It’s been said that a cluttered desk is indicative of a creative mind. If that’s really the case, then until recently my desk and my apartment made me look like Picasso. I love clutter. I can’t get rid of the Sharknado foam chainsaw a friend picked up for me at Comic Con, just like I can’t get rid of the Mola Ram headpiece I made for Halloween a couple years ago. But recently I started to feel like my tchotchkes were swallowing my work and living space.
I had a good push to get organized when my office moved after 25+ years in the same location. Suddenly our entire staff was united in a massive de-cluttering and cleaning effort and it was freeing. After getting rid of thousands of old tapes and countless boxes of out-of-date paper files, I found myself in a great new office space with only two moving boxes to unpack. I had kept many of my beloved trinkets, but I relegated them to one big shelf in my new space and I vowed that I wouldn’t let them escape that confined area. I also promised myself not to let papers completely overtake my new desk.
After enjoying my organized workspace during the day, I started to have a familiar, claustrophobic feeling when I’d return home at night. I’ve lived in the same studio apartment in downtown DC for about seven years. Suddenly, everywhere I turned there was stuff, and that stuff was holding me back. I had a moment of clarity…I needed to apply the same effort I’d put into moving my office into cleaning up my living space. It wasn’t easy, but it was successful and once the process was over I realized I’d followed a few simple steps when organizing both sides of my life while staying true to my “creative” nature and my love of stuff.
Reorganize as You Go
As I shredded old documents and piled up clothes and shoes for Goodwill, space started freeing up and things I could group together (and spaces to put those things) started standing out. All of a sudden I had a logical, accessible space for handbags so I moved them there as soon as the thought occurred to me. All my workout gear could go in one place, all my books in another. Grouping things that should be stored together made it easier to envision how everything would look when I was finished and helped keep me motivated. It made the process faster to know that I had a specific place to put something (even if that place was temporary) no matter where I discovered it initially. Finally, organizing things into groups helped me visualize what sort of boxes and containers might be helpful in order to stay organized for the long run.
Nothing on the Floor
When you’re living in a small, city apartment and run out of storage space in your main living area, you don’t have an attic or a basement to stash things in. Unfortunately, items often end up stacked on the floor. Not only does that become a giant dust magnet, it looks haphazard and disorganized as well. I vowed that the books and hand weights that currently had places of honor on my floor wouldn’t be there when I was done organizing and the difference is incredible. My living space is a lot easier to clean and it looks so much better.
Get Rid of Enough Stuff That You Have Room to Grow
In the past when I would undertake a major clean-out, I’d end up getting rid of just enough stuff so that everything I had left fit together like a puzzle in exactly the storage space I had. The issue with this method, as I’ve come to find out, is that the second you get a few more books or a couple new dresses, you’re out of space again and the cramming and the piling up begins anew. This time around, I was ruthless. I weeded out items as though I was moving to a new apartment and every extra pound of stuff to go on the truck was going to cost me money. No only did I get rid of old paperwork, but I have dedicated, empty space to store the important documents I’ll collect over the next couple of years.
My biggest issue at home is paperwork. I’ve never been good at organizing mail and papers, remembering to promptly throw out junk mail and catalogs and filing away receipts and paid bills. This time around, I’ve created a rule for myself. I got an attractive wicker basket and any mail I need to attend to goes into that basket. Otherwise, the mail gets thrown away or filed immediately. I’m not a big “rule” person, but if I have to stick to this one to have use of my kitchen table again, that’s a compromise I’m willing to make.
The other rule I implemented relates to tchotchkes. I have a dedicated spot at work and two dedicated spots at home for them and that’s it. If I collect more, they’ll have to fit the space I have available or something else will have to go.
I’ll probably never live in a sleek, modern space that is 100% free of books, papers, workout gear, and cooking implements in plain view. I’m a visual person…seeing my hand weights reminds me that I should use them once in a while. Seeing my little espresso maker reminds me that I really like espresso and should make it more often. Now that these items are organized and accessible, I’m more comfortable hosting guests and I have more room to do things that are important to me, like cook and write. I think I’ve finally found a happy medium between a messy, creative space and an organized one.