Can artists declutter and have a clutter-free spaces?
I spent most of my last holiday reading a really good book called: The Year of Less. In a nutshell, it is a non-fiction book kind of like a memoir about a girl in Canada who stopped shopping, decluttered her flat and lived better. It was such an enjoyable read, but what I liked more is the transformation she lived and how her life changed and for some reason I related to it. I felt like the clutter around my art room and little flat in general is weighing me down. I do an annual clear outs and my rule is: if I haven’t used it in a year, then I probably won’t use it in the next year. It made getting rid of extra clothes easier. There is also an Islamic tax rule on certain goods (like gold) that says: if an item hasn’t been used at all in one calendar year, then tax applies. Many Muslims aren’t usually aware of this and the details are even fuzzy for me, but I learnt it in when I was growing up from my mother and it has stuck with me. The point is, even the religion supports decluttering and the idea of getting rid of things if they haven’t been used.
When I was reading the decluttering part in the book, I was nodding in agreement and it reminded me of a conversation about decluttering I had with another artist. She told me that artists can’t have clutter free spaces and I agreed back then, but after reading the book, I decided to take another look at my life.
I always told myself that as an artist, I can’t live a minimalist way because I need all my tools, all my books of inspiration, all my paints and everything in between. I justified it all by saying that “I would always need my reference books” or “what if I need this for teaching a workshop?” Now, looking at my piles and piles and piles of unused supplies and unopened books made me realise that I do need a good clear out session for my art space.
How can artists declutter?
I did a few things that helped my space slightly breath and here are my tips that you can also do, if you want a decluttered work space.
Clearing out art books
Art books are usually expensive and they are great as resources and the idea of giving up any art books, makes me want to roll in a ball and be surrounded by them. It’s an emotional attachment more than anything. I haven’t opened the very pricey Nufurt book of architecture since 2007 and I highly doubt that I would even look at it any point in the future. So, I decided to go through my art books. The thing with me as well, my interests in art grow and change. The architecture, interior design, crochet and knitting books are a thing of the past for me. I do like looking at them every once in a while, but I had to be real with myself. I haven’t looked at them for so long that I can’t justify giving them that physical space any more. I am not telling you to get rid of books you love or first signed editions, but go through what you have and try to remember when was the last time you actually read or used the book. I kept all my Islamic art books though because I am using them on and off. I am also trying to “borrow” books from the library instead of buying any new ones. I was pleasantly surprised by the collection of my university art books, so it saved me from buying any more books. I will probably gift a lot of the ones I bought either to friends or the local library.
Thinning the art supplies pile
Art supplies: again those are sometimes very expensive and come in handy every once in a while, but there are things in my pile that I have not needed for years without even exaggerating. This was a very slow one for me because I have so many things and I have a pile of paint as well, but the thing that started happening is that paint was starting to freeze inside the tube because it’s taking me months to even use them, so I am now only keeping the ones that work and giving away the ones I won’t be using in the next few months. I also have a million pens and pencils that I certainly don’t need all of, so I am thinning the pile a little by little. Don’t even get me started on paper. Why do I even buy all of these things? They look so tempting in art shops and I end up hoarding stuff for year before using anything. Thinning the pile is also holding me back from buying anything else because I can’t go through that process again.
Ask yourself these questions before you buy ANY more art related items
Do I need it now?
Why do I need it?
When am I actually going to use it?
Am I really going to use it and I can’t live without it another month?
If this is an item you are immediately going to use then go ahead, but if it’s another one to feed your stash of art then it is probably better not to buy it. Yes even if it’s on sale. Sales are not always great. I end up buying all kinds of random stuff because they are cheap, but then I just pile them and never use them and they just eat my very limited space.
Letting go of old art pieces
I do know if you keep a hold of all your old artwork, but I do, well I did. I have some sentimental pieces that I will never get rid of, but I have so many practice pieces that I am better off without. It is nice to keep few reminders of the progress I made, but some pieces just had to go. I gave a few for free to friends who liked them, donated some and the well painted things, I listed on my online shop for a discounted price because I would like to see them going to a new home.
Packing up things away
The last thing I did to the things I still want and need in my life -but not immediately- was to pack them away, out of sight in boxes and smaller storage systems just to clear my desk spaces to feel better. I also labeled the boxes so I can easily find them when I need them later.
These are the things that I managed to do to have a clutter free art space and it’s already giving me a lot of freedom and happiness. I still need to thin out more of my supplies to have an even tidier space, but it’s a work in progress and I am glad I started it at least.
If you have any more tips, please comment them below and let’s help each other out! :)