Organizing a Creative Mess

organizing a creative messDo you have a creative mess? Do you feel inspired by it…or overwhelmed?

I have helped clients organize their quilting and sewing rooms; scrapbooking, jewelry making, painting, and glass art studios; and elementary school art classrooms. Their respective supplies and equipment all had different storage requirements, but the clients all had these things in common:

Artists and crafters, do you feel inspired by your creative mess...or overwhelmed? Share on X

They all started with the same thing:

  • A creative mess

And they all wanted the same thing:

  • To be able to find their supplies and tools when they need them
  • Sufficient clear table space at which to actually work and create
  • An attractive and inspiring work space or studio

Some artists and crafters feel that a creative mess is inevitable, and that they can’t function without it. But when does a creative mess become a quagmire of excess supplies? Are your tools and equipment piled up and unusable because they are inaccessible or forgotten about? Are you re-buying supplies simply because you can’t find them? Is every surface occupied to the point that there is no room to actually work?

I am not suggesting that you work in a sterile Zen-like environment. Not at all! By all means have an idea board, and display some of your favorite pieces.  But also consider doing the following:

  • Declutter and create more S.P.A.C.E. for being creative. Get rid of old projects and supplies to make room for new ones.
  • Keep the 80/20 Rule in mind when purging excess supplies and tools. You only use 20% of your stuff 80% of the time…don’t you? And some of those projects you always thought you were going to finish… or start…you aren’t really so interested in anymore… right? Are they really worth doing?
  • Find ways of storing your supplies that not only make them accessible, but also keep them from overflowing  into your workspace. (I’m a big fan of clear plastic shoe boxes.) Keep only things you use every day within arm’s reach. The less frequently you use it, the farther away it should be stored.
  • Ask for help if you need it.

Do you have a creative mess that needs to be (or already has been) organized? Do tell us about it in the comments below!

Copyright 2014 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life — updated 2016
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  1. Janet Barclay on February 9, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    The challenge that I face is that I keep little bits and bobs that just might come in handy when creating a greeting card, some day. I like to work with what I have, and rarely go out and buy stuff specifically for a project. But it’s all so random…

    • Hazel Thornton on February 10, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      I recommend an actual “Bits ‘n Bobs” container for you, Janet. You need a place to “corral the clutter”. Just don’t let it overflow! If it starts to get full, sort it out and see if you don’t have things that can be put away into existing homes, and if a new category emerges, create a home for it.

      • Janet Barclay on February 11, 2014 at 4:58 am

        In that case, I guess I’m okay, as I have them all (or most of them) stored in a drawer inside my office supply cupboard. 🙂

  2. Jill Robson on April 23, 2016 at 7:50 am

    I had the same issue with our home utility bag, my husband has it all thrown in together, I purchased a Bits and Bobs container, and now he is much happier with it even thought he said it was fine before!!

  3. Janet Bloom on April 23, 2016 at 8:39 am

    “Keep only things you use every day within arm’s reach. The less frequently you use it, the farther away it should be stored.”

    This is such commonsense advice but it’s something that even I forget sometimes. Silly to reach around something you hardly use in order to get something you use often!

    This tip can be used everywhere too – in a pantry, in the pots and pans cabinet, in a linen closet, etc.
    Thanks for this post!

    • Hazel Thornton on April 24, 2016 at 9:29 am

      Yes. Everywhere! Kitchen counter, desk, bathroom counter…

  4. Sabrina Quairoli on April 23, 2016 at 9:33 am

    Great suggestions, Hazel. Practical organizing is fine for creative people, it doesn’t need to be perfect. Everything just needs to have a home. The majority of my clients are in the creative field.

    I know for me when I am creative, the area is a little messy but I clean it up after I am done and I feel better. I do know that if it is messy around me, I just can’t be creative so I have to straighten up first and then I can focus. It works well.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Hazel Thornton on April 24, 2016 at 9:28 am

      It’s so nice to have a work space where you can leave a particular project out for working on. But I’m with you, Sabrina. I can’t have multiple projects out — it just creates chaos in the room and in my head.

  5. Seana Turner on September 10, 2018 at 7:16 am

    I have heard this comment from my creative friends as well. There can be a bit of a bias against the idea of cleaning up and organizing, as if it will kill the creativity. But as you say, if you can’t find what you want to use, the mess just isn’t working for you. Finding a balance that works for the individual is what matters. I love creative people – they see inspiration everywhere and challenge me to look at the world in a fresh way:)

    • Hazel Thornton on September 10, 2018 at 11:26 am

      Precisely! “Finding a balance that works for the individual is what matters.” Thanks, Seana!

  6. Shannon Gibson on September 10, 2018 at 8:35 am

    I often say “use what you already have first.” And as a creative individual who loves to get her hands dirty and turn old things into something new to serve another purpose. I live by this philosophy, which takes me to the 80/20 rule you mentioned, that helps to put things in perspective and feel that often times the clutter build of is due to a lack of practicality, and advising people to only keep what they need is the key, but as you know, it can also be challenging.

    • Hazel Thornton on September 10, 2018 at 11:30 am

      Yes, challenging! It’s all about setting limits. If you think you might want to repurpose some wooden pallets (random example), by all means keep the 5 you have, if you have space for them. But there is really no point in continuing to accumulate them if you never did start the project you had in mind 10 years ago and are working on other projects that interest you more now. It depends a lot on how big the stuff is, and how hard it is to come by.

  7. Linda Samuels on September 10, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    One of my favorite things to do is organize creative spaces with clients. There are so many colors and textures and interesting categories of possibilities. As someone with an art background, I appreciate the materials and what they might become. And I’ve always found that after organizing someone’s studio space, it inspires my own creativity. There’s a balance between having enough organization to make creating possible with maintaining enough visual stimulation and interest in view to spark those creative juices. That’s different for each person and space. But I love the challenge. I remember when I was young, I used to take art classes at a local studio. We were allowed to pick the materials we wanted to work with. I’d go into this large hallway filled with floor to ceiling shelves. On the shelves were cardboard boxes with different materials in each one. Instead of the boxes being labeled by name, a sample of the material was affixed to the front of the box. I loved that space!

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