Decluttering: creativity essential or shameless procrastination?

I wanted to work on my WIP today. We’ve had a public holiday and it seemed the ideal opportunity to get back into my novel after a few weeks of neglect. But, as it turned out, there was something else I had to do first.

When my life gets crazy and starts to spin out of control, as it has done for the past few months, I have this tendency to shove stuff into piles ‘to deal with later’. Cases of wine… correspondence to be shredded… clippings from magazines… instruction booklets… bills… new car insurance policies… receipts… even, as I discovered, Christmas presents neatly in a carry bag since Christmas Day.

Kipple. The detritus of life. Much of it stuff I need — or think I need — but it’s too difficult at the time to think what to do with it, so it gets shoved onto a pile. And, after a while, the piles are so out of control that I cease worrying whether stuff is getting shoved onto the right pile. Because I know I’m going to have to go through them all anyway. So the mess starts multiplying exponentially, and, well… I think you can probably see where I’m going with this.

(Think Harry, Ron and Hermione in Bellatrix’s vault at Gringott’s Bank when they’re going after the Helga Hufflepuff horcrux in the final book/movie. You know the scene when treasures multiply like popcorn? Yep.)

Unfortunately, all this mayhem takes place in my study (the one room safe from visitors), and there comes a point when I can no longer be in there.

I reached this tipping point today.

The floor was so cluttered with empty boxes and extra side-tables that getting into the cupboards was impossible. The main table was piled high with wine and boxes of junk. My desk, computer and keyboard were obscured by piles of paper.

Very. Bad. Feng Shui.

Time, oh yes definitely time, for a periodic purge. I seriously should have taken a photo.

So now the floor of my study is visible and vacuumed. And my desk is clear and devoid of dust. At last, I can think and dream and plot and perhaps even weave some tales.

I should confess, however, that I have really only shifted the problem. After a few hours of shuffling stuff around, my living room is now the custodian of the wine (which needs labelling before I put it away) and the shredding. (And the old DVD player I need to get rid of… and the broken chair with hot pink gym ball…) And I have a couple of boxes filled with junk I still need to sort through. The kitchen table has stuff on it as well.

But my study is clear — at least for a little while.

Why is it, do you think, that it feels so hard to get decluttered for good? I know that unless I devote about a week to sorting through everything and physically getting stuff OUT of my very small house, it will all be mayhem again all too soon. This is a very familiar cycle.

So now tell me whether this is a familiar scenario for you guys! Do you need a neat and tidy workspace to be productive — or was this all one huge day of procrastination on my part? And please do share any decluttering and organisation tips. I need them!


33 thoughts on “Decluttering: creativity essential or shameless procrastination?

  1. First that commercial was a riot. Milkbites. Another item we don’t get in Massachusetts.

    I’m often able to work among the clutter until that day I really notice how bad it has gotten and spend hours clearing out. I’m pretty good at getting rid of stuff but there always are a few things that simply get moved to another waiting space and the cluttering process begins again and I ignore it again until it becomes unbearable again.


  2. One thing my Aunt, a life-long secretary for military Generals, told me is that she never quit with a particular piece of paper, folder, etc., until she was completely done with it for that moment and it was in its home. Now, I don’t succeed at following that advice 100% (as I ignore two small piles on my desk at this moment and one very cluttered closet … and one drawer), but I do try and find myself much more relaxed when I do.


    1. Oh dear, sounds great in theory… The challenge for me is finding homes for things without an obvious ‘file’… And minimising how much I actually keep. I strive for perfection πŸ™‚


  3. I’m VERY familiar with the declutter bug and Very. Bad. Feng Shui. I call this familiar scenario, moving day … because instead of decluttering, it invariably gets moved to another spot that requires more decluttering and ad infinitum. Please leave instructions if you ever get this figured out. I desperately need them.


  4. I have to say it is worth the money to hire an organization expert. I’m getting ready to set another appointment for this spring. It brings piece of mind, even if not perfect feng shui.


  5. Ellen you just described my house! lol. I’m glad I am not the only one.
    I get the organizing done in fits and spurts, and there is always a room that needs de-cluttering. (make that 3 rooms, 2 closets, and a garage, right now…) But I can’t work when things are too cluttered, so I totally get where you are coming from. And once I start cleaning…it’s a process that takes hours.
    I think I need a maid. Yes. That would help a lot…now…how to afford one…?


