Creativity From Chaos: Are You Afraid of Being ‘Organized’?

A guest post by Chantelle Brightbill of Clothscape.

organized chaos by colorandpassion

I spent a large piece of February getting my studio organized. With the help of a professional.

When I tell other artistic types about this, the general response is a wince, and comments like “some people need help like that I’m sure” or “I have everything exactly where I want it, if someone came and organized it all I would never be able to find anything,” and “my mess is part of my creative process.” The idea seems quite disturbing to so many artists.

I used to feel the same way myself. So what changed things? It was many small things, but overall I realized I was avoiding working in my studio, because the space had a negative impact on me creatively.

Chaos does not encourage creativity, it impairs it.

When I thought about it, it made sense. Why would someone who spends her time making things beautiful want to spend time in an ugly space? The mess made the room ugly to me, and I finally had to admit it.

Let’s be clear here, I was not a candidate for a reality show, so why call in a pro, instead of doing it myself? After all, I do almost everything myself, from painting walls to building furniture.

Because if I could make this happen on my own, it would have already happened.

Working with an organizer was nothing like on TV. It was really more like hiring a business consultant. Claudia looked over my space, asked a lot of questions about my processes and work habits, identified my key problem areas and helped me brainstorm solutions. She engaged me creatively by coming up with things for me to sew and build as a part of the process.

The one thing she didn’t do was actually organize my stuff.

She pointed out that I had my own way of doing things, and I needed to be the one to put each item in the most logical place for me. She was there to help me look at things from a different angle, advice and support, not to do it for me.

Most of the work was accomplished alone. Claudia kept me encouraged, and at one point I got stuck, and she came back and did some hand holding while I pushed through a tough spot. But just like working with any consultant, I had to take her advice and suggestions and implement them myself.

In the end I gained much more than a tidy work space. The experience was quite an emotional journey. I gained insight into why I had created this chaos in the first place, and I learned that I had the ability to stop that from happening again. I increased my efficiency and optimized the use of materials, saving me money.

Most of all I achieved my ultimate goal. Now when I tie on my new work belt and step into my visually appealing studio, I feel enthusiastic and ready to create.

Chantelle Brightbill is a quilter and textile artist creating under her label Clothscape.

12 thoughts on “Creativity From Chaos: Are You Afraid of Being ‘Organized’?

  1. I actually feel much more likely to work when my creative space is a little messy. All the times i’ve organized and color coded and filed and stacked, and folded perfectly, I felt like, “okay, now i want it to stay this way” and I felt guilty disrupting it. Of course, i do agree, you space needs to be inspirational to you and you do obviously need to know where the things you want to use are. For me though, the mess is inspiring! I love seeing things “in progress” and shuffled through. Complete chaos? Probably bad, but a mess – I relish that stuff!

    1. Danielle, one other thing I learned through this experience is that organised is not the same as neat, or tidy. Obviously for you (and me too) having everything squared away with military squareness is not the way to go. I have given myself full permission to leave everything out during a project, and just put it away at the end. It is all about balance, and if you have found a balance with tidy versus creativity that works for you that is great.

  2. Thanks so much for this post! I need things clean, tidy and organized to function creatively. I used to worry that the slightly OCD side to my personality meant I wasn’t truly an artist because the stereotype is mess and chaos – I am over that!

    The ideas are all still there in my head when life gets hectic and chaotic but I can’t make them materialize. I can’t see where one idea starts and another one ends, and on a practical level, execution of an idea is much less efficient, [not to mention less enjoyable] when I’m spending half of my time searching for space/tools/materials etc.

    I feel blissed-out and inspired when my environment is clean, organized and beautiful!

  3. I tend to do much better at keeping my studio organized than the rest of my house, but I find that the rest of the house deters my ability to work as much as a trashed studio. When the house is chaos anywhere it impairs me. I am not talking a bout sparkling clean and not a pile in sight, but a general chaos of too much stuff. We are working hard to clear it out this year.
    As for my studio, it has the wear and tear and stains of art making, but I need to know where things are!

  4. I relate to this so much. Thanks for the inspiration. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the size of my business is impaired by how disorganized my space is. For me, there is a lot of emotion involved. For example, some of the clutter I need to clean up is the paperwork left from being the executor of my mother’s estate after her death. The estate has been closed for over a year, but the paperwork is not organized and put away. Getting rid of clutter always seems to involve facing big emotional issues.

  5. So glad you shared this! Going through an ’emotional journey’ while removing unwanted items in one’s space has got to be the hardest things anyone has to address. But how freeing! The emotional journey is harder than the actual removing of items which really only takes a few moments.

    I can see how this might be a stumbling block (for fear of going through that emotional journey) as to why some of us might not approach the organizing in the first place.

    Thank you for reminding me that the end results are so well worth the freeing emotional journey as I organize my working studio.

  6. Chantelle, very well said. Early on in my career, I learned that if there is anything about the messiness that nags at me, it has to get fixed before I can enjoy being creative. I might be able to force some things out, but there is always something in the back of my mind nagging me.

    Same goes for other things in my life that nag me: have been putting off an appointment to the dentist, have a cracked windshield that needs fixing….things I am procrastinating.

    If I clear all those things up, the creative energy is fabulous. Maybe that is why artists in all creative fields benefit from assistants who take care of all of those nagging things.

    And why do I know all this and still seem to have to keep reminding myself about it? Enjoyed your post!

  7. Chantelle, you described so beautifully the process of getting organized for yourself. It’s nothing like TV.

    While a mess may feel comforting for many when actually in the process of creating something, creativity can be blocked when the space becomes “ugly” or you don’t follow through on your inspirational moments because your space is just not feeling right.

    I could seriously go on & on about what I’ve learned from others when working with them in their spaces. You are so right about it not being about perfection, yet I’ve noticed so many creative people are perfectionist. You can see it in their work.

    So exciting to see others sharing their experiences of what organization in their creative zone is creating for them emotionally.

    And I believe messes are a good thing… because it means you are using your stuff! Sounds like tidying up in preparation for the next spontaneous creative burst=s will help you flow with it, instead of avoiding it.

    YOU GO!


  8. Great post. I have struggled with my messiness all my life. I’m actually reorganizing my office this week while I have the house to myself.

  9. I have to have a clean organised space or I get frustrated at not being able to find anything. If it’s a mess, I avoid it like the plague! I always thought this meant I wasn’t very creative…!

  10. When I work with kids in school who have difficulties with spatial relationships, sequencing and other factors which weigh on their innate tendencies to be happily unaware of classroom organization systems, I come across as a no-nonsense, “Do it this way” kind of adult. However, when I work with friends or clients to help them de-clutter and organize their spaces, to devise systems for handling their flow of paperwork or materials used in their creative processes I strive to be a peer guide, or coach. It’s a much gentler approach–promising them they’ll see lots of white space at the end of the session, more logic to “Where do I put this?” dilemmas and mentally guiding them through the thousand decisions they’ll make in a two-hour session. So glad you found someone to come alongside you and work with you through the process of analyzing your work space and making it more efficient for the way you weave in and out of your creative process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *