How to Kill Your Clutter [It's Easier Than You Think]

For years I told myself a lie, “Artists are naturally messy, and inspiration needs have lots of stuff to strike.” At the same time, I spent too many hours collecting Pinterest boards of beautiful organized craft rooms. Photos of paint bottles lined up on shelves, tools hanging on pegboards within easy reach, color pencils sorted by the shades of a rainbow.

If my muse loved to work in a disorganized mess then why was I so drawn to these images?

When inspiration came, the clutter and mess of my studio would try and kill it. I had to move things off my desk and chair to be able to sit down with my sketchbook. Then I had to dig through my supplies to find exactly what I was looking for. I was afraid to move around too much for fear of knocking something over. So, some days, it was easier to just ignore the inspiration and tell myself that I would come back to it, but I never would.

Do you think that if you aren’t surrounded by your piles of “pretty” stuff that you wouldn’t find inspiration? The truth is, your muse really needs freedom to work.

Clutter is killing your time.

Imagine your space is clear, you can see all your supplies, and your tools are ready for you. You know exactly what to do, you can just sit down and work. But if you have to wade through piles of visual clutter your brain can’t focus. It doesn’t know what is important or where to start.

Ask yourself, why do you love working in coffee shops and book stores, or sitting on our couch? Could it be because you have space to work without the distraction of all your stuff? I say yes.

The good news: You have a mom superpower. Moms are masters of efficiency. A study from the Federal Reserve bank of St. Louis found that over 30 years, moms got more done at work than women who didn’t have children. In fact, the most efficient workers were moms who had two or more children. (The same, by the way, is true for men--fathers who had two or more kids were more efficient than their childless counterparts.)

It’s time to use this Mom Superpower on your art habits and environment.

Clutter is killing your brain.

The kids are napping. You have a good half hour to hour of time well you can get stuff done without interruption. On the one hand, the possibilities are endless. You can do some house chores. Or work on one of your projects. or take a shower or get something to eat.

But when faced with all these possibilities, your brain shuts down. You have options, but making one more decision in the world of decisions that you have to make every day is just too much.

Clutter is killing your creativity

Mess creates stress, and stress is a killer of creativity. When your space is filled with STUFF, it is constantly reminding you of all the other things that you need to do--the bills to pay, the dishes to wash, the clothes to put away.

Creative thrives with boundaries. Imagine you are participating in an art challenge, and you have 10 prompts to chose from--but you have to pick and paint only one. You are going to spend a lot of time figuring out which prompt to work on and might change your mind several times, and even second guess yourself halfway through. Your artistic brain is going to flit from idea to idea like a fickle butterfly.

Now imagine you have only one prompt, one prompt to hone your imagination onto with laser focus. No more decision fatigue. No more waffling. Your choices have been limited, and your imagination has been given the freedom to do what she does best.

The Solution

The first thing you need to understand is the difference between visual stimulation and clutter. You can have a space that filled with beautiful textures and colors and inspiration while also having a space clear of clutter.

Here are some examples of spaces that are free of clutter, but rich in visual stimulation:

Organizing shouldn’t be hard.

The problem is, you’ve probably been taught to do it wrong.

All of my adult life I believed I was just messy and lazy. I couldn’t ever seem to keep things neat or put away. My Clothes always ended up on the floor, and things didn’t go back into drawers.

The harder I tried to get rid of stuff and organize what was left, the more frustrated I got. I had so many bins and dividers and labels for everything. But still, I couldn’t seem to get it right.

Then one day, I discovered Cas at Clutterbug. For the first time, I learned that my problem wasn’t that I was a messy person, it was that I didn’t organize like everyone else. There are actually four different organizing styles, which she names after four kinds of bugs: the Cricket, the Bee, the Lady Bug, and the Butterfly.

First, ask yourself, do I thrive on visual abundance or visual simplicity?

  • Visual abundance: Do you like to see all of your stuff? Do you forget about the things that are put away--out of sight, out of mind?
  • Visual simplicity: Do you like having everything put away, out of sight?

Then ask, do I like simple organization systems or complex detailed organization systems?

  • Simple Organizing systems: Do you like to use big baskets and bins, hooks instead of hangers? Do you sort things into big categories like (paper, tape, wood)?
  • Complex organizing systems: Do you like to use small containers or dividers inside of drawers and shelves to sort your big categories into their subcategories?

The Cricket

Micro Organizers and minimal visual stimulation.

The Cricket wants visual simplicity but detailed systems. She likes things out of sight in baskets, fabric bins, drawers or closet. But pens and pencils and highlighters must be separated into their own bins. This is the organizing type you find most often in stores and in magazines.

The LadyBug

Macro Organizer and minimal visual stimulation.

The Ladybug wants visual simplicity but simple systems. She likes things out of sight in baskets, fabric bins, drawers or closet. But she throws all her pens and pencils into one drawer and doesn’t worry about sorting them.

The Bee

Micro Organizer and loves visual stimulation.

The Bee wants visual abundance, but detailed systems. She wants to be able to see what she has in a glance, with open shelves, clear bins, or wire baskets. But she has to sort her stamps by size and theme.

The Butterfly

Macro Organizer but loves visual stimulation.

The Butterfly wants visual abundance, but simple systems. She wants to be able to see what she has in a glance, with open shelves, clear bins, or wire baskets. But all her stamps on into one clear bin without a lid. This is the most underrepresented organizing style.

It turns out, I am a Butterfly! I love visual stimulation. I have to SEE all of my stuff. If it is out of sight, I forget I have it. I often buy duplicates of things I already own but are tucked away out of sight. I need to use see-through bins without lids or use big labels that clearly spell out what is inside. I love mason jars and open shelves.

I also need very SIMPLE organization systems. Anything that requires more than one step just isn’t going to work for me. I can hang my coat and purse on a hook. But If I have to open a closet door, take out a hanger, put the coat on the hanger, and then put it back into the closet and close the door… no. Not going to happen.

So, now it’s your turn. Finding your organizing style is life-changing. When you don’t have to fight against a system that isn’t working for you, keeping things tidy becomes so much easier. Which means you have more time. And for busy moms, time is king.

To Summarize

Artist moms need more time, energy, and space to create. To do that, you have to get rid of the stuff that is getting in the way. Get rid of the clutter and find a way that works for you to organize what’s left.

Megan Stringfellow