Bullet Journaling and Studyblr Culture: An Inaccessible Aesthetic

To say that this semester has been stressful would be the greatest understatement of my academic career. After a Physics I midterm, I walked over to the Loop and tried out a new menu item and practically fell into a booth, my body exhausted and my mind racing with thoughts on my to-do list. After the buzzer vibrated, I got up to pick up my Pesto Chicken Ciabatta. As I slumped back into my seat, I decided to try and disconnect from the stress by opening YouTube and watching an old Vlogmas series from one of my favorite YouTubers, Claire Marshall. As I enjoyed my surprisingly decent ciabatta and the soothing chill aura of Claire, she talked about a journal she used to keep track of her busy life. This got me thinking about the undeniably aesthetic bullet journal trend, and I spontaneously paused her video and opened a new YouTube tab to search for “bullet journal.”

A YouTube channel by the name of AmandaRachLee is rife with multiple videos on bullet journaling, from monthly plan-with-me videos on how she designs her journal for each month, analyses of the best stationery and writing utensils for the most satisfying experience with bullet journaling and calligraphy, and drawing/painting sessions. It definitely took my mind off of my life at Duke: the utensils produced some gorgeous lettering and masterful calligraphy, and the symmetric, soft, clean, and effortless aesthetic gave me immense visual pleasure.

I wouldn’t say that I have the best handwriting, but when I put effort into it, I love to get creative and create orderly, clean, and attractive pieces for organizing and planning purposes. I got curious and did some investigation on the prices for high quality writing utensils and stationary, searching for “bullet journal utensils” on Google. For notebooks, some commonly referred brands were Leuchtturm1917, Moleskine, Rhodia, Midori, and Essentials, and the prices typically ranged from $8 to $30. For pens, there are Faber-Castell, Staedtler, Tombow, Pigma, Sharpie, and Pilot. Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen costs $1.99, the 20-pack Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens cost $15.99, the Tombow Dual Brush Pens (9 colors) costs $17.00, and the Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen set of 2 costs $5.74, to get a general idea. Further searching turned up a Buzzfeed article on the “19 Products To Help You Take Your Bullet Journal To The Next Level” I expected some more references to other notebooks, papers, and pens. But no, there is an entire market centered on soft-minimal lettering/journaling culture. Some people go the extra mile and invest in utensils for color production, such as watercolor pens and pencils.

This culture extends to phenomena such as Studyblr, a realm consisting of tumblrs and other social media platforms dedicated to producing content related to studying habits aligned with similar aesthetics. After the search for items, I began thinking about the type of people that can invest time, money, and energy into this artform and access this aesthetic branding. I know that many people try to push back on this material- and design-focused obsession by stressing how the “right way” of bullet journaling is whatever works for your productivity on your own terms. However, even this emphasis on productivity seems questionable and to further the overarching pressures of maximizing efficiency and productivity in a capitalistic framework. Overall, it seems to infuse moral values on these soft-minimal aesthetics of pretty letters and nice pens and notebooks. Will I continue to subscribe to the prescriptions of quality-verified materials and the conflation of aesthetics and morals? I hope I don’t, but I’ll probably continue to watch those videos as I’ve already subscribed to her YouTube channel.