    1. A maid, or cleaning service, is very little help with the clutter problem. They won’t declutter anything! If fact, my little cleaning group that comes every two weeks will actually clean “around” certain things on counters. Grrr. What that does is spur ME into DECLUTTERING before they come. Truthfully, I spend a good two hours getting ready for my cleaning ladies. I always wind up with a little pile that has to be handled later, but at least all basic clutter is gone every two weeks BECAUSE I want them to actually clean my house and not clean around my clutter. Does that make sense? Hope so…because I blew my last brain cell explaining it during this spring-break week! Good post, Ellen!


      1. Yes I totally get that! I recall the same thing at home when we were kids. Makes sense because I can’t clean when there’s mess around. I’m pretty tidy around most of the house… I just have this one sacrificial room…


    2. I’m in the same boat with all of you. My husband likes to call it organzied chaos. Clutter drives me crazy so I tend to put things in neat, tidy piles or in attractive baskets or in a drawer so I don’t have to look at it. And then things get to the point where the baskets are overflowing or the drawer won’t close. Hours are spent decluttering and organizing. And yes, I sometimes use it as a procrastination tool. I’m quite good at that, actually.


  6. Ellen – I think it’s BOTH – essential to creativity AND procrastination. I go in cycles: I write till the ideas no longer come, then I look around at the mess and start to declutter. It eventually gets clear enough that I can write again.

    I’m not sure the Organization Expert would work for me, because I already KNOW what to do. I just don’t do it. I also know that “writing accomplished is inversely proportional to housework done.”

    At any rate, mostly the mess is in my office. Like you, it’s the one room safe from visitors.

    Thanks for this. Now I don’t feel so alone with my clutter!


    1. Well, I guess that’s fair! And your “inversely proportional” rule is bang on… which is why I find my domestic duties start to suffer when I’m in a good writing zone. It’s truly a vicious circle. I’m glad we can all be kindred slatterns together πŸ™‚


  7. Why oh why, I wonder, is it so much easier to accumulate than it is to de-cumulate??? I dislike piles and clutter to the point of the obsessive, and yet, they creep in and grow regardless. I find it impossible to think about the WIP unless the closets are cleaned, floors vacuumed, and dishes washed and put away, which is a real problem, since all that stuff requires daily nurturing. I’m always thinking that if I can get over my anal tendencies — even just a little — I’d be a marathon producer of the pages. If only, if only …


    1. I know, I know! I used to ALWAYS do the dishes before writing, but these days I tend to let them sit there, reasoning that I’ll have to get around to them eventually, but I’d better prioritise work on the WIP while I can… Not that it always works, mind you.


  8. Ah, the creative soul’s constant enemy-clutter. What to do?
    When I’m creating I can’t be cleaning and organizing–must be separate sides of the brain. When the clutter interferes with the creative part and I can no longer tell which pile holds what, that’s when I’m forced to take the time to stop and declutter.

    My daughter once brought her organization expert home to “change my ways” but it was after one of my decluttering days, still not perfect, but my clutter was organized. She didn’t think I had a problem–she recognized some semblance of order in my chaos. I felt better after that and have ceased worrying about it since-it’s an ongoing process that is what it is.


  9. It happens because the stuff grows back on its own. Honest!

    Clutter and messiness doesn’t necessarily mean disorganization. I personally organize by piles — putting things away in the traditional sense means I will lose it for years.

    My own tips (for the right-brained): Have lots of doorknobs and chairs to put/hang things on and open containers to toss things in. No lids! They’re evil!


  10. Oh Ellen what more can I say? I have a quotation from William Morris which my mother wrote out in beautiful calligraphy for me: “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful . . .” I only had to move two things to get to it – propped up on my mantelpiece behind other things. But by now I do have it memorised, and practising it is proving to be a lifelong entertainment.


  11. I definitely need to declutter regularly. I don’t do it enough. But when things start to get in the way I just do it.

    My best tip to actually end the evil circle is to not just move the “junk” around. Take the time to do what you needed to do to the stack.

    Actually taking care of it will leave you with a peace that is very productive for creativity I’ve noticed. So label those wine bottles, shred those papers.

    I know how it is. I’m a terrible mover. That means when I move it takes months and months for me to finish unpacking and such. About a month back I had enough. So I put everything where it should be and the rest went into the attic. So about 6 months after I moved in I finished moving in. And since then I’ve really liked being in my apartment.

    I’m moving again this summer… -.-‘


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