Week 1: Cultivate creative flow through creating space
This four-week workshop is all about getting back your creative flow. To start, we’re going to focus on creating the physical and mental space for creativity to flourish.
This week’s challenge to kickstart your creative flow:
Designate and tidy up your workspace.
Declutter. This is an important symbolic act. You are clearing the ground for new beginnings, new projects to emerge; opening the space to creative flow. You are signalling to yourself that you value your creative practice and respect your resolution to carry out this challenge.
Carve out a space. If you’re new to creative practice and you don’t have a workspace in your home, it is time to create one. For this four-week challenge, you should have a permanent workspace that you can go to on a regular basis. Identify an area of your home where you can set up. If you live in a cramped apartment, it can be a desk, a table, even half of the kitchen table—work with what you have. However, it is important that you designate that area as your creative space (and let your cohabitants know as well).
Comfort & Functionality. Think about the comfort and functionality of your workspace. Do you need a file folder or desk organizer? Is your chair at the right height? Your computer screen at eye-level? Do you have adequate lighting? Make your workspace as ergonomic as possible. Discomfort or lack of functionality too often become obstacles to creative flow.
Organize your Studio. For visual artists, the sheer mass of art supplies can make the challenge more difficult. However, there are plenty of wonderful DIY solutions out there for organizing paints, filing works on paper, and storing canvases. Browse online and consult my previous article 10 Brilliant Ideas to Organize Your Art Studio for a few ideas.
Collect and organize your materials. Make sure that they are easily accessible and not locked away in boxes or stashed at the back of a cupboard. Do you have all the essentials? Make a list of what you need and make sure that you get it this week.
Take stock. While decluttering and setting up, let your mind wander and reflect. Begin to reflect on the year ahead, on your goal of living a more creative life. The practical and symbolic gesture of preparing your space, focusing your energies on making room for creativity to flourish, encourages a subtle shift in mindset. You’re telling your unconscious that there’s something important in-the-making, giving it a nudge. You’d be amazed at how much of our thinking goes on ‘behind-the-scenes’ in unconscious processes that make connections and work away at finding creative solutions while we’re in the shower or out for a walk.
Ultimately, this week’s challenge, though it seems so simple, is all about preparing for success and equipping yourself for journey ahead.
For more ways to deeply integrate these principles into your life and implement an minimalist approach, read on!
Decluttering and the Art of Hygge
As the winter months set in and the hours of daylight become fewer, it’s only natural that our indoor spaces become more populated and, as a result, more cluttered. For freelancers, artists, and creatives who work from home, hibernation mode is inevitable and our workspaces quickly become our chaotic nesting spaces.
In any workplace, emotional clutter is just as real and tangible as physical clutter. It clouds our minds and not only stunts our productivity, but inhibits our creative flow and inventiveness. But for many people, mental de-cluttering is not as simple as making a cup of tea and taking a deep breath—it’s a constant struggle tied to neurological and social conditions. Maintaining emotional and mental calm is a complex process. Some grounding techniques can help while others can simply act as band-aid fixes for deeper problems. Everyone’s coping mechanisms differ, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to combatting anxiety and mental haziness. With this in mind, developing individual strategies for de-cluttering our minds, grounding ourselves, and gaining perspective can help in moments when we feel untethered.
Creating a calm atmosphere in our workspaces and studios can directly impact our productivity, output, and creative flow. The Danish word hygge (also referred to in Swedish as mys) is one of those complex untranslatable words with no English equivalent, but which perfectly describes the calm environment that brings about a feeling of ease.
I suppose the closest translation is coziness, but a hygge atmosphere is so much more than just a snuggly room. A hygge environment is a calm and safe haven—perhaps brought about by dim lighting, clean surfaces, serene neutral colours and fragrant aromas. Picture sitting down in a tidy, candle-lit corner with a new book, and cozying up in warm socks with a pot of fresh jasmine tea which fills the room with fragrance. It’s romantic, sparkling, and above all—simple. The actual things that make you feel this coziness are irrelevant (the tea, the lighting, the socks), it’s about experiencing the quietest luxuries with all of your senses. These understated luxuries (quiet jazz, fresh-picked flowers) create an atmosphere of simple, peeled-back living, which allows you to draw your attention to a small, slightly indulgent treat. Consider making the effort to find beautiful, thoughtful rest, as opposed to just procrastinating sporadically. Rather than binging on luxuries in your rest periods, make an effort to create a full atmosphere that represents calm, everyday luxury. Beyond your breaks, you can create an environment that embodies hygge ideals in order to foster creativity and keep a calm sensibility.
