Every three months or so I find myself overtaken by an almost uncontrollable sense of claustrophobia and clutter rage. I’m naturally quite a messy person and whilst I definitely find creativity in the organised chaos of my house, there is a tipping point where suddenly all I can think about is pulling out all of my books, reorganising my shelves and cupboards and having a good old throw out.
Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?
– Marie Kondō
But is my seasonal desire to clean up and make many piles of things really helping me to hone my creative focus or is it just another (relatively productive) form of procrastination?
Princeton University have recently published some research through their neuroscience department that suggests that physical clutter does in fact affect your ability to focus on tasks, to process information and be effective. Essentially, too much visual stimuli will begin to distract you. It can, therefore, be argued that taking the time to clear your workspace and organise yourself is a worthwhile use of your time.
But what about all those people who believe that a bit of creative clutter is what they need to spark that next great idea?
As well as needing a clear workspace, I’m also a big believer in being able to access things that I will suddenly, randomly need – an obscure textbook that I haven’t picked up since university, that old set of glasses inherited from Grandma that will be awesome in an bookstagram shoot… How do I reconcile these two seemingly opposite needs without having some form of Room of Requirement that pops up whenever I need to get a hold of something?
To make matters worse, a study by Yale University confirms what I could already have told you from witnessing my mother trying to throw out some of our old baby things that she had hoarded for 30 years, that we form strong emotional attachments to objects. So much so that it is actually painful to let them go – the same area of the brain is activated when we’re about to chuck that old teddy bear or journal as lights up as when smokers who are trying to quit crave a cigarette.
So why do it? Why put ourselves through all this unnecessary pain and suffering for the sake of a tidy desk or a few minutes avoiding the real task at hand?
Well clutter can become paralysing. Not only are you able to clear an actual physical space to do your writing or reading or crafting but the sense of accomplishment that comes with neatening everything up can actually motivate you to keep going with the next task. It also gives you thinking time. So much of developing creativity happens when we’re not actually ‘being creative’. Having time and space to ponder that difficult narrative problem or paragraph that’s been bugging you is a good thing. I often find that I’ve been mulling over a problem with my writing without really realising it and then when I come to sit down in the evening and thrash the words out, they start to flow much better.
However, before you get carried away spending hours lining up your pens, it’s also important to remember that merely organising your space will not automatically bring about creative genius, but it will set you up to succeed if you follow through with the actual work…
5 THINGS THAT WORK FOR ME TO KEEP MY CREATIVE CLUTTER UNDER CONTROL
- Write a list and prioritise – I’ve been using my Passion Planner to help me do this and to help me focus on what will enable me to reach my goals most effectively. I can schedule in my chores and prep time but make sure they don’t take over my day.
- Set a timer – This can be either on my phone as a physical countdown or something like the duration of a particular podcast. I’ve been loving this one by Sara Tasker of Me and Orla, she’s a creative coach with plenty of brilliant advice.
- Set social media limits – Time spent and the number of people that I follow / interact with. That way I don’t feel overwhelmed by what can seem to be a never ending task…
- Limit storage space and schedule a clear out at the start of each season – This forces me to think about what I really need and what can go in the bin or to charity. If I’m unsure I will box stuff and put it up out of the way in an inaccessible cupboard and if I don’t use it for the rest of year then it goes.
- Meditate – I’m a firm believer in uncluttering your life as well as your workspace. Apps such as Headspace are a quick and effective way to bring a bit of calm into a busy day. Trying to do too much all the time leads to difficulties with filtering information, switching quickly between tasks, poor working memory and an inability to effectively prioritise.
How do you like to organise (or not..) your workspace? Have you got any tips for keeping creative clutter under control?