A while back, I wrote a “how to do your taxes” guide for creative people, in which there was absolutely no information about how to actually do your taxes. The personal responses I received to this surprised me: there are creative people out there who, like me, struggle to get motivated to even start thinking about doing things that are really, genuinely important.
The fear of doing something wrong sometimes keeps us from getting started at all. So we put it off, put it off, then, when suddenly we can’t put it off anymore, we get overwhelmed by the doing. We mess up, get stressed out, and inevitably create a negative pathway to our brain that says, “This important thing is too important to mess up.” Which, when the time comes again next year, means that we are too afraid to get started.
This is the creative person’s circular logic.
This exact same logic is what keeps a creative person from undertaking the life-changing magic of decluttering, tidying, or whatever word you want to use to describe the process of dealing with the trash and treasures that are occupying space in our homes, and ultimately, in our hearts.
Scarcity mentality and the creative person
For my birthday this year, my husband and children picked out a few skeins of yarn they thought I might like. This was very thoughtful, and I am very appreciative of their efforts. I do love to knit, and I love it that their gift was not just a gift, a physical object, but their gift was the opportunity to dream a little, plan a little, knit a little. They gave me the gift of possibility, which, as a creative person, is like motivation juice.
However. They know nothing about knitting. To their credit, they picked out three skeins of one color, that bagel-colored mohair from a home goods store that also sells craft supplies. Then, they went to a real yarn shop. They bought me probably the most expensive yarn I have ever touched: the finest white angora fluff that has ever been spun.
I could tell by looking at it that it would be a dream to knit up. I could also tell that it wouldn’t go very far. I tried to knit it up into something small but pretty, and still ended up about fifty yards short of being able to finish it. Now what? In spite of my Buy No Clothes in 2021 Challenge, which included a caveat about not buying crafting supplies, I went back to the yarn store to see what I could do. It so happened that they bought the last skein of the color they gave me.
If you are a creative, then this has happened to you. You get within a few inches of finishing a project and realize that you are missing just that much to finish it off.
This is how crafters and creatives end up with too much stuff (that, and we are creative we are constantly biting off more than we can chew.) Just that one time of coming up short on a project is enough to create a mental pathway that tells us “always get more than you need.”
Discarding and the creative person
When a person like me reads Marie Kondo’s book where she says we should “discard anything that does not spark joy,” all theoretical, philosophical and psychological discussions of “what does joy even feel like?” aside, we scoff.
Creatives, like children, can find treasure in just about anything. For us, everything has potential. In this case, everything has potential to spark joy. A pile of long-outgrown stained onesies has the potential to spark joy. I worked in an office where we received lots and lots of mail. I kept the envelopes from the opened mail because I was enamored by all the different prints that were found inside the envelopes. This gigantic stash of recyclable paper ended up clogging my apartment for years. (Not unsurprisingly, my youngest scalawag hoards envelopes, too. This is clearly genetic.)
We creatives don’t see a pile of baby clothes, we see a very cute memory quilt. We don’t see a stack of recyclable paper, we see handmade Valentines and greeting cards.
We just can’t imagine discarding such potential.
The bravest person in the world
I was helping someone declutter last year. She had a lovely picnic basket buried deep under her desk, and I asked, “What’s in the basket?” It was needlepoint supplies.
Please don’t hear what I’m not saying: Needlepoint is a totally legit craft. Needlepointers are great people.
“Wow! You still needlepoint?” I asked. The answer was silence. “When was the last time you opened that basket?” I insisted.
“Maybe twenty years ago?” came the response.
I remember taking a deep breath, because I wanted to laugh. It was funny to me, a person on the outside, who had zero interest in needlepoint, to hear this answer. My immediate thought was, “Well, golly gee, this seems like low-hanging fruit to declutter, doesn’t it?”
Humor in these cases is best kept at a minimum. I asked her why she had bothered moving it across the country with her and why it had even changed apartments with her.
“Because I spent good money on that stuff.”
This is genuine, legitimate, honest, honorable answer.
However, if the goal is to declutter, something that has not been touched in twenty years is probably a good candidate for decluttering, no matter how much money was spent on it.
I said (not without a little fear), “Do not open it. I want you to take that basket and empty it directly into the dumpster. Do not look down. Just do it.”
And you know what? She did it and survived.
Discarding the Low Hanging Fruit
Although I had done a lot of decluttering over these last few years, I had been keeping a box and another huge bag of colorful baby onesies and little boy clothes. Finally, last summer, I got around to making a little something with some of them. It ended up cute. I mean, cute-ish. Certainly not worth all the energy it took to cut a onesie into a usable piece of fabric, but still. It was made of memories. A little throw blanket of memories.
Believe it or not, thought, this lukewarm effort at using what I had collected was not a sufficient reason to discard, donate, or pass along the items I hadn’t used. Nope. I just kept them in the basement.
And then you know what happened? The moths happened. Every single one of those cute, bright, colorful onesies and little boy t-shirts had to be thrown in the trash because moths had infested my basement.
Just don’t look
If I can give one single piece of actionable advice today for the creative person who struggles with a clutter problem, it is this: that box of stuff you haven’t touched in ten years? Do not open it. Just get rid of it. Take it to Goodwill (if you don’t have a moth problem, that is!) Someone will see that treasure and feel like they have won the lottery.
Yes, there is a feeling of wastefulness. This feeling is extremely uncomfortable, but it is one we have to own and learn from. We need to be uncomfortable trying to get rid of our clutter, so that we learn to stop buying more stuff and accumulating more clutter in the first place.
The feeling of wastefulness can be channeled into determination. The first step is to pluck the low-hanging fruit.