Thursday, March 27, 2014

Clutter Busting for artists, an interview with Brooks Palmer

In my last post I talked about my recent success tackling clutter at home and in my studio using Clutter Busting, by Brooks Palmer. I emailed Mr. Palmer and he agreed to answer some questions specific to artists. 

Liz Smith: Hi Brooks! Thanks so much for answering some questions related to your book, Clutter Busting. I’ve found your book, blog, and videos very helpful, life-changing in fact, and I’m excited to spread the word so others can purchase your products and services and experience the benefits I’m enjoying as well as support your business so you can keep doing your helpful work.

A lot of my readers are like me and run small creative businesses. I know you are also a creative person; an artist, musician, and stand up comedian. I've found your clutter busting principles very helpful in my home where it’s fairly easy to discern which objects and papers are clutter, but it’s a little harder when it comes to my studio.

I read in your book where the first glimmer of your abilities came from finding truth in an art teacher’s suggestion to start with a clear work surface so that ideas might have a place to come in.

A clear work surface is the aspirational goal of pretty much every artist I know! But it sometimes feels unattainable. Making art is messy! I have a studio where I can walk away from work in progress and close the door. When I come back it’s there, ready for further work. How can an artist tell if they need to start with a clean slate and when leaving supplies out is inspirational?

Brooks Palmer: Every artist will have different things and ways that support the art that they do. Some artists love to have their materials out and ready to go. Others like to have them put away. It’s figuring out what works best for you. I encourage people to go with what supports them rather than what would be ideal. Follow your nature. What I found works best for me is to have a clean and open space to work. Excess distracts me. Someone else works best with supplies around them. 

As far as a clean slate goes, sometimes the work an artist has been doing changes. Sometimes the style of what they do changes. Other times they change to a completely different medium. I would ask yourself, “Do I like to still do this work, or not?” Sometimes we don’t want to admit that we are tired of an old way of creating because we are scared of change. But it helps to respect the change. It will make your art more powerful.

LS: I think a lot of artists are magpies, collecting shiny bits that excite us. I know I get a thrill when I see the hidden potential in discarded or found objects where others might see only trash. Of course this leads to a studio filled with boxes of other peoples’ trash. What advice do you have for folks who actually do use found objects in their work but might have collected too much?

BP: I would encourage the artist who likes to work with found art to go through each object and ask if they still like it, do they want to create with it, or not. It’s okay to say, “No” to something. You want to thin out whatever doesn't inspire you. When we are overwhelmed with things that don’t serve us, part of us shuts down, and we are less effective in our creativity and art.

LS: When I was younger the possibilities of what I could make seemed endless. I felt that addictive high shopping for art supplies, any creative path was possible. Now I’m older and for instance, I know I am not going to be a soapmaker so I got rid of all the soapmaking supplies I collected.

On the other hand, my sewing interest lay dormant for decades and seems recently to be coming into full bloom. The fabrics I've been collecting may have seemed like clutter before but now seem relevant. How should artists make decisions about collecting art supplies so they aren't spending too much, going from exciting purchase high to exciting purchase high, or drowning in unused materials, but still leave themselves open to the possibility they may one day work in a different medium?

BP: When we collect things that we don’t use, it creates a stagnant effect in our living space. There’s a dullness in the air that affects us. I encourage people to let go of what they don’t use. You don’t want to live in a warehouse. When you let go of what you don’t love, it makes the space more vibrant and alive and makes for better creativity. If and when you need new things, there are plenty of places to get it. Even cheaply.

LS: So many artists have told me stories about how they kept something they “Might use someday” and then they did! This is a powerful reason a lot of them cite for holding on to everything. What would you say to them?

BP: When you hold on to everything, there is going to be a moment when you end up needing something in your pile of things. But when hold on to everything, you live in a very distracting environment. The silence that you need for creativity is dispelled. That doesn't mean you live with nothing. Everyone is going to have a certain amount of things that suits him or her. When you take an honest inventory of your things, and let go of the things that don’t serve and inspire you, you live and create in an environment that supports you.

LS: I know you give the excellent advice that a home should not be a warehouse, that it is a space for living, but art studios do sort of become storage spaces for art supplies. Is there a way to balance storage and workspace all in one room?

BP: Again, that’s going to be a personal thing for each person. One person can creatively live with more art supplies than another person. It’s figuring out what way works best for you. That’s why I encourage the honest inventory. By looking at how you work, you see what things support you and which don’t.

