Clutter vs. Cluttering: Part Two Of My Very Non-KonMari Adventure In Tidying Up My Creative Space (Finally!)

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Ages ago I promised y'all a follow up to my last blog post, My Very Non KonMari Adventure In Tidying Up My Creative Space: Part One. 

Well, here I am, a full six months later, to pick up where I left off all the way back in January.

The deep cleaning/re-organization/re-thinking of my studio space that I did at the opening of 2019 had a profound effect on my creative productivity: I have completed two new colorable card collections (8 unique illustrations), five new colorable bookmark illustrations, and two new, full-sized coloring book illustrations for my next coloring book, Feminism Is for Everyone: a Coloring Book.

That's a lot of sketching, inking, scanning, polishing and printing!

And, that's all on top of keeping up with the demands of my tap dance classes, managing the Have Color Will Travel Coloring Shop, adopting sibling kittens, a smidgen of travel, and the general chaos and demands of life.

The original purpose for me undertaking an entire studio deep cleaning/re-organization/re-thinking was because, as it stood, the space wasn't working hard enough for me, as all good spaces should. Prior to the the "Great Studio Overhaul of 2019," a good portion of the time I had to devote to illustrating or writing was spent simply figuring out where I was going to do it, moving one work-in-progress project aside in order to focus on something equally important, tucking supplies here, clearing a space there, and generally losing all train of thought and focus (something that is in short supply with my menopause-brain).

Obviously, with an overhauled studio space designed and organized with my three primary creative activities in mind (illustrating, writing, coloring/making/photographing), I was going to be considerably more productive (see the list above). I mean, who wouldn't be more productive after discovering tons of hidden empty space (and what creator, hobbyist or professional, isn't looking for more space?!)?!

A completely empty drawer and three deliciously open spaces on
 three very packed but now organized shelves has allowed me to have
 protected and practical places to put work-in-progress projects,
to-be-used-later ideas/supplies, and, recently, kitten-hazard items (NOTHING

 can be left out for a moment on my desks with Merry and Pippin in our lives,
 so before evening leaving the studio to go to the bathroom, I deposit whatever
 I'm working on in my new empty drawer!).
Productivity was the expected side-effect of deep cleaning my studio (or at least I was really hoping that's what would happen once I had pulled my creative life together). But, surprisingly I found more than just open space, lost art tools, and designated work stations.

Here's what I discovered when I decided to tidy up:

1. I found more remnants of projects past than you can shake a stick at (can someone please tell me where on Earth that expression comes from??), memories of the previous creative lives I had lived, memories that belonged to more than just myself (I used to make wedding invitations for heaven's sake!). While I did recycle and toss a good bit of those memories, I held on to smidgen of it, stowed it away in my awesome new projects-for-later drawer, and I plan to surprise the folks who also share these memories with a bit of a blast from the past...when the time is right:)

2. I also uncovered tools I didn't know I needed or had by processing boxes of hobbies that I, quite frankly, had forgotten I'd ever been obsessed with (cross-stitch, anyone?). Interestingly enough, quilting cutting mats are the perfect tool for prepping cardboard for coloring shop orders, cross-stitch graph transparencies are super helpful when inking colorable cards, and apparently I had aspirations of creating my own original cross-stitch patterns and had purchased a sizable pad of cross-stitch graph paper, something I'm itching to practice creative lettering on.

3. In my pursuit of empty studio space, I happily happened upon gifts for the many young creative souls in my life. During my scrapbooking days (if you are a female of a certain age, let's say 46, I'm sure you've got some scrapbooking skeletons, too, yes?), I hoarded any and all tidbits and tassels, buttons and safety pins, stickers and scraps of colored paper. Bags and folders and boxes full of these sorts of "treasures" crowded my shelves and drawers, doing nothing. In the back of my mind, I justified keeping all of this flotsam and jetsam because "one day I might do something with it" (yes, I descend from pack rats). I am now old enough to realize I am *never* going to do anything with microscopic snowflakes or triangular metal buttons again, but you know who is? Everyone under the age of 10 that I love! 

