Creative Clutter, Kon Mari, and Consumerism
Updated: Jan 18
Clutter, clutter everywhere.
If you're anything like me, your creative space may, at this very moment, be strewn with a dragon's hoard of sparkly, colorful knick knacks and wonderfully weird ephemera. One of the reasons I'm so eager to peek into the studio spaces of my artist friends is to see their own creative treasure collections. Whether it's a whole bin dedicated to paper scraps, a shelf full of dolls' heads, or bowl brimming with buttons, I've found it can be easy for creative people to... accumulate things.
I have a few theories as to why this is the case.
1. We see beauty in things that others may not readily appreciate.
Driftwood, marbles, broken toys, ugly sweaters. One of the gifts of an artist is the ability to see the magic in mundane things. You getting rid of that box of old doilies? We'll take 'em!
2. We see so much potential in things.
Much like we can appreciate the beauty in old junk, creative people can find uses for almost anything! Rusty nuts and bolts? Old photos of strangers? Back issues of Cat Fancy? We can use it in a project!
3. We need tools and supplies to explore and perfect our craft.
Whether it's a selection of paint brushes, multiple shades of yellow thread, or paper in a variety of colors and textures, many of us need to collect the tools to make our magic. Additionally, if we're learning new things and working to improve, we may collect books, instructional videos, or other reference materials. This may be more or less of a challenge, depending on the things we like to make, and what gets us inspired. A violinist may get away with a very minimal setup, but for found-object assemblage, collage, or scrapbooking, a bit of clutter comes with the territory.
4. We love a good deal
Just like anyone else, artists love a good deal. Reduced price oil paints! 70% off all stickers! Do I need two dozen miniature aluminum Christmas trees? No. Do I have a project in mind for them? No. But they were on sale!
We're not here to judge anyone for the aforementioned Christmas trees, or for any other collection of stuff. Each of us cultivates our creative juice factory in our own way, and surrounding ourselves with the objects and tools that inspire us is often a key part of that.
But I am here to offer you a few thoughts...
There is such a thing as too much- I can't say how much, because that's different for everyone.
Some of us are easily overwhelmed by clutter and, at some point, have to go and Kon Mari that stuff.
Others of us do just fine with our piles of treasure, but just can't find that tool that we need, because it's buried beneath everything else, and we guess we'll just have to buy another one... You feel me?
Now, I'm not about to say we need to get rid of everything. I'm not even gonna say we need to get rid of anything. But I am here to advocate mindfulness around our collections. When everyone was decluttering their closets, trying to "spark joy," thrift stores and donation centers were overwhelmed with a deluge of stuff. Clothing and home goods, and tchotchkes were sent to landfills and garbage dumps and shipped off to developing countries for "recycling." And when we grab every shiny new thing just because it's on sale, is it really enriching our creative practice? Or is it's glimmer getting lost in the pile?
I suggest that we approach our accumulation of stuff with the eye of a curator. When we bring a new treasure into our creative caves, let us ask, what does it add? How does it shine in my space? Can I give it a good home? Furthermore, we would all do well to better appreciate the booty we've already scored. Are we displaying it to its greatest potential? Would these art prints better inspire us if we got around to hanging them on the wall? Would we use these neat-o watercolor pencils more often if we displayed them on our desk in a jar? Let us appreciate what we already have before we go piling on.
And if it really doesn't spark joy anymore, don't underestimate the power of a good art supply swap! Re-gift those special things we didn't end up using (I'm looking at you, Mega Set of 100 Gel Pens). Find a Buy-Nothing Group on Facebook or a FreeCycle group in your city. And if you're feeling entrepreneurial, there's nothing wrong with a good old yard sale.
As we enter into the season of shopping, what approach do you take to the accumulation of stuff? Are you a maximalist? A minimalist? A curator of curiosities? I’d love to know your approach...