The Creative Benefits of Decluttering

In a chapter of The Artist’s Way for Parents Julia Cameron talks about the benefits of decluttering. I wholeheartedly concur. A lot of people nowadays comment on how organized I am (and I do hear the silent amendment of “terrifyingly” on that, don’t think I don’t hear it.)

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That organized version of myself did not come about until my early twenties. There were traces of her when I was young, but since the people I lived with were very particular – in the no one is ever good enough way – I kind of drifted without much in the way of skills. Any attempts to clean or organize were things I was badgered into, only to watch all my work redone while listening to a litany of failures that that person had assigned to me, completely free of any actual observation of my behavior. Only fear – fear of being late, fear of missing classes – kept me all that together. When it came to my personal living space beyond things I immediately needed, well, kablooey.

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During my first marriage, our apartment became more and more of a pit. It depressed me. I had to climb over things to check my email, to write, to sleep at night. Since I worked a full time job and my ex spent his time either in school or playing video games, little ever got done about the mess. He kept me in clean laundry (though my dry clean only clothing was destroyed) and we lived in an eternal standoff over the dishes. Everything else we owned sort of got strewn around in physical markings of our streams of consciousness. Then one day during grad school, I magically hit my clutter limit. I’m not sure why, and I swear it wasn’t because of one of my fires. I just suddenly looked at all the shit we’d accumulated and couldn’t take it anymore. It took me almost forty five days and a near walkout from my ex over throwing things away he hadn’t wanted me to (he had some serious packrat/abandonment problems) but after all the grit-teeth sorting through I discovered we still had a beautiful apartment underneath it all. As I finished, I also found a depression I’d had hovering over me since shortly after our marriage had lifted.

Nowadays my approach isn’t quite so extreme. I like Cameron’s 15 minute method – pick a task, focus on it for 15 minutes, see what clears up. I have also noticed a distinct link between my creative energy and clutter. If I feel too weighed down by stuff, I struggle to create. If I get rid of stuff – or at least get stuff on walls and off the floor – I have more creative energy for a longer period. (I have a running theory that while creative energy is infinite, it only actually flows through the brain for a set amount of time. You can increase that amount of time with daily work as you can increase muscle mass with regular exercise, but even so, you still only get a finite amount per session.) I don’t have any non-dramatic declutters of late; narrowing down the stuff in an apartment from a three story townhouse to a three bedroom flat is never easy.

I am happy to say that once free of the stuff – even the sentimental stuff – it’s easier to write. It’s easier to find things fast, which gets me on the road to writing faster. It’s just easier to be.

I know some people vaunt the clutter as a sign of their creativity. Me, I don’t need the status symbols, not even the stylish messes. I’d rather have the crap out of my way and get to work.