The Secret to Organizing Your Lists, Once and for All

If you love making lists but have never found a way to keep them organized, this post is for you! This simple method of “list journaling” keeps your lists orderly and accessible.
If you love making lists but have never found a way to keep them organized, this post is for you! #ListMaking #ListJournal #ListOrganization

Have you ever had a friend confide to you that she looooves making lists? And you smile enthusiastically and say “Oh, me too!!”

You talk about how you love your lists, how you need your lists, and you feel like the two of you share a secret. You’ve got a special personality quirk in common that makes you both tick!

Now that I’ve been on one side or the other of this conversation over a dozen times, I’ve come to this realisation:

We all love making lists.

Or a lot of us do, at least.

Finding a fellow list-lover is about as common as discovering that another woman likes dark chocolate.

Yeah, pretty common!

What’s far less common is finding someone who’s discovered a way to keep all of those lovely lists organized.

Personally, I used to be the least organized list maker south of the Mason-Dixon line, until about a month ago. My lists were everywhere–scrawled onto scrap paper and trailing off receipts, covering notebook pages like spiderwebs and hibernating between the pages of library books.

I’ve been making lists since I could write. My childhood was marked with penciled columns: what I wanted for Christmas, items to pack for the next family road trip, big words that I found in the dictionary, names I would give my future children.

Two decades later many of my lists are still the same, but now I’ve added grown-up things like menu plans and clothing inventories. There’s something supremely satisfying and just plain fun about making lists! Watching your thoughts cascade in columns onto white paper not only feels tidy and organized, I’m convinced it helps your life to be tidy and organized, too! The only problem: it’s hard to keep the lists themselves organized.

In an attempt to make my lists more accessible and orderly, I started keeping them online, in Google Drive. But I quickly found that that’s not as much fun as writing them by hand, and I wanted something that I didn’t have to access via my computer or phone.

Instead, for about a month now I’ve been keeping all of my lists in a small journal that fits inside my purse.

If you love making lists but have never found a way to keep them organized, this post is for you!

I got the idea for a list journal from reading about the Bullet Journal method that’s become so popular. The Bullet Journal is a way to keep all of your schedules, to-dos, calendars–and yes, your lists–in one physical spot. My favourite thing about the method is that it encourages list-making. From reading a lot of blog posts on the subject, the lists (or “Collections,” as they’re known in Bullet Journal circles), seem to be everyone else’s favourite part, too!

The biggest drawback is that the Bullet Journal method mixes savable, evergreen content (like your thoughts and journal entries) with content that becomes outdated (calendars and to-do lists). You fill your notebook with a conglomerate of things that you want to build on and continue, like a running list, but in between are calendar pages and to-dos that will be completed and fade into the past. When you finish filling one notebook you pick up another and keep going, transcribing any content you want to save from the old book to the new.

This sounded like too much work to me. And I knew I wouldn’t want to circumvent the problem by tearing out pages and gluing them into the new journal–too messy!

Basically, I wanted a book specifically for lists that I could change, re-arrange, and keep using indefinitely. Not a stack of filled-up Bullet Journals that I have to scour for a piece of archived information I want to recall. I’ll continue to use my regular journal for recording my deepest thoughts, and appointments go in my Homemaker’s Friend planner or on the wall calendar.

How to Make a List Journal

The key to an effective list journal is using a binder-style notebook, rather than one with a glued spine. Everything hinges on that! Keeping all of my lists in one loose-leaf notebook was the biggest organizational breakthrough I’ve had this year. It’s a simple concept, but it’s a game changer.

Surprisingly, finding a suitable loose-leaf journal is no easy feat. I scoured office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot for a small binder that I could fit in my purse, but this three-ringed binder was the smallest I could find. It was still much too bulky for my purposes, and a couple of inches longer than a typical journal.

