Out to the Curb It Goes
Although I love seeing pictures of artists’ creative spaces, the ones I see online come nowhere near matching the few I’ve seen in person, which are messier, more cluttered, and not nearly so spacious or bright. In fact, my friend who is a woodworker created her first work space in a hallway closet: saws, workbench, and wood pieces where you’d expect coats, shoes, and hats.
This friend and I have opposite views, however, when it comes to organizing your workspace. She sagely advises you hang on to all of the starts, drafts, pieces and parts of your work and mine it now and then for fragments of ideas that could grow into something complete. I say, however, get rid of it! At least, after an appropriate amount of time hanging onto it. Only you know how long is enough, but I’m thinking months more than years.
In other words, every now and then, maybe four times a year with each season, take a break from your daily work for a day or two and organize your space—from shelves, floor, and desk to digital storage.
Sorting through your unfinished work helps you assess what you’ve done, where you’ve been, and then discern where you want to go.
Plus, it feels really good to finally let go of something that has not worked for a very long time. I finally recycled the paper drafts and deleted the digital files of an essay I’d worked on periodically for at least five years. It felt like sweet relief. The essay idea still lingers in my mind, but if I ever decide to tackle it once again, I’ll have a truly blank slate, no dead weight.
It’s like pruning dead branches from a tree. You make more space and lighten things up. It might look stark at first, but then you have room for new, vibrant projects, to leaf out and come to fruition.
“The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life.” —Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Perhaps a happy medium between my friend’s advice and mine is to create temporary storage space (digital and actual), where you put all of the works-in-progress you no longer love but feel you might want to reconsider. After a few months, whatever you haven’t pulled back out can be tossed to the curb in the recycling bin, given away, painted over, etcetera.
PS: I just remembered a newspaper article I read a few years ago. As I recall it, a painter held a “free” sale. She was sick of her old work and needed to clean up her studio, so she advertised like a garage sale and gave away her old work. This worked perfectly: she created much-needed actual and mental space and re-invigorated her creative spirit.
What she didn’t expect was how many people would show up for the free work and want to know about her new work. Their enthusiasm fueled her determination to get back at it, she found new fans and expanded her audience, and even ended up in the newspaper. So, maybe a free sale is a good way to move out the stuff you no longer want to work on and make room for today’s inspirations.