Good read: Decluttering for makers

Illustration by Maiko Nagao

Can advice on ‘how to Kondo’ help you organise your creative studio and supplies, or do crafters need a different approach? Anne Wollenberg finds out.

We used to call it tidying. Now, decluttering is all the rage. Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and follow-up Spark Joy, even made Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. But are principles such as “keep only those things that bring you joy” and “you will never use spare buttons” useful for makers or is a different approach needed?

Organised chaos

“I found [Kondo’s book] life-changing,” says jewellery designer Laura Hunter, whose home office used to be crammed with clutter. “Now I have room on my desk, I don’t feel so cramped and everything in my office is cute.”

Illustrator and blogger Lily von Cupcake of Tiny Grey Cat isn’t convinced. “Anything regimented instantly puts me off,” she says. “I’m a very visual person, so I like lots of pretty things around me to inspire and stimulate. My workspace can get pretty messy, but I still mostly know where everything is.”

Blogger and designer-maker Claire Wilson loves organising her studio. “I enjoy sorting and clearing out items that have served their purpose so they can be used by someone else.” That doesn’t mean asking if they spark joy, though. “A skein of yarn might not spark joy until it’s been crafted into something special.”

“I have the most cluttered workspace imaginable and the thought of Marie Kondo makes me feel a bit dizzy,” says illustrator Toby Dean of I Like Cats. “I tidy once a month but it doesn’t take long for the mess to creep back.” That’s not the same as being disorganised: “I try to keep my stock ordered and file paperwork away.”

“Organisation is sometimes more challenging for the most imaginative and artistic people, but it’s still vital for creating an efficient and productive workspace,” advises Nicole Anzia, owner of Neatnik and organising columnist for The Washington Post. “You should be able to find the things you need without too much searching and have a space that lets you work comfortably.”

She recommends clear plastic boxes. “Creative people often need to be able to see their supplies,” she explains. Laura agrees, partly because clear storage helps her monitor stock levels. “It also reminds me of what I do. I like looking up from my laptop and thinking: what I make is cute!”

Laura’s office is organised in zones: a work desk with easy-to-reach tools, a designing desk, and an old writing desk repurposed into a packing station, plus she reuses empty Ferrero Rocher boxes.

“I keep items visible so I don’t have to rifle through boxes for a particular thread or paintbrush,” agrees Claire. “I use big baskets for large items, clear acrylic containers for small things and a pegboard for hanging scissors and items I use daily.”

Creative solutions

Claire has repurposed her grandfather’s wooden wine rack to store spray paint cans. Lily also likes borrowing solutions from elsewhere: “Ikea’s kitchen hanging pots make great pen pots and free up work surfaces. You can also use a spice rack or kitchen roll holder to keep washi tapes together and organised.”

Just don’t overthink it, says Lily. “If you try to implement a rigid system that doesn’t feel natural, it won’t work. Condense where possible – do you need five glue sticks? – store little things inside a bigger thing and embrace a bit of creative chaos. If your studio doesn’t feel like ‘you’, you won’t like using it.”

“I don’t think it matters if your workspace is tidy, as long as it’s inspiring,” agrees Toby. “As long as you’ve got a grip on the important stuff, your creative space should be as expressive as you like.”

Laura feels differently about the effect of clutter. “I always thought that by surrounding myself with things I loved and found interesting or inspiring, my work would be better,” she says. “But actually, after getting rid of excess stuff, I find my work is fresher and more focused. It’s easy to be inspired when you can actually see what you love.”

Illustration by Maiko Nagao.