I figured if anyone had what I was looking for, it would be Amazon. After some sleuthing and adjusting of search terms, I found a number of inexpensive, “refillable diaries” from a variety of sellers based out of China. They’re all very similar and have great reviews, but I ended up choosing this particular journal. It comes with plenty of blank, brown paper pages (I actually took some out because it was so full!). You can get lined refill pages from this seller. (If that particular journal is unavailable, you can find very similar ones from other sellers, such as this one.)

This loose-leaf journal fits in my purse!

The journal fits in even a small purse, and is approximately the height of your favourite pen. Because the pages are little bigger than an index card, it wouldn’t be very comfortable to use as an actual journal. But as a vault for storing your lists? It’s perfect!

You can rearrange pages as needed, add pages to continue a running list, throw away checked off to-do lists, and customize it in any way you like. Plus, the design is attractive and makes the book feel special. I carry my list journal with me wherever I go. When I’m waiting in the parking lot or at an appointment, it’s much more fun and productive to consult my journal than to scroll mindlessly through my phone.

Flipping through my list journal

I keep all sorts of brainstorms, to-dos, and wishlists:

  • Wardrobe Wishlist
  • Summer Reading List
  • Blog Post Ideas
  • Movie Suggestions
  • Things to Tell Amy
  • Seasonal Menus
  • Fun Money Ideas
  • Summer Blogging Goals
  • Long-Term Blogging Goals
  • Things to Pack for ____
  • Bucket lists
  • Stuff to Research

You get the idea. Any list you’ve ever scrawled can find a new, tidy home between the covers of your list journal. If you want to quickly reference lists within the journal, create a Table of Contents page at the front of the book. Write down the title of each of your lists as you add them, and assign numbers only to the first page of each list. For instance, if your Wardrobe Inventory list takes up two or three pages, just number the first page. That way, if you add more pages to a list in the future it won’t mess up your numbering.

My list journal

This is a longer post than I thought I’d be writing for such a simple concept, but this habit is gold and I couldn’t help but pass it on to you! If you have an affinity for lists, get a list journal ASAP–it will make you happier than you thought a little blank book ever could.

[question]Do you love making lists? Have you ever thought about keeping them organized? (It’s really fun!)[/question]

P.S. If you have more to spend on a journal, this one looks very pretty, too, although it’s larger than the one I got.

20 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this idea, I am constantly making lists and then forgetting where I put them or what the heck those scribbles mean. I ordered one of those cute journals that you showed, it was just too handy (and cute) to pass up.
    I am excited to try this method, hopefully it will help keep me more organized.

  2. What about the journals that I intend to leave my children one day? I don’t really want them on a computer, I want to be able to “hand” them to them.

  3. My first comment ever! I love this blog, and I have found it to be a wonderful resource for my journey towards greater life simplicity: a good blend of KonMari, Christian sense, and gentle advice.

    This post in particular was encouraging, as I have had one small notebook for my What I Did Today lists, and then I would pack it full of loose papers with other lists, and project plans, and sketches, etc. Argh! I am, however, attached to the size and the cover, which I just recently decorated. Solution? Last night I chopped the binding up, razor cut new pages, hole punched them, and expanded my notebook! Now all my lists are being consolidated into the improved version (about 80% done). It will also be easy for me to add new pages or reorganize it if I need to do that later.

    Thank you so much for giving me the last push I needed to organize this part of my life. It feels so neat and easy to use now!

    Keep it up, Elsie! 🙂

    Photo proof:
    https://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b351/EriChanHime/IMG_4193_zpsjyt7p9zt.jpg
    https://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b351/EriChanHime/IMG_4194_zps1vfowmpn.jpg

    1. Erin, it’s nice to meet you! Thank you so much for commenting! I wish I could convey how happy your comment made me–I would be beaming right now if we were talking in person(: I love what you did with your notebook, and how customized it is!

      1. Thank you so much! I’m so glad. 🙂

        I have already expanded my new, improved notebook with extra pages, and I am now 110% done consolidating into it. I love it so much! Probably use it 10-20 times a day. Thanks for all the awesome ideas!

