One warm and humid morning during the summer of 2016, I packed my two small children into our silver mini-van and headed out on a pleasure trip to The Craft Store. As I wandered the aisles, basking in the sheer glory of aisle upon aisle of craft supplies, I turned a corner and came across an entire wall of sheer wonder. How do I describe what I saw there? It was an entire system of crafty, fun, colorful, papery, planner goodness. I didn’t know what it was, but the sight of it turned me on.
It was an entire aisle of Happy Planner supplies. I had never seen nor heard of this system before, and I just stood there, staring. There were planners, planner holders, planner kits, planner stickers, planner everything. Now, I was already a planner person. I’d been designing my own planners and booklets for a while, and I loved playing with calendars and layouts. And yet, I had never heard of nor seen anything like this before. I was utterly captivated. I was so intrigued that I took my classic Whitney Till Approach and walked away with…nothing. You see, if I am really taken by something, the first thing I do is go home and study it.
So I did just that. A few quick searches on Pinterest and I was falling down the deep rabbit hole of decorative planning as well as bullet journaling. It was mesmerizing, it was beautiful, it was…a bit overwhelming. I was excited and intimidated at the same time. But I knew I wanted some of it in my own life.
The thing that had mesmerized me most about the Happy Planner was the way it felt like a notebook, but acted like a binder. So I set out to create my own DIY version of this. I laminated some pretty paper, bought a few loose rings, and cut some paper down to a size I liked. I punched the paper, put it all together, and it was...okay. I liked that I could put paper in and out of it. I liked adding cute pictures I had found online. I liked using colored pens and making up more new layouts. But it never really became what I needed it to be. I didn’t yet realize the true power of disc-binding.
What I really needed was to get all of my thoughts organized. I needed a way to put all of my life and work responsibilities down on paper that would allow me to visually swallow it all. I was overwhelmed by how many things I was in charge of remembering to get done. I struggled with those obligations that I needed to do but hated doing. Everyone has these, for me it was medical administration: phone calls, insurance questions, medical bills, etc. My family had a handful of these from a couple of significant health matters, and it was the one part of my work as full-time mom that I really despised. I needed help getting my thoughts on paper so that I could actually make progress on them instead of watching them chase themselves around and around in my head, increasingly making me feel bad for never getting them fully resolved. So I created a chart to put into my homemade planner to help me with all this.
I spent a year experimenting with my little DIY planner and refining my external thinking system. Every once in a while I would pop back over to the craft store and ogle the Happy Planners. I was curious, but still, I didn’t know where to start. And then one hot August afternoon, as I was strolling through my grocery store, of all places, I wandered through the back-to-school section because, you know, how could I not? And there, among the 5-star notebooks and Crayola markers, stood a single Happy Planner. It was the 18-month Classic with a yellow cover covered in little gold pineapples. I had never seen a Happy Planner in Kroger before, and I never have since. And something about seeing the planner on it’s own like that finally made it click. It was just a planner. It was simple. It was beautiful.
And so, finally, a year after that first discovery, I purchased my very first Happy Planner. As I drove home, I could not wait to sit down with it and look through every last page. I was on a cloud with excitement and joy. And then, I felt something odd under my car, and a block later felt the tell tale thump-thump of a flat tire. My first thought as I pulled our mini-van over into a complete stranger's drive-way was “Ohhh…maybe I can look through my new planner while I wait for triple A to get here!”
Within a few weeks, I had a pack of blank paper, a second set of discs, some spare covers, and my first two sticker books (“Mom” and “Seasonal”). I had swapped the pineapple planner for the cute-as-can-be Everyday Essentials, a planner full of adorable sketches for each season. I started playing with ways to decorate it and creatively organize my days. I put together enough pieces to create a “Life Binder,” and the work I had been doing for a year to gather my thoughts started to weave together seamlessly. I made my first journal entry while sitting in an empty hotel bathtub in Louisville, Kentucky, at 3:00 in the morning, while my family slept in the next room. We were headed south to see the Great American Eclipse, and I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep. When we got home I moved these note pages over to a spare set of covers and discs, added more note paper and had my first “Happy Journal.”
All of this overlapped with my first child starting Kindergarten. It was a period that was both incredibly challenging and shockingly productive. I loved how so many pieces of my life were coming together so rapidly, and it was all because the disc-binding system allowed me to move stuff around as many times as I needed to, and the beautiful designs continued to draw me in over and over again. I spent that entire year putting together pieces that would work for me, and experimenting with all of the things that made me curious. I loved it, and it helped me face every last little task I had been afraid of until I really had a grip on everything going on in my life. I was identifying and challenging my own habits of procrastination, which meant facing challenges I had been ruthlessly avoiding. But I was also enjoying myself immensely. By the end of that school year, I was caught up with my life in a way I hadn’t been for years, and it felt wonderful. I was finally learning all about what I needed in order to master my own form of executive functioning. It was freeing and exhilarating. It was a lot of hard work. It was so, so much fun.
And so it has continued into this year as well. I have only reached further levels of organization and clarity, and have started to put my system down on paper so that I can share it with others as well. So here is my attempt at articulating what I have learned. This blog will be a place for me to get my thoughts out in a visual way so that they may be of service to others out there also attempting to get a grip on modern adulthood. Getting organized is hard work, and we need all the help we can get. The beauty of the Happy Planner is that it makes that process beautiful, creative, and deeply enjoyable.
Whitney Till, a.k.a., The Freckled Planner