KonMari – Creating the Ideal Creative Space

I have this vision of myself as an artist. I walk into my studio space, a vague and hazy cognitive compartment as I am yet to have a room that is solely for this function, and sit down to do some work. What will that be? Well, depending upon my mood it could be anything from stitching, drawing, painting, or just trying to work ideas through in a sketch book.

Yet I don’t have this space. And the room I do have has to serve a multitude of purposes. It is my studio, but also my office, which can be perfectly serviceable when you are trying to sit down and submerse yourself in the act of creative writing. Being surrounded by so much visually stimulating ephemera and images can be effectual for the process. However, when you are trying to plot your way through a never-ending list of work emails, or finish marking a piece of student’s work, that long neglected sketch book calls to you longingly from the shelf just behind your shoulder.

Did I mention that my studio/office space also has a third function? It is also a guest room. That is at a moment’s notice it may have to be cleared of all creative debris, and transform into an inviting bedroom for an overnight resident. You might see here how my entomology and collection of skulls, that I take great creative inspiration from, can conflict slightly with this inviting ambience.

Oh, and for the purpose of transparency, if I am completely emptying my creative closet here – the room also houses my overflow wardrobe…

That is a lot of pressure to put on one average-sized room. Just writing about it, visualising the nooks and crevices crammed with various objects, the piles of items waiting for a permanent home in a constant limbo as they are relocated depending on today’s use of the space, no wonder I can’t get any work done in there.

My vision of this perfect studio is not this. This is the antithesis!

Part of the issue here, possibly falls on me. My lack of containment. I refuse to be confined to any one media. As such I am a consummate artistic hoarder. I need that piece of fabric. That paper is beautiful. I will definitely use those buttons some day. Of course these strange shaped leaves will be needed for a piece of work at some point in the fictional future. As I sit here writing, there is currently a dishevelled stack of Oreo wrappers piled to the side of my desk. They have been there for months. I liked the colour, the silver foil and simple blue graphics, the uniformity of the repeated squares of discarded wrapping. I may use them for a project. One day…

But I haven’t. And I don’t because this cluttered space is the embodiment of creative frustration. Art is about trying to find a cognitive order in the chaos. Searching for visual signifiers, seeking to create them yourself. Representing your commentary on the world; however big or small that may be. Creating a coherent visual narrative. How can that be achieved in such a disordered space?

Well, for some it can. And perhaps this is why my own notion of creative space has been stifled. I blame the artists I know and their busy notice boards covered in thoughts and inspirations. The piles of cloth and drawers full of paper. The plethora of boxes filled with natural forms for still life inspiration. This is my experience of an artist studio, but more importantly someone else’s studio. For them it is quite serviceable; inspirational. They have evolved to co-exist within the space. Years of artistic practice have taught them how best they work and what environment works for them.

There is, as always, the romantic notion of the chaotic artist’s space. Because genius only flows from the maddening abyss. It cannot come out of order and calm. But much like the tired cliché of the alcoholic writer, who in reality is rarely profound or prolific, this is just a lie sold to us by the movies. Of course we all sometimes experience bursts of artistic flair, and there is something to be said for losing inhibitions and preconceptions, however, truly creative ventures require a large amount of consideration and order.

What I have found, then, is that this cacophony of chaos, the clichéd artist room with its shelves lined with half opened paint tubes, pencils littering the floor, sketches pinned haphazardly to the wall, just does not work for me. And it makes sense, sometimes if I think about how much goes on in my head, having that mirrored in my surroundings just becomes exhausting.
It is probably an introvert issue, too much outside stimulus can seem overwhelming. Consequently you require space to recharge, mentally and physically.

Also, as a mixed media artist, it becomes impossible to have a space dedicated to one thing. The mess of one media negates the use of another – you cannot find out some delicate fabrics to stitch if you have left out paints from the night before. I need a calm, ordered space where everything has a place and, perhaps more importantly, access to those things is simple and hassle free.

What is the point of this opine to personal artistic space, you may wonder? Well, a very close friend made a threat over Christmas. She stated that she was going to take a few days off in the New Year and use the time to cure my hoarding ways and declutter my life.
I laughed and dismissed her at the time. I don’t need to get rid of anything, I just need a bigger space to live, I would argue. I had been shocked by her recent purge of the majority of her belongings as she moved house. I can’t do that, I thought, I need everything I have.

