As long as I’ve been an artist I’ve yearned for a spacious, organized, beautiful studio to create in. Instead I’ve always felt cramped and cluttered, the sheer weight of stuff — in piles, in drawers, in cupboards — creating an irritating psychic hum that I can’t escape.
Like the sound of a jackhammer at the next house over, it’s something you get used to, but it’s a constant drain.
When I see someone else’s well-organized, uncluttered studio, I feel a rush of many emotions at once:
Envy (I want that, too!)
Shame (There must be something wrong with me that I can’t create that…)
Despair (I’ll never have a studio like that…)
For years I’ve felt intense embarrassment whenever someone enters my workspace. The fact that it’s upstairs makes it easier to keep informal visitors out of it, but it’s not possible to keep everyone out, and I cringe every time someone steps in the door. I don’t want to see the look in their eyes. I imagine they will think less of me when they encounter the truth…
“I’m an artist, not a housekeeper,” I’ve learned to say, and this is true. But beneath this truth is another one that I can’t avoid: a person can be an artist, and have a clean, organized, uncluttered studio!
Oh, how I long to be that kind of person!
Transforming Identity & the True Solution
Making that kind of identity transformation is not easy. If it were, I’d already have the kind of studio that other people search for pictures of to pin on their “Studio Porn” Pinterest boards.
For a long time I’ve been convinced that the true solution would be found in more: more and better organizational systems, more and better containers, more space — if only I had the money to afford a warehouse, a loft, or just a larger home with three bedrooms instead of two, so I could use two whole rooms for my studio!
More recently I’ve been coming to terms with the opposite idea: that the true solution will be found in less.
Less stuff will mean I need less stuff!
Less stuff means fewer containers and less furniture to store it, and less time to put it away.
Less stuff means more floor space and airspace and mental space.
Coming to this realization has been huge, but still, letting go of my stuff is hard. Sometimes it’s stuff I cling to because I think I might want to use it again, and I’ll be so frustrated if I don’t have it when I want it. But it can go deeper than that.
Reasons We Hold On
Sometimes letting go of stuff means acknowledging a mistake, like the hardwired Ikea lights I bought when I moved into this place… then never had installed… I feel a weird sense of guilt (or false guilt, really, since I haven’t actually hurt anyone and am not truly culpable), a feeling that I should be using this thing, whatever it is. So I hold onto it… but still don’t use it.
Of course, if it’s still in my space, I’m bombarded regularly with that same false guilty feeling! When I let it go, I’m no longer reminded of the mistake.
Sometimes letting go of stuff means turning the page on a chapter of my life that’s over, but that I’ve been reluctant to completely leave behind. Like the dozens of full-size samples of my ketubah prints that I paid good money to have archivally bagged with foam core boards, to display in my booth at wedding faires. I haven’t done a wedding faire since 2009, and have no desire to do one ever again, yet there’s still a fear of burning bridges.
I’m learning, though, that space and freedom are more important to me than bridges to old paths I’m no longer interested in walking.
Sometimes something gets stuck in my space because I can’t figure out where to take it. I’m loathe to send anything to landfill if I can avoid it, but what the heck do I do with the two old halogen photo light sets, for example? The reflectors and stands are perfectly good, but three out of the four lights themselves — the piece that the lightbulb screws into, with a cord that plugs into the wall — no longer work, and are probably not fixable, nor even worth fixing.
I’ve also learned that in order to clear out my own space, I have to be ruthless, which sometimes, yes, means landfill.
You’re Ready When You’re Ready
I’ve made multiple passes at clutterbusting over the past several years. Each one has been good… but not enough to get me the studio of my dreams. For that, more drastic measures were required than I was capable of taking at the time.
I just wasn’t ready to let go of enough to get me there.
Now I feel like I’m finally ready to go the distance. It may take me much more than the month of April to get there, but I have a sense of calm and ease this time. I’m finally ready to release my grip on so much that I was clinging to before.
I think holding onto stuff gave me a false sense of security. Something has shifted lately, so that the stuff I’ve been clinging too feels more like chains constricting me and weighing me done than like safety. Letting go feels like freedom.
I should be clear: I’m not dispensing with all my worldly goods. I am, however, acknowledging that, as Ann, one of the members of The Great ClutterBust put it, everything in my life is borrowed: my stuff, my home, my body. I own nothing — I’m just borrowing it for the time I get to use it in this life.
Knowing that everything is borrowed is helping me to choose more carefully what I want to surround myself with.
It’s like a library (another idea from the brilliant Ann): I don’t want to borrow every book, just the ones that are relevant, uplifting, or useful, and that I plan to actually read during the check-out period!
I’m painfully aware, all of a sudden, of just how many “overdue books” I’ve been hoarding…
Community: the Real Power Boost
Some time ago I went from ready to eager. Suddenly I was champing at the bit to clear out my excess stuff.
Even with my new state of readiness, though, I knew doing it alone would be rough going. So I did something really smart: I rallied a community around me, and created The Great ClutterBust.
There are 31 of us in The Great ClutterBust as of this writing (and more continue to trickle in). We share “before” and “after” pics of our spaces. We cheer each other on. We share resources. We empathize.
Most days there’s some kind of live session, either preplanned or spontaneous, in which those who are available can check in to say what we’re planning on tackling, then we go off and clutterbust in our own spaces, together. In today’s “live” ClutterBust session people cleared out closets and shelves, I wrote some wedding thank you notes (mental clutter that’s been weighing me down!) and drove my packed-to-the-gills car down to RAFT, where they happily took everything off my hands, including those old photo lights!
As the brilliant Ann pointed out, we used to think “Score!” when we found some wonderful object to bring into our homes. Now we’re thinking “Score!” each time we get rid of something!
And astonishingly, we’re having fun! This herculean task I’ve been avoiding for so many years has become fun! Who knew?
That’s the power of community. We energize each other. Our enthusiasm is infectious.
(Even husbands are getting involved! When I first told Miracle Man of my plan to run The Great ClutterBust, his response was “But I don’t want to clutterbust!” I assured him he didn’t have to. Then, what do you know, he started getting fired up by what I was doing, and joined in! Other members have reported similar husband-buy-in.)
Unearthing the Studio of My Dreams
Before the official start of The Great ClutterBust, someone posted in our private Facebook group a report on what she referred to as her “desk archaeology.” Oh my goodness, what an apt metaphor! My desk, every drawer and cupboard and shelf and surface in my studio (and home!) are like archaeological sites that my job is to dig through, sorting the metaphorical dirt from the treasures.
This is a big job. A Very Big Job. But shovelful by shovelful, I am unearthing the studio of my dreams, and that feels so good.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!