Friday, 28 September 2012

Clearing the Clutter

One of the aspects of being creative is that often we are interested in many things. Another aspect is that we are easily distracted by something that looks more interesting than meeting a deadline of any kind. But these same qualities can keep us from achieving our creativity goals. Sometimes we need to go through our lives and clean out the clutter, not just in things but in activities.
We are all familiar with the idea of spring cleaning but I think it’s also important to do a bit of autumn cleaning as well. Recently I realized that I was getting busier and doing lots of things but none of them were what I really wanted and needed to be doing creatively nor were they even things I needed to do for living maintenance. I was erasing creative time on my calendar for extraneous non-creative activities.
What had happened? I’d allowed my life to get cluttered with a lot of extraneous ‘to dos’. Granted they were all interesting and very worthwhile, but they were keeping me from meeting my real objectives. With courses starting as well as some work commitments, I felt something had to be done.
So, a friend and I sat down together (she was having similar problems) and looked at what we were doing in our lives. First of all we made lists under the various headings:
·         Daily activities (family, job, housework, school, leisure activities)
·         Commitments to outside special interest groups and activities
·         Creative goals and activities
We looked at what things really were priorities and what things were taking priority. It is important to sit down and make those distinctions. Next we underlined the things there were real priorities; everything else was a perceived priority. Then I drew a little bubble chart of how much time was being spent on priority items and how much time was spent on perceived priorities. Once you have these things in front of you visually (whether a list or a chart), it is easier to see how much time is being spent where.
Sometimes things take over our lives because we don’t know how to say ‘no’ and we put our own desires to the back burner. I’m not saying to tell your children to fix their own dinner or do their own laundry (unless, of course, they are teenagers and then it’s good training for when their move out!). What I’m saying is: are you putting yourself first creatively at times when you really can? If you find that most of your time is spent doing things for others that really could do themselves and you are feeling resentful, stressed and spread thin, it’s time to de-clutter your life. Just as you would clear out a closet, you can look at what activities can be let go of to allow you more freedom for what is truly important.
My friend and I both felt that we were doing things for a couple of voluntary groups at a level that was interfering with our own personal goals. While these organizations were worthwhile, it seemed that they were taking up a lot more time than the couple of hours a week we originally thought they would. There was one organization that I was serving as chair for and, even though I wasn’t doing much with regard to it, I felt that I should be doing more. The mental clutter of another ‘to do’ lurking in the back of my mind was interfering with actually doing anything creative! In this case, perceived priority was adding clutter to my activities.
My friend found that she had spent nearly 40 hours one week on a voluntary position with a group. It was keeping her from doing what she really needed to do which was tend to her own creative business (as a self-employed person that really should have been her priority). We both had taken on responsibilities reflecting worthwhile interests and which were meant to enhance our creativity; instead these things were taking over our lives in a negative way.
After taking stock of what I wanted to do, what I had to do and what I was doing (that’s another possibility of list headings for clarification), I found they were grossly unbalanced. The next question was ‘what can I do to make things more balanced in favour of creativity?’ The answer was to take at least a temporary leave from a couple of groups, resign as chair from another (three years is long enough to be chair), make arrangements for others to take over some responsibilities that they really could do but weren’t, politely excuse myself from involvement in activities that were not necessary for me and formulate a clearer schedule. Instead of blindly running along trying to ‘get things done,’ I had to stop and examine where I was spending my time; I found that I was frittering away a lot of creative time.
As I said above, the mental sense of things ‘to do’ can take a great toll. If a lot of your thinking is that you should be doing something other than what you are doing, it is time to take stock. Examining where things could be shifted around, what corners could be cut, what things do you really not need to be doing and what things are you doing because someone else won’t? It’s especially difficult when you spend most of your hours at a day job and then try to squeeze in creative time. Asking others to take over some duties that will free you up is not shirking your responsibility; it is sharing the work load more equitably. And if you are a happy creator, then everyone around you benefits from that!
So far the de-cluttering has freed up my thinking and has allowed me to tackle some creative pursuits that had gotten lost in the mess. And so far, the world is still spinning after I said ‘no’ and the groups understood my need to step back for my own well-being.


  1. You give very good advice Mary! I seriously need to de-clutter at the moment - this blog has helped to put things in perspective - thanks!

    1. So glad that this helped. I felt a great sense of relief upon resigning from a couple of posts and one more to come. But the sense of clearing the way has helped me a lot! Satisfying to hear that it was helpful to you as well!