I swear by the gods there is a black hole in my stationery drawer.
Pens go in, and never come out. Art supplies are purchased and promptly lost into the abyss. Staplers that I SWEAR I saw in there only a few days ago disappear without a trace.
After the umpteenth time I barged into his office yelling accusations of stationery theft, my husband (not-so)gently pointed out that maybe “they’re hiding somewhere underneath the piles of crap on your desk.”
“‘Piles of crap’? What ‘piles of crap’?” I cry in indignation.
He stands in my doorway and gestures at the avalanche of papers, art projects, and miscellanea that overwhelm my tiny desk.
“That is NOT a ‘pile of crap’,” I say. “That is a very efficient pile-based filing system.”
“Uh-huh.” He nods. “So where is your stapler?”
This discussion, in numerous variants, occurs on perhaps a once-a-month basis. It is my cue to begin my monthly office cleanup. I do this regularly now because I’ve realised that – despite my well-intentioned efforts – I’m incapable of keeping the space clutter-free for more than a week.
Cluttered does not necessarily mean disorganised, however, and I’ve learnt over the years that it’s important to strike a balance between being able to easily lay hands on things and being able to work in a space that feels fun and relaxed and impulsive.
Here are some of my tips for creative organising:
1. Find Creative / Funky Storage and Display Solutions
If you’re anything like me, you don’t think well when confronted by walls of square drawers, boring plastic boxes and a filing cabinet full of brown manila folders. A creative mind needs storage solutions that excite and tantalise the sense and promise hidden treasures and long-forgotten projects.
My husband bought me a filing unit with ten plastic trays. These trays are MULTI-COLOURED. They CLASH VIOLENTLY. This filing system is awesome. It houses this year’s taxes, my husband’s taxes, my smaller art originals and freelance writing research material.
Many of my creative friends who work from visual inspiration string up lengths of twine and peg pictures, doodles and inspirational quotes from them. I love this idea – the strings make the room look so festive, but are easy to maintain and update.
2. Incoming Mail
I always sort my mail standing directly OVER my rubbish bin, which happens to be within arms reach of my home-bills folder. Everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – that’s not something that needs further action goes directly into that folder to file, or into the bin. I then deal with all the items that need actioning right away.
3. Create “Zones” to Contain Your Madness
Even in my small office (approx. 3m square) I have specific zones set aside for various activities. I have my desk in one corner – this is the writing zone. Another corner is taken up by the wardrobe. This is currently blocked off with a giant pile of home-brew equipment, and is the brewing/creative/art zone. I keep all my art supplies in the cupboard and often set up my easel there to paint. To the right of my desk you’ll find my bookshelf and storage trays and a huge pile of canvases – this is the storage zone.
Office “zones” will be particularly relevant to you if you work in a larger workroom and have a business that involves many different processes. Setting up different areas for creation, pre-production, production, photography, Internet / book-keeping and shipping/mailing will give your space a creative assembly line that will keep most of your stuff roughly where it should be.
4. If You Don’t Use It, Lose It
Sticking all your paperwork into neatly organised folders, implementing a physical “inbox” and all the other top de-cluttering tips are awesome and all, but if you can’t stick with these new procedures, your creative space is going to be back the way it was faster than you can say, “I can’t find my stapler. My husband must’ve borrowed it …”
Only choose storage solutions you know you’ll actually use. Observe your weekly habits and figure out your regular patterns. Think of ways to streamline and focus those regular patterns to enable you to be tidier and more organised. Don’t try and fit yourself into some kind of organisation mould. Just be yourself – but the more organised version of you.
5. Mood Lighting
Get your lighting right to prevent eyestrain and help you find all those pins you keep dropping. For most people this means buying a decent lamp or two. For me, it means closing the curtains to block out the sun while I’m working and only turning the light on when it’s … well, actually never turning the light on.
6. Keep a Distraction File
This is a concept I’ve been using for a number of years now. Whenever I’m working (which I try to do with the internet browser off, but don’t always succeed), I might get some brilliant idea for something else, and I’m keen to flit off and pursue that. This idea nags and pulls at me, and my current work slows down as a result.
Instead of allowing myself to be pulled away by this project, I turn to my distraction file (I use the note paper at the back of my diary, which I have open on my desk at all times, and a word file on the computer). I write down all my ideas on this new project, allowing my mind to empty itself of the inspiration so I can return to the task at hand.
It doesn’t always work, but it definitely helps me stay on task when inspiration starts tugging.
7. Trick Yourself
Sometimes organisation is about little more than fooling your brain into feeling accomplished. For example, I love the piling system – I make piles of a certain thing, and piles they will stay, looking all messy and disorganised. Whereas if I buy a cheap plastic bin and stick the pile INSIDE it, I instantly feel better. I’ve organised something! All I’ve done is contain the pile within four walls and a lid, but my brain doesn’t care.
A few plastic bins and funky storage jaws will make light work of even your messier spaces, and that includes the inside of your head.
Extra for Experts
When doing a bit of recon for this article, I stumbled upon a great blog called Simplify 101: Creative Organising, which has a heaps of ideas on organising for non-organisers, as well as pretty pictures of organised creative spaces that make you want to get stuck in!
Readers, what are your organisation tips and techniques? Also, have any of you seen my stapler?
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