Over the weekend, I met up with a group of friends and we were chatting about stuff, and organising, and generally having a chinwag about how we keep it all under control (or not). One of them took great delight in quizzing me about the state of my house and kept asking me “but is your house tidy?” and found it hilarious that I was grumbling about the perma-pile of old magazines by the side of the piano, under the basket that I use as a large handbag, into which I dump my smaller handbag – on top of the old receipts and half-used bottles of hand gel. Hilarious, as from her point of view, that was nothing, totally insignificant. We almost started a bragging contest, who had the most mess!

Whether something is clutter or not is clearly a very personal thing. Some people like to have all the things, other people would throw their hands up in horror and be happy with a pencil and one reel of thread (who are these people?)

I believe clutter is everything that is too much – too much for you. My magazine pile drives me up the wall (but obviously not enough to deal with it) but Jill wouldn’t even notice it.

And here’s the thing: even though my clutter winds me up and makes me cross, I’ve learned to live with it. And because I’ve been doing it so long, I live with it very well. For example, I’ve always been very good at knowing where everything is. I’ve always been able to lay my hands on almost anything you could ask for.

Tape measure? Thimble? Wool carders? Old pattern tissue papers? Seed beads? Wooden print block? Charcoal stick? Watercolour paper? Sticky-back foam sheets? A pack of 12 rulers?* Copper shim?

Give me advance notice, and I can find it for you.

*don’t ask…

And that’s the problem. While I know where it is, I can’t get to it, at least not easily or quickly. Everything was* behind something else, stacked on top of other things, and hidden under other things in a box with all the other things at the back of the cupboard. Or on top of a shelf. Or in the attic.

There was – is still – too much. No prizes for guessing what else I’m not very good at. Yep, tidying.

Putting it all back again. What a faff.

Each person will have their own tolerance for how much rummaging they are prepared to do to find something, how much space they need to work effectively, how tidy they want their space to be when they’ve finished.

Just before Christmas, I reached the limit of my tolerance, and had to admit the scope of the problem – and that big change was needed. I even filmed a “crisis” video to capture the magnificence horror of the “before” stage!

The big Christmas declutter took a lot of work, it’s still a work in progress, but I made huge progress. There were a lot of learning moments along the way, that I’d love to share, but before you break out the black bin bags, maybe take a moment to decide if it’s even a problem. For you. Because some people genuinely feel more creative when they are surrounded by all the potential within all their stuff. And that’s absolutely fine.

But I know that’s not me. I know that in order to think, create, and feel happy and in flow, I need to be able to find what I want easily, and have space around me to actually use it. I don’t want to reach or rummage or wait while I move all the cupboards and boxes and drawers. Creativity can be an elusive creature, and if it takes too long to find the right thing, the moment will pass and creativity vanishes.

And as for keeping my space clear, if I have to sort things into little boxes to put something away, I just won’t do it. For years I owned those clever double-sided thread boxes, but the majority of my threads lived in heaps on my desk until I did a big tidy up session and sorted them all away, a couple of times a year. Day to day, I just couldn’t be bothered.

I know that when an idea strikes, I want to get to it immediately. My mind can move very quickly from one project to another. If I can’t tidy up the first project in under a minute or two, I’m already on to the next thing and the previous things stay, get shoved to the side, until eventually it all accumulates and there’s no room to do anything.

It’s so easy to get used to living and working in chaos, especially if you’ve always done it – it’s what you’re used to. But if it’s not how you want to work, then perhaps it’s time to recognise and acknowledge how it’s affecting you. After all, if it wasn’t a problem, you wouldn’t be reading, would you?

I know that clutter and mess affects my creativity and my peace of mind. So I have to take it seriously. And that’s a hard thing to do. I’m good at thinking of other people’s needs, but not so good at acknowledging my own.

So I have some questions for you.

How important is this for you?

Imagine walking towards your studio/sewing corner/kitchen table, how do you feel? Inspired? Or deflated before you’ve even begun?

Leave a comment, or email me and let me know!

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11 Thoughts to “Where to even start”

  1. Anneliese says:

    First of all I am so smiling and laughing into myself about your text. So so humorous. Chaos is not my thing but my working table tells another story. I am pushing several projects away to make room for others. I don‘t want to forget about them. But then, when some time passes, I will put those not-to-forgettables into a specific box: „stitched“ „embroideries“ „samples“ etc. – months later or even years I usually have fun to see them again.

    1. Isobel says:

      I have a few of those stashes of work too, things that are not quite finished, usually only needing a few finishing touches. It can be a bit of an adventure to go through them every year or so, and rediscover them! Thank you for reading – I’m glad I made you laugh 🙂

  2. Maxine says:

    I love your comment about working in a tiny space out of a whole room, I definitely identify with that! I only started being ‘creative’ in lockdown when I bought myself a cheap
    Machine. It was the best thing I could have done but I now have so much ‘stuff’ and I’m not sure how to
    Organise it. Some bits are easy but some items are used over a number of different styles or methods. Fortunately, I live on my own but the downside is, it can just keep getting messier. I’m not a tidy person and I do enjoy playing around with different fabrics and threads etc which inevitably makes a mess. Oh well- it’s better than turning to drink my counsellor says 😂

    1. Isobel says:

      It happens to us all! And they’re right, it is healthier than other things we could do with our time, it’s keeping it in check though – too much of a good thing can still be too much, as I’m slowly learning!

  3. Katrina Marshall says:

    This is where I am at the moment, too much stuff and not enough space! I’ve started de-cluttering but have difficulty in knowing what to keep and what to get rid of! How do you decide what stays and what goes?

    1. Isobel says:

      It’s a tough one, no doubt about that. I started by getting rid of the stuff I just didn’t like that much, when I stopped to think about it. Then I decided how much space I could actually devote to each sort of “thing” and if all my favourites couldn’t fit, for example with my yarns (not used for knitting/crochet but for mixed media embroidery) I kept some of it – i.e. I actually wound off an amount, and got rid of the rest!

  4. Rachel says:

    I would love to have a studio to organise, but as we’ve yet to work out how to achieve that, most of my stuff is stored in the loft. Which is where I have to go at the start of every project!

    1. Isobel says:

      I didn’t for ages, I used a corner of the dining room and my drawers of fabrics and all sorts were up in my husband’s office, the cupboard under the stairs, a blanket box in the living room, the loft…I’d have to gather a “project bundle” of stuff. Which obviously I couldn’t be bothered to put back again later! I feel your pain!

  5. Judy Sall says:

    OMG, your video says it all! I actually doubled my studio space several years ago, which did help a lot. But since then, my creative interests have expanded to overfill my space! I have one side of the studio set up with a 4 x 8 work table… at the end are stored several bins of fabric. I have many, many storage bins and drawers throughout chock full of various supplies; at the other end of the studio is my sewing/cutting area with even more storage units of odds & ends. I have 2 closets stuffed full of things, and I still have to stop and tidy frequently as I transition from sewing to clay work, 3d projects, etc. If I had 2400 square feet to use, I would overfill that too! Destashing: what, you want me to get rid of things? Oh, my… the best I can offer is that once in awhile, I relocate rarely used supplies to a corner of the garage! And yes, I actually do go out and retrieve them occasionally, when the inspiration hits. Bottom line… if I only had a postage stamp space to work in, I would do what I could because I can’t stop creating! Every morning after breakfast, I head to the studio to do whatever strikes me. My energy level is higher then, and I love that I have a space to indulge my creativity!

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