  4. Hi Elsie,
    I love your idea if adding a Table of Content! I also fell in love with the journal you featured and received it this week. Its the perfect size and so pretty. I’msetting it up today.
    One thing I would add is Return To If Found information. I have lost a notebook in the past ( thankfully it was returned) and while I dont put anything too personal or financial, I don’t want to even think about remembering everything on my lists!
    Thank you for all your hard work helping us simplify our live!

    1. You will love your journal–it’s so, so handy! That is a great idea to add the contact info. I will do that straightaway to my notebook! Also, your comment made my day(: I think simplifying life is so much fun. I’m glad that what I write is helpful!

    2. That’s a great idea, actually! Thanks. 🙂 I do in fact own a rubber stamp entirely for making a pretty space to show owner information in a book. I haven’t ever used it, so clearly this is the perfect opportunity!

  5. It’s 11.50pm and I just read this post and ordered a journal! I’m up late and taking some focused time to look at my life and see where and how I can simplify it… it’s just not working the way things are! I am a pretty structured person and adore routine, but lately I have been running just to catch up and am getting nowhere with my goals and projects. My husband and I have two sweet little ones – a two-year-old and seven-month-old – so while I understand that this is simply a busy season of life, I KNOW it doesn’t have to be so crazy and frustrating. I think I am little unrealistic with my goals sometimes and unwilling to flex when needed, which will always lead to frustration and wanting to give up completely.

    So anyhow, as I was sitting here with my notebook and writing out all the things I’m currently doing and figuring out what are priorities and what can go, I thought to check out your blog – which I regularly read! So excited to try out this journal… I’m such a list-maker and it will be so nice to have them all in one place.

    Oh, and I am also trying out the planner you mentioned recently, The Homemaker’s Friend. It looked so great, but I was wanting to try it out and not have to wait until 2017, so I looked online and the 2016 planners are on sale for $1! I know I’ll only get a couple month’s out of it, but it’ll be great to see if it works well for me. If it does, I know what planner I’ll be getting for the new year!

    1. You are going to have so much fun keeping the lists in you journal! Really. It’s ridiculous how a small thing can be such a joy maker–it is for me, certainly! You’re right…you are in a busy season of life, no matter how you look at it. But I completely agree that things don’t have to be insane and crazy, even with small children! Whenever I start getting overwhelmed, I have to check myself and realise that they’re probably ARE things I can change, simplify, prioritize, etc. It takes some introspection, some creativity, some willingness to experiment and be flexible. But we don’t have to settle for crazy. Anyway, it sounds like we are on the same page!

  6. First comment also on Pinterest but I just felt absolutely compelled to comment on how much I absolutely LOVE this post . I search Pinterest every single day & am constantly looking up types of lists to make or pictures of checklists and I absolutely LOVE cleaning checklists (spring cleaning or ultimate house cleaning checklists mainly ) but there’s only so many I can find :/ I’m addicted to finding some honestly lol but to find the motivation to actually start cleaning is my problem :/ but anyways , again just wanted to say I love this post and I am so happy I found it (after really digging through Pinterest ) but I found it lol thanks again!

    1. Thank you, Brittany! I a so sorry I missed the comment on Pinterest, so I’m glad you came over here, too! (Pinterest buries my comment notifications in other random, less important notifications it seems!!) Happy list finding (and making!).

  7. You know, the Bullet Journal is only a system, which people use in every kind of journal, datebook – even sketchbook – they wish. The system itself is really simple and can be split up among smaller notebooks, like a Traveler`s Notebook uses. That way, you can toss or save whatever is *really* important to you! : )

    1. That is true–it would be transferable to a loose leaf-style notebook, certainly! I think I was just getting overwhelmed by all of the options and systems. The most valuable thing to me was the idea of a list library, so that’s what I wanted to highlight!

  8. Bullet journaling came up today in a post on Apartment Therapy, and I had to share a link to this post on my favorite method of list journaling with no fuss-all results! I still love this.

  9. I love your post. I’ve been a list maker since my teens and I’m retired now! The idea of the binder is a great idea. Even my daily journal is in list form. Thanks for writing this!

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