Yet, as I was subconsciously being gently prodded into submission to purge, I started to assess my current living and working environment. The truth is, my supposed creative space is far from it. On so many occasions it has become a dumping ground for all manner of items; a pile of laundry, gym bag and trainers, as yet homeless books…

What became more clear was that the amount of times that I had walked into my ‘studio’ space in the last twelve months, seen the monuments of mess and clutter and just found it easier to shut the door and walk away were too numerous to quantify. No wonder I have been so focused on photography lately. Only when I am outside with a camera do I have the physical clarity to allow mental creativity to flourish.

This piece then, came about after I followed my friend’s advice and purchased the book that she had used to order her life and declutter. In Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying she states that she asks her clients to imagine their ideal space. How do they want to live and interact with the objects around them?

My immediate thoughts were of walking into a studio space, deciding what I wanted to do and being able to easily access the materials I needed, whether this be writing, drawing, stitching, or whatever else. No hassle. No thinking, well, I could get that out to work on, but it would mean moving that around, and having to put that away, and I’m not quite sure where the other things I need actually are, do I really want to spend half the morning trying to find them?

The answer Kondo is trying to extract from her clients is ‘why’. Why do you want your life this way? What will it achieve. And for me the answer was there – I want to be creative, I want to engage in some kind of artistic practice daily. The only thing that is holding me back from this is my current accumulation of stuff. My misguided belief that it will one day be useful, while this hoarding habit is actually ensuring that none of it ever will be because my work environment makes the thought of actually working feel like an ordeal.

I am reminded of all those times that I have attempted to tidy my studio room. Each time I resolve to effect order and create this peaceful space that I so desire. I engage in the futile task of removing things from shelves, categorising them, trying to establish where is the most practical place for them. But inevitably this approach has failed, repeatedly. And I am still in this vicious cycle of clutter and disorganised space.

Yet, for the first time I feel as though I have some real hope. The MariKon method that I am learning about within the book is shocking in its simplicity. You wonder why you couldn’t have come to this conclusion on your own. But as with many things, sometimes the most obvious solution is the most difficult to accept. So what is it? Have you worked it out yet?

Put in its most simple form: ‘Throw it out!’

How does that sound? Does it hit you with a wave of dismay? I can hear you all now, pleading with me that no, no, no, you need that (insert thing you fully intend to use whenever you see it, but once out of sight completely lose any concept of its existence). This was my reaction too. However, the more I read, and the more I envisioned my ideal space, the more invested I became in the notion that this multitude of material possessions are doing nothing more than holding me back. They certainly aren’t helping me to be any more creative.

In a month where I have been focused on thinking how I can reuse and repurpose things in order to lessen my impact on the planet and save some money it seemed apt that I should come across this philosophy. I feel this strange sense of attachment to these things that surround me, yet the majority are doing nothing to enhance my life. Even the books that I hold onto so dearly are just tragic reminders that I will probably never have enough time to read them again. And why should I? With so much literature in the world, why not make space for the new and undiscovered once you have lovingly finished your literary affair with a particular tome?

So last week I started my decluttering journey. It was epic. Mountains (of clothes) were climbed. But six discarded bags later, there was a peaceful order to my wardrobe. I looked in at clothes that I loved and looked forward to wearing.

I won’t lie, it was a mammoth task. And there is still a long way to go just on my clothes (I haven’t even started on shoes yet, I don’t think I have ever mentioned my slight obsession with beautifully formed footwear). There is still so much to do. So many hard decisions to make. So many black bags bursting to the seams that will enflame a sense of shame at my wasteful behaviour and flippant attitude towards the accumulation of ‘stuff’.

But even in the little that I have already done it has become clear that a less disordered space brings satisfaction. I do not miss any of the things I have discarded; many of them I barely even remembered owning. It may take some weeks, but I have my end goal and a new approach to achieving it. My dream of a peaceful space where creativity is not stifled by the oppressive accumulation of needless belongings is in sight.

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