Have you ever seen those shows about hoarding? They seem to be pretty mainstream these days. I find them both disturbing yet strangely fascinating from a psychological standpoint. What makes someone a hoarder?
Hoarding, as defined by the Mayo Clinic is “...persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation, regardless of actual value, occurs.”
There are a number of reasons people hoard. Some articles I read classified it as obsessive compulsive disorder while others said it may have been caused by some type of trauma.
You may be wondering what this has to do with art and creativity. While this is a magnified example, I think many people assign emotional value to inanimate objects and then struggle with getting rid of the object, even if it no longer serves a purpose. What’s the matter with having ‘stuff' hanging around, you ask? Well, it is not only the physical space it takes up, but the emotional space, as well. For example, is there a room, space, or closet in your house that you avoid a little? Maybe it’s a drawer that is slightly broken and over-filled with tangled wires, headphones, and chargers that makes you -sigh- when you are forced to open it (I don’t know who that could be...ahem, ahem). Think of the slight energy drain you feel. Even if only a little, it weighs you down in that moment. Now think of a time when you cleaned something out and how good it felt. What a pleasure it was to be in that space and maybe you even go back to admire it because it gives you that little boost every time you see it. What I’m trying to illustrate here is that things can take up emotional energy. Emotional energy that could be put towards much better things, like creativity!
I have spoken with many artists on this topic and art supply hoarding tends to come with the territory. I think this is especially true of mixed media artists who often leap between mediums. I wonder if there is some type of genetic material deeply encoded in an artist’s brain to collect and keep things. There have been multiple instances when something pops into my head that I’ve been hanging onto for years and it would be PERFECT for the project I’m working on now........10 years later. How do you get rid of something that might be perfect for a future project? This is what I would call the gray area of purging. While the object may not have current value, it holds potential for future value. So why, then, should I get rid of something that may hold value for me? The reason is that THINGS may just be taking up valuable emotional space!
Which leads me to.......drum roll please......my art supplies. I would consider myself a relatively tidy person (considering that I live with four boys; notice I said, “relatively”) but the one area which I would consider myself a hoarder would be in regards to my art supplies. Tell me, am I the only one that buys something at the art supply store only to unearth 2 more when I get home? Not only that, but every time I try to throw something out, I feel great anxiety (Hey, I might need that for a project that I might make sometime in the future!). By definition, does this make me a hoarder? I once read an article about another mixed media artist. There were pictures of her studio packed to the gills with colorful fabrics, and all kinds of little doo-dads but it was all presented in a neatly folded and organized manner. The artist calmly stated that it’s not hoarding if you are organized! So let’s start there. It’s a lot less scary.
I recently read a wonderful book you may have heard of called, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It is a New York Times Bestseller and a wonderful read, which I highly recommend. Kondo describes how you must get rid of anything that does not ‘spark joy’. She starts you off with some of the simpler things, like clothes, and then she gently works you up to things that are more emotionally draining (like photos, books and old papers). What I really love is the way she lists every excuse you have to keep your things and then gives you a reason not to! She does take things to extremes (for example, she assigns human characteristics to your possessions.) so be prepared for that but take the ride with her and I guarantee you will effect some positive change. She even has some amazing tips for folding and space saving. Her method is not for the faint of heart. She recommends you do all of it at once (your whole house in the course of a month) and while I understand her reasoning, I found it to be too overwhelming to do all at once. What I have done, so far, really does make a big difference but I had to tackle it one small space at a time. It took a long time to work my way up to the art room, as that is the hardest stuff, emotionally, for me to part with. I thought I would share a few tips that really helped me. Maybe they could help you!
1. Set aside some uninterrupted time. What is more frustrating than constantly having your train of thought interrupted? If you are expecting a phone call, a service person or you know you will be trying to entertain your kids, it is going to be hard to think and make tough decisions. A few hours of uninterrupted thinking time will go a long way!
2. Take inventory of what you have. It is a great exercise to go through all your things and take stock. One benefit of pulling everything out all at once is seeing what you buy. I think you will find a pattern to your purchases which will enable you to categorize and group like things together. It will also enable you to see how much of each category you have and how much storage it will require. For example, I tend to buy a lot of letter writing materials (calligraphy items, blank cards, envelopes, wax seals, parchment paper, ink, etc.). Often, when taking these items out, I stuff them back in all willy-nilly and they end up spread out all over the place. Pulling everything out and putting similar items all together makes you see what you have and gives you a place to put it back. I find that a lot of times the reason I have things laying around is because I haven’t decided what to do with them. When I look at a small pile of papers with no home, I get that uneasy feeling. You know, the same feeling you get from the tangled wire drawer? Doesn’t it feel so much better when things have a home? If it feels a little overwhelming, start with a small space and just work on that ( like one drawer or one shelf). I think it will build up confidence and get you on a roll! If you are like me, you might find some wonderful and unexpected things you forgot you even had! That alone will get the creativity flowing. You don’t have to start with the mindset that you are throwing things out because just the act of organizing will save space and create better energy! Work yourself in gently.
3. Keep a “pitch it” bag at the ready. Make it convenient to part with things so you don’t have an overwhelming amount of time to re-think your decision. Have your ever put something aside and if enough time goes by, you have completely reasoned your way out of getting rid of it? Make it convenient. I often keep a bag in the garage and when I come across something I no longer need, I put it in the bag, out of sight, out of mind. When the bag is filled, I call a charity service who will gladly haul it away. Easy, right?
4. A great way to organize is by location. Keep things close to where they will be used. I know this sounds so obvious but sometimes in the midst of organizing, it helps to repeat that to yourself. For example, as I was emptying out the shelves where I was going to put my letter supplies, I realized that all my printer paper and supplies were across the room from the printer! No wonder I had been tripping back and forth in the room.
5. Storage. Now that you know what you are working with, you need to figure out how to store your things. The sky is the limit here. Sometimes I like to browse storage magazines and websites for ideas. I found the most amazing cart that fit my needs perfectly, for my paints.
You really don’t need fancy-shmancy storage equipment at all, though. Most likely, you have some old baskets, boxes or bags hanging around. It just needs to do the job of providing a home for your things! It doesn’t need to be pretty (especially if they will be tucked away in a drawer or closet somewhere)
I like to take this opportunity to wipe down my shelves when they are empty before putting things back so I can really start fresh!
You can play around with the lay out more until you are happy with it. I still have my closet to sort through but things are looking so much better already. My soul always feels a tad lighter once I have reorganized and thrown some things out.
Maybe this will inspire you to do some pre-holiday purging and start the new year with a fresh, shiny, and open mind full of creative possibilities!