As a child, I spent almost all of my unstructured downtime writing stories, singing my favorite songs, and playing dress up. Like so many children, I had tremendous creative energy that I unleashed without giving it a second thought.
As I my schooling progressed, even as the focus on my life because increasingly academic, I held onto my creative dreams. I even started college as a theater major. As some point, though, I switched majors, feeling like it just wasn’t practical. Like I just wasn’t good enough.
I continued to write throughout college and my twenties, but something felt missing. Something felt blocked. One way or another, I would pick up supplies for different activities and would-be creative projects, but they would all just sit there.
They slowly built up and started taking over the “office” that my husband and I had set up in a spare room. We would often close that door, pretend it wasn’t there, and take our computers to the bed or the couch. But I knew they were there, lurking around somewhere. And, as the pile grew, so did my shame and guilt over all of the unfinished projects, forgotten activities, and - in the big picture - neglected dreams.
Meanwhile, something was clearly missing from my life. I felt awful that I wasn’t able to bring my creative dreams to life, or even have a meaningful pastime that engaged my undeniable creative streak.
The year that I discovered the power of decluttering was also a year of creative recovery.
Wherever you are on your journey, I think you’ll find a similar correlation. When you let go of the projects and activities that not longer excite you, you not only let go of the associated negative feelings, you also make space for what’s relevant to you now.
Here are some different types of things you might look out for as you declutter to unblock your creativity.
Things you tried that didn’t work out
Maybe you love rock music and always wanted to play guitar. You got yourself a guitar, signed up for lessons, and just couldn’t get into it. More often than not, the items tied to this activity are clutter. Here’s a test: does it make you feel icky to look at it, or to touch it? If so, I’m sorry to say, but it’s clutter, and you’re going to be a lot lighter with it gone. And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I like to look at this as “collecting data.” You tried guitar. Turns out it wasn’t for you. What about it didn’t work out? Can you use that information to learn more about what you don’t enjoy so you can find some activities you will enjoy?
Maybe you received a beer-making kit for Christmas, or an adult coloring book for your birthday. It was totally well meaning - but it’s not what you would have chosen for yourself. It’s definitely not in the top 5 things you would do with your free time. And yet you feel bad because you “haven’t gotten to it yet” - like it’s an item on your to-do list! Writer and decluttering enthusiast Gretchen Rubin calls this “homework” and unfortunately I think that’s spot on. Rest assured, your loved one didn’t mean to do that to you. Give yourself a moment to soak in the good vibes that were behind the gift, and take the homework off your plate so you can make space for creative activities that you’d actually do in your free time.
Old, Unfinished Projects
That quilt that you’ve all but given up on because turns out you hate sewing. The book you used to be so excited about writing but now you’d rather do anything else. Supplies for a costume you mean to put together one Halloween. These “loose ends” are vamping your qi. If you feel like you just can’t let them go, gather them all up in one place so you can physically look at what you’re asking yourself to do. It might be a manageable pile, or it might be totally overwhelming. My recommendation is to give yourself a month to finish the most important ones - or if need be, a season - and then let it go. Your creative spirit needs to have projects that excite you in the now.
Things you really want to do
You might find some items that represent activities that you actually want to pursue. You may or may not be actively pursuing it. If you’re not currently pursuing it, but really want to, what’s the next step you could take to make this a reality? For example, you may have accumulated a lot of painting supplies...but when push comes to shove, you just can’t get yourself to paint much as you want to! Perhaps you need to take a painting class to break the ice and get comfortable enough with the activity that you wouldn’t hesitate to whip it out when you’re free.
This can be one of the toughest areas of life to declutter, but if you haven’t felt that creative spark in awhile, it’s worth facing down. Your creative energy isn’t practical. You can’t reason with it. You can’t force yourself to be interested in something you’re not. And at the same time, we all have zones of genius and limitations. When you can get real with yourself about what’s really fun for you, and how you really want to spend your time, you make space for the creative activities you really want to do.