easy-to-use compass built in, so you can make straight circles as well as lines. After a couple years’ use, many of the numbers on mine have worn out, but that’s to be expected. I don’t mind buying a new one every few years.
I don’t usually like the crazy colors of normal highlighters, which is why I recommend the soft, muted pastel tones of Zebra Mildliners. They don’t bleed through the page like regular highlighters either!
It was hard enough to condense my suggestions down to five essentials; I do have to give “honorable mentions” to a couple of items:
Traveler’s Notebooks: I don’t personally use one for bullet journaling, but I do use one for note-taking. Basically, the travelers’ notebook comes with a leather cover/sleeve, which you then fill with smaller notebook inserts and other accessories like passport holders, card holders, pouches for tickets and money, etc.. These are layered inside, in your desired order, to build the perfect notebook for any occasion. Each of these components are removable and replaceable, so if you fill up one notebook or section faster, you can replace just that section with a fresh notebook. Other bullet journals keep one notebook in the front of their travelers’ notebook that they never remove, because it contains reference information like loved ones’ birthdays, lists they are continually building on, a long-term calendar, etc.
This system and bullet journaling work so well together because they are so flexible. I bought the on-brand large Midori Travelers' Notebook, and don't regret it. The leather is beautiful and sturdy. (They also have a passport-sized option). More and more off-brand travelers' notebooks are available these days on both Etsy and Amazon than when I first purchased; however, I would recommend you always go with a leather option for the outside cover. There are options on Etsy that can be filled with standard-sized inserts, too, like Field Notes, rather than the proprietary Midori size. That said, always price the inserts before you buy the notebook. Since I purchased my notebook, the options for off-brand inserts have grown quite a bit, too. As far as off-brand options, I've purchased and liked these as well as their folder and zipper file insert.
Quick Doodles: Learning some simple flowers and doodles can be a great way to spruce up your bullet journal. I’ve really enjoyed going through How to Draw Modern Florals and Botanical Line Drawing. I like to bust out some pretty hand-drawn florals and botanicals in the corners of my pages and along with my headers.