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.


  1. Thanks for the interview! It is interesting to look at clutter from the artist's perspective. I like clean slates, but also have a very practical need to keep some works in progress, which quickly leads to clutter. I also have much of my artwork and can't seem to let it go! I'm off to check out the book!

  2. Great interview! I'm so ready to do some serious clutter busting.