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Sally Hughes - 23 Oct 2017


The process has allowed me to create space literally and mentally, and I have a place to be where I can thrive creatively. My home and studio are filled with objects that bring me joy, I am surrounded by beautiful things!

Julia Cameron, author of one of my favourite books on creativity The Artists Way, wrote a pertinent sentiment recently on her Facebook wall 'Clearing clutter, we make room for insight. We literally clear our minds'. This got me thinking...

In the busyness of everyday life, making time for creative practice can end up low on the list of priorities. After a day at the laptop I find it challenging to motivate myself to create, and then in my own time I am a pro at procrastination. I motivate myself by promising to take at least one tiny step, and I usually succeed. In fact, the tiny step I take tends to lead to greater things.

I have been reflecting on the impact my environment has on my creativity. I have observed that when I am in an ordered, clutter free and beautiful environment, my creativity thrives differently to when I am in a messy space with lack of natural light and nothing beautiful to look at.

Master of sublimely beautiful interiors in the Arts and Crafts era, William Morris, said 'Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful'. I thought I would experiment with tidying up and see if any new insights came into awareness. What I found was gratitude and peace.

A little while ago I was browsing Pinterest and came across the Konmari method for decluttering. This peaked my interest so I delved a bit deeper. I learnt that Marie Kondo, a Japanese tidying expert, had a simple way to work out what stuff to keep and what to discard. 'Hold an object in your hand and ask yourself if it brings you joy'. Being a joy seeker, I was enthralled. 

I laboured through every corner of the house, holding objects and feeling the joy, or not.  There is a massive pile of bags full of stuff waiting to go to the charity shop.

But, the house is tidy, it is beautiful, clear, clutter free, I have created space. Even the sock draw, thanks to KonMari, is beautiful. The recommended technique for storing items of clothing is folding. There are many examples on Pinterest and videos on Youtube that show you how to fold. It does make a difference - things take up less space and are easier to see. It is a very pleasing process.

Marie talks about trying to empathise with the relief the sock that is folded kindly feels now it isn't scrunched up in a ball tightly. Even for me and my wacky view of the world, this may be a step too far. But then I tried to understand where she may be coming from. On a quantum level, all matter is made up of the same stuff, so I tried to understand it that way.

But the way of conceptualising it that sits most comfortably with me is that I would want to feel gratitude for the objects that make my life comfortable. So thank you, Marie Kondo, for bringing gratitude for objects into my life.

As I walked this morning, pondering how to compose this blog, I noticed a clarity in my thoughts. I am interested in Buddhism and Mindfulness, in particular the idea that a mind is like the clear blue sky, our thoughts are the clouds, they come and go, sometimes thick and heavy, sometimes light and airy. But they are just thoughts. This tidying process seems to have shifted my understanding of how the thoughts in my mind tend to dominate. I see now that engaging with the objects I have through tidying has had a meditative quality. I have reconnected with the things that surround me. I have created space literally and this has allowed for space to emerge in my internal world too, it's rather peaceful!

I think Julia Cameron is spot on. By tidying my physical environment, my internal environment has become less cluttered, there is more room for thinking creatively. I am more in control of the chitter chatter in my mind. The act of committing to taking creative space in which to explore with materials and through drawing and making brings this same kind of meditative quality.

The process has allowed me to create space literally and mentally, and I have a place to be where I can thrive creatively. My home and studio are filled with objects that bring me joy, I am surrounded by beautiful things!

A great place from which to begin afresh with maintaining a creative practice with the coming of the new season. Here's to finding gratitude and peace.



Ralph Pettingill

Thanks again Sally. I've been interested in an approach called GTD ("Getting things done") which I came across a few years ago. It's helped me on my way, in terms of organising the things around me, whether they're documents, tools, books.. This helped me build a small workshop ; it's finished enough to use, and I get pleasure just being in a lovely space that I designed and made myself, even though I didn't have 'design /building legacy ' to draw on. A friend and I had been talking about improving our immediate environment, as a way of taking our efforts seriously and looking after ourselves. I love the way my workshop/ shed looks- it has a 'green roof' where wildflowers grow in the summer. I hadn't thought I could beautify the interior, but your article makes me think that I can....and it might even be a way of nurturing my creative impulse..


Julie Millward

I really enjoyed reading this, Sally - thank you for sharing. I have arrived at much the same conclusions as you, but via a quite different route. Five years ago, I found myself having to clear my parents' house when my father died and my mother - suffering from dementia - went into residential care. Working my way through the accumulated goods and chattels that remained of their sixty-year married life was a testing and tearful process, but one that made me resolve not to leave behind a similar task for my own children.
I've since downsized, sorted, decluttered, streamlined and refined to such an extent I would say I now possess probably about a fifth of what I had originally. I'm practically on first-name terms with the staff at the local recycling centre and at the charity shops, and I met loads of interesting people who came to collect stuff I put on freecycle!
The unanticipated result is just as you say - I've cleared a creative space that is enabling me to see and think so much more clearly. I just wish I had done it sooner.
(I still have two enormous boxes containing photographs and practically everything my four children ever committed to paper, but that's a project for the coming winter evenings...)

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