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.


  1. Your father and I loved this post. We have been so grateful to you for telling us about Brooks Palmers' books and Blog post. This got us started clutter busting 50 years' worth of clutter in a nine room house. Brooks's approach made it possible. Many thanks.

  2. i totally relate to this post!
    i always think i'll get around to it and don't. i'll have to check out the book.my art supplies are overwhelming ;)

  3. I'll be looking forward to that interview!...By the way, great view of Lowell! :-)

  4. Happy for you, your decluttering seems to be quite positive for you, as far as I can judge from your tweets. Not that I'm surprised, I'm a convinced declutterer. :)

    Looking forward to that interview too, as I've been playing with the subject of creative/clutter in my head, lately! One thing that helps a lot, I find, is to sample. I should definitely write a proper blog post about it. :)

  5. Liz, I'm glad your clutter busting vision got switched on! And that you are taking back your studio from your clutter. Thanks for inspiring people to let go of what's no longer serving them!

  6. I'm so glad you recommended that book to me through Twitter last month. My problem hasn't been so much the letting go of things, as it has been the inertia of letting it pile up. The bagging and donating of the things felt too overwhelming to begin. I had several years (and 11 big garbage bags) of clothes my kids have outgrown and things my husband and I no longer want taking up precious space in our bedroom. It looked terrible and made me not want to be in there. With that stuff finally donated, now I can focus on decluttering other areas of the bedroom. Soon, it will actually be the sanctuary it should be. Very happy about that!

    Good for you, for taking steps! And thank you for sharing with the rest of us :-)