Do You Mind Creative Clutter ?

by Barbara Martin

in Creativity, Creativity at Work

Do you think clutter provides a richly stimulating environment for creativity or does it cause confusion in your mind? Some people insist that a neat and tidy environment is a prerequisite for getting down to productive work. I’m not so sure.

Neat and Tidy is Productive
In her blog post Clutter Causes Confusion, Lori Woodward Simons explains how she needs to come into an uncluttered and well organized studio in order to get to work promptly with a minimum of distraction.

For her, having to sort through tools and materials to prepare to work leads to a loss of energy and commitment – before she actually gets started working. So she sets her materials out ahead of time and walks in to find everything ready to go.

Disorder Directs Focus
On the other hand, some people feel a studio in a shambles is a pre-requisite for working! It feeds and stimulates their creative juices and then literally forces them to focus in tight on the work at hand. This enforced tunnel vision concentrates their attention.

The Ritual of Getting Ready to Work
For still others, methodically setting up the work space and preparing the tools is a pre-work ritual. This step by step preparation process helps them gather their thoughts and attention to the job at hand. As a self-hypnotizing ritual, it invites the creative trance.

What Do YOU Need to be Creative?
Knowing what works best for you, and making sure you get it, is an important step toward creating on a regular basis. What’s your ideal work space? Are you on the tidy or disorderly end of the scale? Does a messy space mean a messy mind for you? Do you crave order? Do you need everything to be perfect in order to work?

Beyond the neat/sloppy continuum, how else could you optimize your creative space?


Michelle Russell August 17, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Oh, I’m definitely the type who needs order and a clear workspace. If there’s too much clutter, it almost feels like a physical weight on my consciousness. Even when I’m in the middle of an art project or something else that gets messy, I clean up as I go. (I also wash the dishes I cooked with before sitting down to eat a meal, so I can really relax while I eat . . . yep, I’m kind of a control freak. )

If it’s writing, I almost *can’t* do it with piles of stuff on the desk or table. Clutter immobilizes me.

Now let’s hear from the other end of the spectrum. Anyone? ;o)

chris zydel August 18, 2009 at 3:25 pm

The other end of the spectrum is here (-;

I am a clutter queen and I love being surrounded by a jumble of things when I create. If I find myself in an uncluttered environment I make sure to remedy that very quickly. Creative chaos makes me HAPPY and inspires me. It’s the feeling that all those piles are alive and germinating some creative project that I just haven’t gotten to quite yet. I feel nurtured and energized by all that lovely, wild disorder!!!

Diane Lee August 18, 2009 at 4:20 pm

I need to have tools and materials generally organized so I can find them. However, my actual working space can start out cluttered and get more so as I work. When I am ready to work on a piece I just shove enough stuff out of the way until I have a square foot or so of flat space to work in. Sometimes I just move the keyboard out of the way and work there. If I need more space I move to my bed or the floor. There is usually at least a square yard or two available on the floor.

Working spaces that start out neat and clear seem to me like they are locked away from creative work.

Diane Lee/MomCat

Barbara Martin August 18, 2009 at 9:19 pm

@Diane Lee YOU are a person after my own heart as far as the desk goes, except I just stack stuff on the floor next to my desk…. eventually though I have to pick up to vaccuum the cathair so we don’t all sneeze to death — even the darn cat has allergies! :) LOL

@Chris YES! I think it feeds the creative juices to have random associations occurring all around me. When I lived in a house I collected all kinds of oddments and I know they inspired my writing. Now that we have a loft type space it is much harder to keep my idiosyncratic habits going — we are all tripping over stuff if there is too much of it and of course the visual clutter of seeing all of everything all at once seems overwhelming. So I am not sure where the happy medium between sanity and mental pandemonium lies for this place. (sigh)

@MichelleRussell Oh my goodness now I am really laughing. For someone who tweets under the name of @joyfulmess I think you might maybe have a little ways to go on the order-to-mess continuum…but that’s ok, nobody is perfect!!!

Disclosure: I once had a roommate who was super tidy and neat and organized everything in order, even arranged her socks by color. In my oblivion I drove her nuts. I like to think I have improved since then, but then and again, maybe improved is not the right word. I just work a little more at tidying up sooner AFTER having made the messes. I can leave a trail behind myself through any room — it’s sort of spontaneous breadcrumbing or something.

Coming up soon though is a post about my goofy writing-when-I’m-away-from-home ritual. It might surprise you!! :)

Katje August 18, 2009 at 10:32 pm

One’s clutter is another’s visual organization.
I definitely have trouble being productive on any project when I have to locate my materials before I can even begin the work. And I always begin by clearing what I hope will be an adequate work area. But, that being said, the more visual stimulus I have, the better I can proceed with a project.
For me, part of the creative process is constant revision. Being able to see other options while I’m working on something can often stimulate those revisions.
In a perfect world, I’ll have display cases amid carefully labeled boxes with all my tools and materials readily accessible and a clean, clear workspace to create. In the meantime, I sort prepare my project supply boxes with what I will need and what I may need.
And I’ll hope that nobody will need the dining room table for anything as mundane as eating.

Barbara Martin August 20, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Katje, are you familar with the project boxes Twyla Tharp wrote about in her Creative Habit book? Or did you come up with that on your own? Your dining room table reminds me of the days when I started hundreds and hundreds of plants — they were in the dining room, in the basement, on the porch, in the coldframe….. LOL

Previous post:

Next post: