Creative Doesn’t Have to Mean Cluttered!

I know, you just read the post title and you’re already mad at me. But hear me out! I’m not writing to condemn people with cluttered houses–far from it! I have plenty of messy tendencies, and right now, I’m very glad no one can see the inside of my closet.

But something I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I. Just. Can’t. Work. At. A. Messy. Desk.

Picture of Albert Einstein with a quote about clutter and creativity

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You can’t do a Google search about creativity without running across studies that say messy desks indicate creative people. Albert Einstein himself would agree, apparently, and he was a genius, so he must be right. But for me, at least, if my desk is cluttered and messy, I develop an aversion to even going to my writing corner or sitting at my desk.

Yes, I have a laptop that I can take anywhere to write, whether it’s a yummy-smelling coffee shop or a quiet library, but when I get home, my cluttered desk will be waiting for me, and I don’t do finances on my laptop, so I’m going to have to sit down and do businessy stuff eventually.

Last year I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and it really did change my life. I’d held on to so many things over the years because I thought I might need them someday, or I thought I should keep memorabilia. But through using the KonMari method of asking a simple question–“Does this spark joy?”–I realized I was holding on to a lot of things that didn’t spark joy.

This weekend, I destroyed journals I kept in middle school, high school, and college. I got rid of correspondence from toxic relationships. I threw a dozen of my mis-printed books in the recycling bin. Yes, I spent money on them, but as another of my favorite simple-life mentors Courtney Carver has pointed out, “You have paid enough. Let it go.

(If you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss is about the KonMari method, or why people are on simplifying and decluttering kicks, I urge you to check out Courtney Carver’s blog. She made some changes and simplied her life and drastically improved her health and well-being.)

Anyway. Once I start feeling that aversion to my desk, it’s best if I just dive in and clean things up. For several years now, I’ve had a clear desktop mat with a bunch of inspiring pictures and quotes under it. Today, I took all of that out from under the mat, put most of the papers in a folder to add to my scrapbook, and went back to my calm, serene desktop–just six feet of gorgeous maple desktop. I put some of my favorite pieces on the bulletin board next to my desk, so I still have some of my inspiration, but when I look at my desk, instead of seeing a cluttered surface distracting me and demanding attention, I mostly see that inviting blank space just waiting for me to fill it with my work.

(Note: I don’t generally have that same reaction to a blank page. That’s more intimidating than inviting sometimes!)

I guess I just got started on my spring cleaning kick early, but I basically spent this weekend cleaning all the things. It’s Eowyn’s fault–she threw up under the bed so I had to move it in order to clean, and I was horrified at the dust under there! So I vacuumed and dusted and decluttered and recycled and finally shredded the two boxes of papers that had been sitting in the spare room for a year. Cleaning the house is a good workout–I logged 31,921 steps over the course of three days, which isn’t too bad for a writer!

Of course, that also means I didn’t get much writing done over the weekend. That means I’ll have to make up for it during the week–but I finally feel like I can. I want to sit down and spend time at my desk. I want to linger over my Bullet Journal and plot out the next several chapters of The Weather War and write some letters for InCoWriMo (I’m not writing a letter every day, but I’m trying to write more letters than usual this month). I like my desk more today than I did yesterday.

And next weekend, I’m going to conquer the clutter in my closet.

A collage with two pictures of the same desk: in the top picture the desk is cluttered; in the bottom picture the desk is clean

My desk, before and after


  1. Wow, I’m impressed.

    I, too, need a clear space in which to work. Not in which to live — in fact, the harder I’m working, the messier the rest of the house gets! But my immediate workspace has to have SOME sense of order for me to focus.

    I salute your bravery and accomplishment!

    • I’d love to have a clear space in which to live, but that just isn’t gonna happen any time soon. :) As long as I have control over my desk, though, I’m pretty happy.

  2. I don’t use a desk because I don’t have the space in my bedroom and just don’t need one, I just place my laptop on the bed. However I have been adamant in decluttering my bedroom. My parents are pack rats and keep all sorts of needless junk.I pretty much have to be very sneaky & secretive throwing things I don’t want anymore away because they think I might regret it. I don’t.

    • Hi Nancy! Having no desk is a great way to keep it clean. ;) It can be difficult when the other people in your family aren’t on the same page as you, though. My dad definitely has packrat tendencies.

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