Time to Clean Up

Not my office, honest. i got this from author2author.com

Not my office, honest. i got this from author2author.com

Some days you are the pigeon. Some days you are the statue. And some days you have to clean your desk, table, or studio space. You just have to. Either that or plow it under and call one of those reality shows where Donald Trump shows up with 50 cat carriers and has a desperate housewife fire you and send you to rehab. I’m sorry, I don’t watch TV, so it all sounds alike to me.  For me, it was another part of my Word of the Year: Let it Go.

Here are some tough love tips for cleaning that worked for me today.

1. Don’t look back. I tried being serious about saving all those articles I’ll read someday. Then I realized that if I really had wanted to read them, I would have. In the time that I’ve collected the articles, I’ve read four books. So I’m not really motivated to read the articles. Toss them.

This is a perfectionism stumble. “If I were a really good X, I would read, file, remember, sketch, write, use this article, image, scrap of ephemera.” Deep breath. It’s a perfectionist thing. Toss it.

Yes, you will probably need it within 10 minutes of the trash truck vanishing down the street with it. Toss it anyway.

2. You won’t buy it anyway. Catalogs marked with turned-down page corners for storage, filing, clothing items. Largely waiting for a windfall. When windfall comes, will need something else. Toss catalogs.

3. Compare and act. Two of the items I wanted in the winter catalog are now on half-price sale. Pick up phone and order. Done. Move on.

4. Even if you teach, throw it out. I have a huge stack of magazines, catalogs, flyers that are “perfect” for that collage class that I’m not teaching this month. Or next. More stuff will accumulate. Toss it out.

5. Start where you are. Don’t try to catch up. More paper is mistakenly saved because you are scared to throw it out, for fear of forgetting, falling behind or forgetting. Unless it bank or tax stuff, make NOW your starting point. Easier and saves the nerves.

Quinn McDonald wishes she would clean up more often. The desk has a nice wood grain she rarely sees.


41 thoughts on “Time to Clean Up

  1. We had an unexpected snow day off from school today and I used it as an opportunity to clean my art studio. There was so much stuff everywhere and now the stuff is still there but “organized” and I have an open floor space to walk freely. The feeling of claustrophobia is gone now when I open the door. I still definitely need to purge supplies and “stuff” but at least this was a start. My husband walked in last night and said, “Wow, I forgot what color the carpeting was in this room!” He was being a tad facetious of course but he was very happy to see the room “cleaned up.” Now I feel that I can go in there and create without feeling trapped. I did put a couple things in a bag to take to our church’s thrift shop. I do need to let go of more however. Why is that so difficult?

    • I love the floor story. I do the same thing with the futon in my studio–that is the bed when we have company. Occasionally the cats will come in and yell at me because they want “their” bed back. When we buy art supplies without a project to use them on, we are buying hope that we will be better artists, maybe even better people. The thrill of a promise is powerful. As long as we own it, there it hope. When we de-stash, or give away, it’s admitting we were wrong. We hate that.

  2. Quinn…I would love to talk to you about what’s going on in my life,I know you would be a great sounding board . From a distance and as a coach you would throw some great perspective on my situation. Once on the plane how about I write you my story,might also help me get some perspective on why I am on it and what the hell I am doing!!!
    When I did my book ten years ago,that last bit of the step by step photos was such a pain…put politely…..I was pregnant,had my biggest order ever from america ,was coordinating the making of 40,000 valentine cards for a deadline to ship,in the end the woman from new holland had to do the shoot and it’s her hands on most of the pictures,I just didn’t have time!!! I had dozens of freezer bags all labelled with the supplies and instructions inside! Good luck,last hurdle!!! That’s after reading thursdays post!!!!!!
    Deep breathes for us both I think!!! Jx

  3. I SO need to do this. My problem is….I walk into the room all determined and ready to get cleaning and my head explodes just trying to figure out where to start. And then I leave. ACK. This post certainly has inspired me to keep trying. Thank you!

