Nov 17, 2015 · 5 minute read

By: Colleen Valles

I’m not sure how or why, but somehow, messiness and creativity have become equated with each other.

The collective consciousness expects artistic and other creative types to be messy and cluttered and, by extension, somewhat flighty and disorganized.

As a creative type myself, I have a bone to pick with these stereotypes. First, to be seriously creative, you can’t be flighty and disorganized. You have to have you shit together. You can’t be off on a cloud. Being creative takes concentration and focus; it takes discipline and application; it takes inspiration and hard work. Just because you can dream up something no one has read or drawn or composed before doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, it’s very, very hard. Being creative isn’t for the faint of heart. Putting your work out in the world for people to see, experience, and possibly mock it takes cojones.

My other beef with this stereotype is that any artist or other type of creative person who is serious about what they’re doing will have their things organized in a way that suits their work style, whether it’s surrounded by tools and inspiration, or with only the bare minimum necessary to create without any other distractions.

I happen to be the latter – the type that can’t work with a messy desk. In fact, I can’t work with a messy house. If I’m going to sit down and write, I can’t be distracted by the laundry calling me over to fold it, or the dishes calling me into the kitchen to wash them. The easiest way for me not to spend all my time cleaning but to spend more of it creating is to streamline my stuff. Less stuff means less clutter, which, in turn, means fewer distractions.

That old saw about a cluttered desk being the sign of a cluttered mind can have an ounce of truth to it.

So what if you lean more toward the stereotype than away from it? What if you do have a cluttered desk and a cluttered mind?

All is not lost. You are not doomed to a life of disorganization just because society expects you to be disorganized. After all, what artist or creative person ever succumbed to society’s dictates anyway?

No, there is hope that you can be somewhere in between the extremes of cluttered disorganization and my personal demon, excessive organizing to the point of not having any time left to create. Here are some ideas we can all try out to make space for our creative selves to shine through.

  1. Streamline. We could all benefit from a little streamlining of our stuff, and not just our art or hobby supplies, but everything. For instance, even if you’re not looking at your closet, but you know you’ve got to figure out an outfit to wear to a wedding or meeting or whatever, and you’ve got a closet full of nothing to wear, that’s going to take away your focus from what you really want to be doing, and it’s going to interfere with your creating.

    It really is worth it to spend the time and go through all your stuff. All of it. Every last little thing. The whole enchilada of your house. Keep the things you need, love or use, repair what needs fixing and donate or toss the rest. (Or maybe make it into something. You’re creative, right?)

  2. Toss your tools. Gasp! I know. Sacrilege, right? But if you think about it, and unless you’re already a minimalist, you probably have a lot of accoutrements that go with your chosen creative outlet. Maybe too many camera lenses. Too much yarn (guilty!). Way too many scrapbooking stickers. You’re probably thinking it might come in handy someday, but chances are if you’ve already been hanging onto it for a long time, that someday will never come, and right now it’s just taunting you for not coming up with a good, appropriate use for whatever it is. You show that thing. You donate it right now to someone who has an idea of how to use it.

    See? Doesn’t that feel good?

    I did this with yarn I kept moving from never-started project to never-started project, and you know what? I don’t even think about that yarn anymore. I did the same with many, many notebooks. Many. Now, I have only what I love and will use. Mostly. Maybe there’s a little work left to do.


  3. Contain your inspiration. But… but … shouldn’t inspiration be wild and free? Strewn about where I will happen upon it while otherwise engaged, and I will smile because I will have gotten a fabulous new idea from seeing it?

    No. No, it should not be all over the place. It should be right where it can inspire you, in the spot where you work or where you do your thinking, or wherever, but it should be ONE spot.

    Collecting magazine clippings and ribbons and color swatches and patterns and leaves and all manner of inspiration can be a very important part of inspiration, but if it’s all over the place, chances are it will get buried under stuff or forgotten. The same if you put it in a shoebox under the bed or file it away in the back of a cabinet or leave it in a notebook you never go back throuhg. If you can’t see the inspiration, it can’t do its job of inspiring you.

    So figure out how much space you have to devote to inspiration. It could be a corner of a room or a bulletin board above your desk. Whatever it is, keep it there, and keep it curated. If something no longer inspires you, replace it with the thing that’s inspiring you now.

After all, it’s about the work, not the clutter. Keep your space clear and current, and you’ll keep your work the same.

How do you keep the clutter around you from encroaching on your work?


Colleen Valles
I'm Colleen, a writer, mother, knitter, pet mama and tiny house enthusiast who truly believes that everybody should slow down and simplify to make room for the things that are most important in their lives. I'm on a journey to do just that, to be able to spend more time with family and friends, riding my bike and working in the garden. Sign up to get awesome content right in your inbox, or follow me on social media.