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Especially For Creatives - Part 1

Dear Jo the Clutterbuster:

I have a love-hate relationship with my studio/workroom. Every time I open the door, I am overwhelmed by the chaos and amount of stuff that has accumulated over the years. I don’t know where to start to “make space for what’s important” to my creative process. So I just close the door and avoid doing my “work.” I miss creating. Can you help?


Blocked by the Clutter

* Art = painting, writing, sculpting, crafts, knitting, quilting –any passion for which you need materials and space in which to produce it.

Coming to Terms with Your Stuff

I am an artist who keeps the roof over my head as a professional and personal organizer. (Yes, you can be an artist and organized-they are not mutually exclusive skills.) Working with Creatives often requires knowledge of the creative process as well as sensitivity to the artist’s raison d’etre. I have found that once artists and craft persons are clear about their intentions and their space is de-cluttered, their art goals are realized - sometimes effortlessly.

There are 3 steps in the process:

  • Identify goals;
  • Sort items and determine those which are to be retained (and or rearranged), discarded, donated or distributed; and
  • Create a functioning space.

STEP 1: Identify Goals

Clarification of one’s goals is the most critical step in the de-cluttering process and also the most difficult. (not just for Creatives.) Making space for the important aspects of one’s life requires clarity. There are often multiple goals and sometimes conflicting goals.

Some goals are practical:

  • Clear my studio so I don’t have to keep hunting for “lost” stuff.
  • Get rid of old work that never sold.
  • Make room for larger work.
  • Discard old materials that I no longer work with.
  • Prepare to move into a smaller space.
  • Retire.
  • Get ready for a studio tour and sale.
  • Prepare to switch careers.

Some goals are more spiritual and personal:

  • Take time to smell the roses.
  • Provide time to exercise more.
  • Increase time with friends and family.
  • Make space for reading and journaling.
  • End my agonizing life as an artist.
  • Overcome a block.

Regardless of your reason for de-cluttering, I have found that one of the most difficult goals for an artist to articulate relates to the concept of legacy.

Defining Your Legacy Goals

As Creatives, we have various reasons for pursuing the life we have chosen. Some of us feel it is a calling; others believe they are compelled to create; many just like to “make stuff.” When preparing to de-clutter, downsize or shut down one’s studio, it is vital to re-examine the original reasons for stepping onto the path. It is equally important to consider what you hope your legacy will be when you step off the path. This legacy goal may have changed over time so it is critical to review it prior to de-cluttering the studio.

The following categories have emerged in goal setting sessions with Creatives. They are not meant to be a definitive list - only to serve as a starting point for your own goal setting. They are also not necessarily mutually exclusive. Legacy goals impact the de-cluttering process and make a difference in how you complete Step 3.


If your primary reason for creating art is process-based, then outcome and product may be less important to you. Expression, exploration and process may take precedence over preservation of objects.


If earning income from your work has been your goal or continues to be your objective as an artist, the retention and sale of inventory requires another approach to de-cluttering. Maintaining files of shows, galleries, contacts and imagery is a critical part of selling work.


The passing on of specific knowledge and techniques is a goal of some Creatives. Artists who teach in their own studios/homes must create a dual-purpose space in which teaching, as well as art making, can take place. Adherence to safety regulations must be also be at the forefront of the clutter-free environment.


Creatives who want to play a pivotal role within their community often serve as members of committees, planning groups, boards, etc. Space needs to be provided in which to organize notes from meetings, review decisions, informational materials, mailings, notices, and the like are retained for either easy reference or for archival purposes.

STEP 2: Sort items and determine those to be retained (and or rearranged), discarded, donated or distributed.

Before beginning this step, you should be aware of some of the psychological aspects of de-cluttering that can emerge as you begin the process.

Often at the beginning of the de-cluttering process, there is a sense of euphoria and excitement that you are finally going to “get organized.” This excitement often devolves into feelings of loss, sadness, and even depression as you review each article, each material, each piece of art. For those who are chronically disorganized *, the process can be overwhelming and frustrating.

Beware of the “deprivation demon” that may appear as you discard things. Absolutely no purchases should be made save for food and other consumables required for existence while de-cluttering.

Be realistic*: If it took 20 years to collect all the clutter, it will take more than a weekend to undo it. Establish a de-cluttering calendar with 4-hour blocks of time. It often helps to arrange the time to coincide with a trash or recycling collection day. If you need physical help, hire a local youth or seek the help of friends or a professional.


Do not attempt to organize your papers at the same time you are de-cluttering the studio. Organizing paper requires a different process. Just set aside all paper for processing after you complete this phase of space de-cluttering.

* If you are a chronically disorganized person, suffer from depression or ADD, ADHD, OCD, you may not be able to adhere to this clutter busting process on your own. You may need to work with a professional organizer and or other professionals who specialize in helping the chronically disorganized.

Getting Started

Procure boxes, (a dumpster if necessary), trash bags, recycling bins, hazardous waste cans, labels, markers, and a pad of paper on which to record future “to do’s” that surface while you are working i.e., fix a window, repair the kiln, buy an air conditioner.

Next label individual boxes:

Donate: to be given away to a nonprofit or school

Retain: to be kept for your own use or enjoyment

Distribute: to be distributed (sold or gratis) to others for their use or enjoyment

More than 25% of all items in a home or studio are trash or recyclables. Therefore, sort all trash and recyclables FIRST. This will reduce the overall chaos and give you practice at letting things go. DO NOT STOP TO READ old magazines, newspaper articles, exhibition reviews. You had plenty of time to do that before you began to de-clutter. All trash should be placed in strong trash bags and removed from the studio or placed directly into a dumpster.

Next, select ONE area of the studio to work in. Set a timer and begin to sort. As you pick up an object, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I used it within the past year? If no, let it go.
  • Do I love it? If no, let it go.
  • Can someone else make better use of it? If yes, let it join the rest.

Ban the word: someday. “Someday” is not a day on the calendar.

If you get hung up and can’t make a decision, set aside the particular item until later and move on. If you get stuck continuously, you may not be clear on your purpose for de-cluttering, so go back to Step 1 or seek professional assistance.

If you are sure of the weather, another option is to set tarps up outside and to sort everything onto the tarps. Label them: Donate, Retain, Distribute. This procedure allows you to clear out the entire space at one time. You are then forced to decide if what is in your hand is important to achieving your personal, artistic and legacy goals. If not, discard it.

Continue the sorting process until everything - every scrap of paper, old invites, notebooks, nubs of pencils, broken things, doodads - have been sorted.

For larger items or materials, i.e., presses, large canvases, easels, stone, steel, etc. leave them in situ and label accordingly.

Hazardous waste should be disposed of properly.

For tax purposes, record in a small notebook all items in the donate boxes. Arrange for pick up or delivery of the donations to your favorite charity.

Next, thoroughly clean the space or hire a professional cleaning crew.

Take a breather and congratulate yourself. You are two thirds of the way through the de-cluttering process. You will be able to use your creativity during the next installment of “For Creatives” that will appear in the next ” Insights.”