    • you are my clean-up twin! I SO often walk in, decide I can’t clean THERE, until I do THIS, and then turn in a circle, uncertain of where to start until I quit. We have all been there!

  4. You must have hidden cameras in all our studios and homes. That is the only thing I can think of to explain how you write exactly about what we are doing (or not doing).

    For the last three days I have been feeding the woodburning stove with old paperwork. I mean, do I really need cable bills from three years ago or my father’s, who has been deceased for 12 years, tax returns? I even took several deep breaths and threw out some photos.

    I cannot believe how much I have thrown out/burned up and still there is more. And reference material, of my, I think I have accumulated more reference material than art supplies. My studio looks fairly neat on the surface but it is all those hidden boxes full of STUFF. Please tell me there is a light at the end of this paper filled tunnel.

  5. We moved house last week (for the 38th time in my adult life). It took four days, two lorries a day for three and a fourth day with five guys unpacking. There’s just me and hubby, no kids so quite how we’ve accumulated all that stuff is somewhat of a mystery.

    I’ve already thrown out loads of stuff (the removal firm take your charity shop goods away for free) and I’m onto my fourth large box of de-clluttered stash just from the craft room.

    There’s a real energy unleashed by a house move – maybe it’s just seeing all that stuff and realising you really don’t need 90% of it. We’re trying to harness that energy …


  6. Aloha, Quinn! As always, I feel like you’ve written your post specifically for me. Have you been hanging out in my newly allocated (and overly FULL) writing space? Ha! Ah… So I sift thru the pages and scraps and…

    And PURGE.

    And then: LOOK! There’s the space on my desk that’s supposed to be used for writing.

    I’d almost forgotten it exists.
    It’s been buried for so long.

    Thank you. Mahalo.
    And hugs.

  7. I cannot work in a mess, so I straighten the piles, put lids on boxes or move to another room! Seriously, I have been known to do so! I’ll even empty the ironing basket so I can get down to work . . . ah, no, that’s straight out procrastination taken to a higher plane – desperation!

    I had been saving boxes and rolls, string, wrapping paper, all sorts of bits and pieces to ‘make stuff’ or ‘just in case it came in handy’ which is almost a family mantra. Well it did come in handy. Picture it . . . wind and rain outside when it should be sunshine, two girls (who have never in their lives whined, “I’m bored”), large cloth on the carpet, magazines, PVA, glue gun, tape, stapler . . . two whole days later when we finally cleaned up there was nothing but amazing creations where there had been a shmozzle of unrecognised treasure. Everything that was left went out! Even the creations have a negotiated ‘recycle’ date.

    I aim to live by the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Sweetheart!

  8. It must be THAT time of year. Seems everybody feels the need to “clean up, and clean out”. Is it because it’s tax time? purge….purge….purge…. I’ve been trying to clean out my file cabinet as well. I’m always picking things up and tossing them and then need them later. I have to remember to look at everything! I almost threw away some important documents the other day.
    The trick is (I’m only guessing) to make conscience decisions about what is realistic to keep and what to toss moment by moment. No there’s a goal! My best to you and all out there in your organizing, cleaning up efforts. I feel your pain.

  9. Just last night I was making plans to empty every drawer, tabletop, bin, nook and cranny that housed my art supplies. I want to put them all in one room and re-organize, toss and de-stash. As I was going over every little place that houses supplies, I became overwhelmed. I then switched my thinking to, “Wow, you’ve cleverly organized (read hidden) a lot of stuff but now you need to figure out what you’re really going to use and what you need to toss.”

    I’m actually pretty good at tossing things but with art supplies it’s difficult. I’m often shocked that I grab something to use in a piece that I’ve had for a couple years and almost threw away.

    I guess this post is meant to kick me into gear….thanks, I think!

    • I just mailed all my art supplies to the publisher, because I have my photo shoot coming up. The studio looks empty and I have time to discover what I didn’t ship! We all have to start somewhere.

  10. Dear Quinn, Always love your articles in this vein that seem to “have my name on them.” Ffeel free if you like to use a plan I recently implemented to allow me to keep yet not feel overrun by “kept” articles and paperwork. I recently began to place art and samples of creations I wanted to keep in a large 3-ring binder for future reference. I pull the articles out the original magazine and give the magazines to doctors offices. Just to get rid of all the original magazines is a huge “toss out” in itself. Granted, it is not throwing out as you described, but my main issue has always been wanting to keep yet still be able to find. Regards, Terry Lee Tulipane

  11. I don’t generally save very much material stuff. A big help in this is to constantly apply Sturgeon’s Law: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” 🙂

  12. thank you for this timely post!! now tell me when I will have the time to do all the throwing out (grin!!) as you say, JUST DO IT! anyone interested in surface design journals form the year DOT??? Ornament magazine?

  13. Information is being recorded more digitally than on paper, and I suspect it won’t be long before things like tax documents don’t need to be printed at all. I once had a fairly large filing cabinet full of purportedly important things, but that’s now down to half a drawer and 8 folders in a rack next to my desk (and four of those folders are two pairs of duplicates; I’m not an efficient filer).

    It’s an interesting twist, though, that as information storage moves from human-readable to machine-readable media, it’s getting more persistent. Sure, there are isolated cases of a single document being preserved for centuries, but that might just be because electronic-mediated storage isn’t that old yet.

    One thing accompanying this is an attitude that feels like a “need” to ensure nothing is lost. It’s not just individuals; there’s a collective urge in this direction as well. Organizations and governments “want” everything preserved. Other organizations and whole professions exist to work on this.

    I haven’t tried to closely identify it, but there might be something awry in all this. For an individual, dragging a great deal of personal history around might not be an entirely beneficial thing. It’s not necessarily good for organizations, either. Kodak “always made film”; where is it now?

    “Preservation”, “protection”, “keeping”…there are very, very dark sides to these things.

  14. Apt as ever……going away to uk from Spain again tomorrow to organize new schools for kids,house etc…on a broomstick and a sprinkle of fairy dust as I have zero money! However where there is a will there is a way. I have so many lists that need consolidating….and just doing!!! Paperwork is Bain of my life. I finally bit bullet last nite when I ran out of things to light the fire with…I got my box of articles that I have torn out and never read….at least they had a box….. Ripped them all up and used them as kindling!!! This morning I took all my three jotting pads to the cafe had my coffee and redid my lists and tore and threw out what wasn’t needed….I am now down to two sides of A4…be it small writing…of the imperative things that need addressing!!! How funny you should put that post up today!!
    My word for year is UNRAVEL…..I would like to explain further why I have chosen that,and will when I don’t have a plane to get on for a deadline!!!
    Thank you for being such an amazing virtual friend!! Good thing is I can take you with me when I relocate!!!!!!
    Have a great day. X

    • Now I want to know more about your trip, and what’s on those lists and how you are going to get this all done! You are an inspiration all on your own. Let’s leave the place messy and sit down and talk.

  15. O my, when I see that photo….just want to scream….or just close the door and pretend if it isn’t there……chaos……. you are so right about get rid of things you don’t use and only saving them because perhaps you want to do something with it in the future…..
    I realize often that I have to tidy up more because inside me it’s getting also more of a chaos, as the outside so is the inside! And when I am cleaning and throwing away unnecessary stuff , I also become ’emptier’ myself! That’s how it works for me. So going from chaos to harmony! But if people can feel harmonious with chaos than it’s OK too! My husband is a terrible chaotic and does create a lot of ‘mess’ around him…..so I am struggling a lot with tidying up the house and letting go ……so I became less ‘structured and perfect’ but he did not become more structured……so I have to deal with that!

  16. I’m glad you clarified that the photo was not your own desk ‘cos I was thinking you would take a month of Sundays to clean that up. lol It’s amazing how fast things accumulate but it always feels good to do a tidy up and a purge. Great post!

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