For workspaces, this means creating an environment where you aren’t suffocated by sentimental objects, clutter, and stacks of paper. Take a minimalist’s approach and clear out non-functional objects, and bring on the multi-functional. Digitize the hard copies of your files, recycle, and create more clear horizontal spaces. Mental clutter can so often reflect physical clutter. But as much as a minimalist workspace seems ideal, it’s not always feasible. There is always physical clutter that’s necessary—cords, tools, stationary, supplies. As the new year sets in, start looking to new storage systems that increase your functionality and keep all your most-used tools within reach. If you’re a collector, this doesn’t mean throwing out all your precious possessions, on the contrary a minimalist lifestyle is all about shifting your value system to eliminate junk that weigh you down, and care for the objects that bring you inspiration. It’s very possible to be a minimalist with a deep love of objects, art, and material culture, it’s simply a matter of reducing the non-meaningful objects that inhibit your creative flow.
Most people have specific sonic requirements for their workspaces; they need complete quiet, or ambient noise, or mellow music. Doesn’t it make sense for us to have similar visual requirements for our most productive workspaces? In many ways a minimalist workspace isn’t simply about creating a visually pleasing environment, it’s about creating a visual quiet that increases functionality and creativity. A visually quiet workspace doesn’t necessarily have to feel sterile (blank white walls and no sentimental objects), it is simply a space where every object has meaning and purpose. Remember, visual quietude surpasses aesthetic boundaries, and it has nothing to do with Ikea-style design. Even if you’re not interested in Scandinavian style, the design principles can breathe through your own approach to design.
A minimalist workspace isn’t simply about creating a visually pleasing environment, it’s about creating a visual quiet that increases functionality and creativity.
The Swedes truly are experts at avoiding cabin fever. With their frigid winters, it only makes sense that the new Nordic design style is all about bringing light and openness to a room, to make you feel like you’re not being cooped up indoors for months on end. As winter sets in, it’s important to create a fresh, bright workspace so that you feel like you’re getting some vitamin D while you’re in hibernation mode. As the Scandinavian sun sits below the horizon in the harsh winter, Swedes and Danes are known for retreating to immaculate, open-concept, minimalistic interiors to warm up.
Like Scandinavian design principles, many of the values that govern feng shui can be applied to your workplace to create balance. These principles for filtering energy (or “chi”) throughout a room help avoid stagnant, dead energy in places that gather dust. By clearing more space in high traffic areas, and surrounding yourself in beautiful objects that encourage flow and movement, you can avoid sitting for long periods of time and burrowing into your desk. Balancing the chi in a room is not about achieving the perfect interior design that doesn’t change or evolve. Quite the contrary, it’s important to let your personal collections grow with your life, and create a space that isn’t always at capacity.
For when your mind itself is at its capacity, it’s crucial to identify what tasks are draining you most, and requiring intense emotional labour. It’s easy to streamline processes that require our physical labour (cooking, commuting, or writing emails) but it’s much more difficult to work through emotionally laborious tasks. These tasks—like taking care of loved ones with disabilities, or patiently working with people with differing sociopolitical beliefs—are not easily streamlined, and it’s a complex task to de-clutter your mind when it’s running an emotional marathon. Creativity can be stifled in these times, and there’s no cookie-cutter solution for dealing with emotional exhaustion. At the very least, it’s important to take the time to value the emotional labour of others, which so regularly goes unrecognized.
Making space for creativity requires a holistic and multi-faceted approach to de-cluttering your life. In order to spark the left side of your brain, it’s crucial to seek intellectual stimulus from many different sources and to feed off of your environment. Collaboration is key, and often times giving feedback on the work of others allows you to critique your own work with a reinvigorated perspective. The only way a knife gets sharp is by colliding with other surfaces, so working out concept designs and project ideas in community will help refine your ability to be critical and creative. Rather than cuccooning in your workspace—burrowing into an insular pod—think of it as a hive, a busy hub for ideas and collaborators to flow in and out, contributing to a network of projects. Expect for inspiration to come at you from any direction, and be ready to write down and work out new ideas as they appear. As for your workspace, create a space that’s still empty enough that you have the impulse to fill it—with ideas, inspiration and new projects.
Join me next week for Part II of the Workshop 4 Weeks to Kick-Start Your Creativity.