4. Lastly, massaging my studio space into something more functional for my current creative life helped me realize some core truths about myself that, prior to the "Great Studio Overhaul of 2019," I hadn't really been aware of. I now know that I am a creative repurposer (yeah, that isn't a word - I just made it up): every hobby or art form I have ever dabbled in has affected and informed all of my other subsequent artistic, creative pursuits. The skills I learned in scrapbooking (and there are quite a few *if* you took it as seriously as I did in the early 2000s) led me to card making, the lessons I learned in cross-stitch definitely informed all the post-illustration work I do to make my drawings into colorable prints of my art, my time working with beads and charms helped me learn to fully visualize my art in my head before beginning, something that is incredibly important for me as an independent artist working with a limited time and budget (waste not, want not, and all that), my lifetime spent coloring others' illustrations and amassing a wide variety of coloring tools has definitely provided me with a deep insight into the mind of the colorist, and perhaps is even the reason why I decided to start creating coloring adventures to begin with, and so on and so forth. In discovering that I am a creative repurposer, I no longer feel guilty about wanting to learn this trendy, new art form (Hello, brush lettering!) or find out more about that traditional art style (Sumi-e looks so fascinating!) because it doesn't seem to directly relate to my creative business; it is all connected or it will all connect somehow, so time spent away from creating coloring adventures is actually time spent on my creative enterprise.

I continue to be highly skeptical of all the hubbub that *still* surrounds Marie Kondo and her Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Clutter by its very nature isn't bad, and sometimes it is downright necessary!

My desk as I work on this blog post right now.
Yes, it is cluttered. Yes, I need every single one of those
notebooks on this table as I write. Where you see
 empty space is usually also occupied by a cat.
I need him, too:)
But, despite all of my skepticism, I do realize now, six months later, that I took a scalpel to my creative studio not only because I needed to create a space that better served my current needs, but I also had some serious creative demons to exorcise, demons that were indeed hiding within piles, boxes, and files that looked an awful lot like clutter.

Recently, a small group of my tap students asked to visit my art studio to get a closer look at where I create illustrations and to examine the tools that I use (it should come as no surprise to you that by and large tap dancers also love to draw - creativity typically begets more creativity). I calmly agreed to their request because I now had more space in my creative alcove, everything was organized and arranged, and I was proud to be able to share it with them.

This photo was taken six months ago, right after I'd finished my deep cleaning,
 and accompanied part one of this blog post about creative organization. I am happy

 to report that, for the most part,180 days later my art studio looks pretty
 much the same. I even still have a spare bit of open space!
Before I could even show these kids my collection of drawing pens or let them take a sneak peak at completed drawings for Feminism Is for Everyone: a Coloring Book, one of them popped off, "Oh, Ms. Michelle, I love your room! The clutter! It feels so good in here!" and right behind that one the rest of them chimed in, "There's so much stuff in here, everywhere! I want to live in here! It's cluttered but..." They didn't quite know how to finish that sentence, but rather than being insulted, I laughed. I knew what they meant. There's clutter, and then there is the act of cluttering around you the things that you need to see in order to create, in order to feel creative energy, in order to believe that the world we live in wants you to live creatively. 

My studio is cluttered with photos of friends, family, and the many iterations of myself, magazine clippings, books on creativity, color, drawing, and painting, bins of colored pencils, crayons, markers, beads, colored paper, discarded comic books, brushes, erasers, and art paper, shelves full of coloring books dating back to the 1970s, gifts and mementos, Legos, awards, colorings and drawings from young people in my life, an Edward Cullen doll whose fingers are chewed off, a collection of nesting dolls from around the world, memorabilia of all sorts, succulents, cactus, cabinets full of rubber stamps, decorative bags waiting to be used, rows and rows of full journals, the only pair of ballet toe shoes I ever wore, the TeleTone taps from my favorite pair of retired high heeled tap shoes, a hat box from the 1920s that belonged to a beloved great aunt, a pondering rock that Steve made me to stare at when I need inspiration, technology, tables, chairs, and cats. 

After the "Great Overhaul of 2019," my studio is filled with a cluttering of life-changing magic.


  1. Finally was able to sit and read this. I too am decluttering what was my craft room. Mom is moving in with us so I needed to figure out what projects stayed and which I needed to just say no more. I too discovered projects I had "put aside" to get something else done. So many wine bottles! But I digress. Finding a correlation between projects is amazing! I never thought much how one could influence another. I am so happy for you and your "clutter".

    1. Nicole, I hope that as you go through your clutter to make room for your mom, you will find good memories as well as good ideas that you need to set aside (and let's say "for the time being" instead of "no more," that is, unless, you have truly lost your interest in those hobbies and projects). Life definitely has its seasons, some more full than others; find a good spot to save anything you discover in your "clutter" that makes you wistful for more time because, I promise, the time you need to focus on that side of yourself will come around again. <3

  2. I love all of this so much!!!! <3


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