LS: Except for pieces I've sold or given away, I pretty much have all the artwork I've ever made from kindergarten through today. How do I let go of art that shows my progression throughout my lifetime? Isn't this important information I should keep and learn from?

BP: There are no shoulds. You’re looking to see which things support, encourage and inspire your creativity and which distract and get in the way. Some people get inspired by seeing their old work, others get overwhelmed. I remember a documentary on the painter Francis Bacon. He was feeling stuck and uninspired with his work. So he destroyed all his old paintings. Out of that came a fresh and strong period of new work.

LS: In your opinion, is holding on to old artwork detrimental to creating new work?  

BP: It depends on the person. From my own experience, when I let go of art that I don’t care about anymore, I end up creating a fresh new batch of work. Take an honest look at your art and see if it fits and supports your creative life or not. Sometimes something that once made a positive difference in your life doesn't anymore. You’re not putting down the art by letting it go. It had a positive place in your life, and now it’s time to move on.

LS: Thanks, Brooks! I appreciate you taking the time to apply your Clutter Busting method to the artist's life. I hope people will take a look at your book and blog to learn how to do the things your suggest. For me, the most important thing I learned in your books is to approach all of this with kindness and compassion.

In his fourteen years of Clutter Busting in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City, Brooks Palmer realized the intense emotional connection most people have with material possessions, and that internal clutter must be addressed before external clutter can be discarded. He created his Clutter Busting method to help people let go of those things they no longer need and to open the doors for new possibilities.

Brooks Palmer's Clutter Busting business took off by word of mouth when people began calling, usually out of sheer desperation. He has since been featured on the TV show Raising Whitely on the Oprah Winfrey Network, in The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Business Journal and Daily Candy, and on Living Live, Chicagoing and the CBS Channel 2 Nightly News. Brooks travels between Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City, working with clients and offering seminars on getting rid of the clutter in our lives. He lives in Chicago.

Brooks speaks regularly to diverse groups around the country, including: businesses, women's groups, Rotary Club, health expos, senior citizens groups & yoga centers. Brooks also enjoys writing cartoons, drawing pastel paintings, and performing comedy at live venues. Brooks is also a singer-songwriter. His alternative folk albums, Brooks Takes His Time, and Shake the Sun are available on Amazon MP3 downloads.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Learning to manage clutter at home and in my studio

My studio crammed with great stuff and also CLUTTER
I've been reading Clutter Busting by Brooks Palmer and it’s changed my life. Seriously. I have always been what I consider a pack-rat. I knew I collected too much stuff, but I didn't understand how living with so much stuff that I didn’t love or use was crushing my spirit, quietly, daily.

I admit I have been in a bit of a lull these past two years. Things have been status quo in my business and life, not unpleasantly so. I figured that maybe after going on Martha Stewart in 2010 I had already peaked and my best days were behind me.

I have wanted to “Do something about the clutter” in my studio and home for years. I kept saying, ‘My thirties were for acquiring and my 40s will be for divesting!” Then I found myself 44 years old, galloping toward 45 and still not making major changes. In January 2014 I started cleaning efforts in my 434 sq foot studio, but it felt painful and like a miserable task. I worried I might be making mistakes letting some things go. I gritted my teeth through it and kept at it, but it was no fun.

My studio in 2007 when I started moving in
When I first moved into this space in 2007 I brought art supplies from my home in Lowell, MA and from my old home where I grew up in Newton, MA where my parents still live and where I had been storing things. I threw everything into the studio and said “Now it’s all in one place finally. Now I can go through everything and sort it!” But I didn't, I put it up on shelves in boxes and covered it with curtains and instead dealt with the day to day needs of my creative business.

Our condo view Lowell, MA
In 2000 my husband and I moved into a 736 sq ft condo in an old mill building. I love it. It’s got so much potential, nice open spaces, huge windows, and impressive 4th floor canal views of handsome downtown Lowell. Nothing has been updated since it was built out in 1988. I took to calling it “The before picture.” We never seemed to have the finances to start renovations. Plus we had so much stuff in there, it was a daunting idea even thinking about moving everything to redo the floors or paint the walls.

Some of my vintage fabric scraps
I make things out of felt and polymer clay in my studio. I knit and crochet at home. Then in the past two years I started hand sewing as a hobby, also at home. I collected box after box of beautiful designer quilting fabric scraps from other makers. I bought little pieces of gorgeous fabrics at Gather Here. I unearthed my vintage fabric collection from my studio. I sorted them all by color into clear plastic boxes with lids. These boxes started to take over the living room. I wracked my brain: “How could I find better storage for these fabrics in my home??” No area, no furniture seemed to work for the purpose.

Then I read Clutter Busting, and busted a few pieces of clutter unrelated to my art supplies. I was inspired by his anecdotes of working with actual people and their struggles. I started with the junk drawer in my kitchen. Brooks tells us that when we start to let clutter go, any amount, it creates room in our heads for new ideas to come in. That clutter, even clutter hidden away in boxes or closets, emits a low distracting hum that fogs our thinking, saps our energy, and makes decisions difficult. With clutter gone we can think clearly again. But what I find so amazing is that you don’t have to finish clutter busting to get the benefits! You just have to start.

The biggest relief for me is that deciding, and actually letting things go is not upsetting like it used to be. I used to get rid of things but it felt awful and at the first difficult decision I would abandon the task and never return. I still have feelings associated with my belongings, but the emotions move through and don't leave me traumatized. I am able to return to the task day after day with more and more energy and purpose. Making decisions about EVERYTHING has become easier, even what to make for dinner! If something I'm trying to bust proves too tough to deal with, I set it aside and work on something easier, then I go back to the difficult thing later and it's usually doable.

With my new clutter busting vision switched on, I could decide which items I loved and/or found useful in my life right now, and which items I could let go. I knew I loved those fabrics! I wanted to keep them and make things from them. But not in my house. Suddenly I thought “I have a STUDIO, for MAKING things. Why aren't I sewing in my studio??” That’s when I realized what anyone else could have seen from miles away: my studio clutter was making me reluctant to create there. Now I knew my fabric wasn't a storage problem in my home, my reluctance to make things in my studio was a clutter problem in my studio.

So begins my journey! I've emailed Brooks Palmer and asked if he would be willing to answer some questions about clutter busting issues specific to artists. I'll post that interview later this week. In the mean time, check out his blog and see if the information and methods he uses are helpful to you. If so, let's support his one-man business and buy his books! He even does phone consults at very reasonable rates. 

Note: I'm not receiving anything for this endorsement, I'm spreading the word all on my own because I'm so excited about my new improved life!

I’ll see you soon, I gotta go bust some clutter.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fresh start, new beginnings, spring cleaning!

Hi there,

So I just wanted to thank you for watching/listening to my TV interview show, Makers in Business for the past two years! Along with Catherine Zaker, and all the fine folks at local access TV in Lowell,, and my fantastic artist guests, we made 22 episodes and I could not be more thrilled with them!

When I started the project I was in a bit of a personal funk. Making the show was an attempt to snap out of it. I wanted to try something scary, new, outside my wheelhouse. It was very effective and I enjoyed it tremendously. And I met some amazing people, got to record the stories of makers I admire greatly, and enrich the community with their experiences.

But Makers in Business as a TV show has ended. My interview with the charming Mark Fisher is the last episode for this run. I may bring the series back in another format in the future as a podcast only, or in print. But for now Makers in Business is on indefinite hiatus.

Of course this tugs my heart! But it is also the right thing to do right now and I am pleased with my decision. I will leave all the video episodes up and available on Vimeo and the Audio on PodBean/iTunes at least through the end of the year 2014. But I do pay for these services and I don't know how much longer I will do that beyond this year. We'll see.

Soon I will share the exciting things I am doing in 2014 including telling you about a life-changing book that is helping me finally clear clutter and feel better at the same time! I never dreamed that was possible. I'll post about my personal experience then run an interview I did with the book's author asking him questions specific to artists and clutter. Stay tuned! I think you will find it very interesting.

Thanks again!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Makers in Business with Liz Smith Ep 210 Mark Fisher

Mark Fisher is a sculptor AND a graphic designer with a long, interesting career. Listen in as I find out how he incorporates both disciplines into his making life.

Link to the video on Vimeo:

Find the audio only version of this interview here:

Or subscribe on iTunes

Find mark Fisher online here:

My show airs locally in Lowell on LTC Comcast Channel 8 on Tuesdays at 6:30 PM and Thursdays at 8:30. New shows monthly. For more information about Lowell Local Access TV, visit