Interior view of the Hat Factory recreation at The maragret Olley Art Centre
Margaret Olley’s painting chair, Hat factory
The Green Kitchen, Hat Factory Margaret Olley
I am in a state of flux. In between houses and many other things. Trying to climb mountains that I assessed as mole hills. My creativity when I need it to breathe, has been stifled. One thing that is true of my life is that chaos or entropy is constantly increasing. I create in clutter. I am a visual person. I like to see everything all at once, my mind maps, plotting, structure, character boards etc. Being an empty-nester I now have no reservation, in fact I don’t know that I had much prior to being an empty-nester, but now, I have no reservation in writing across my double glass sliding doors with multi-colour glass pens to visually plot out my manuscript. That was until four weeks ago…
On Mother’s Day, my son confirmed my suspicions, “this is the one.” I had doubts. I own a lot of books that lovingly clutter my house. I had found my dream property but there wasn’t enough room for my books. So, after finding solutions including building a new library/ writing room and two storey book tower (like the one where I discovered, North and South, in Umbria, I was convinced.) I know this place has magic.
The Real Estate’s first command to sell my house was “get rid of all the books.” The books, now boxed fill a 3 x 5m floor to ceiling storage container. The removalist informed me that is usually the storage size needed for the furniture of a normal three-bedroom house. The change felt good. I cleaned the windows of my visual creative genius. I uncluttered my house. The vision boards of novels, characters and memos all went into storage. The house listing went up, with the photos being a testament of a minimalist house.
“Looks great,” “why would you leave?” “wow, your dream house must be amazing to leave this house on the coast.” My coastal home in the trees. Problem is, in this house on display, I can’t work. It isn’t my home. I can’t find anything and I am terrified of making a mess. It is an alien environment, free from books. I can’t think. It is a black hole sterile of creativity. An environment where all lines are defined.
This minimal and clear space is not conducive to creativity for me. I know there are successful movements for de-cluttering but I need clutter as a comforting reminder that I am allowed to make mistakes. I have permission to let go of regiment and confines.
My high school art teacher, Jamie Henderson, always told me that there is no such thing as mistakes. A mistake can be the beginning of a masterpiece, an opportunity, something the rules and your mind may not have thought of. If your house is perfection and everything kept within the guidelines, where is the Tardis for the creativity that flows and challenges and dances outside the lines?
I never had an ordered room growing up, I never coloured between the lines. Whilst at uni training to be a teacher, a lecturer announced, “there’s always one” and tisked before turning away from me. I had been asked to stand in the middle of a circle, to touch his hand without moving from the inner circle around my feet. The lecturer stood on the outside of the circle. He was so sure I would not be able to touch his hand, he looked away. Being a kick boxing student, I touched his hand with a controlled movement of my right leg whilst remaining balanced and stationary on my left leg. “There’s always one” he said, shaking his head. The shame for thinking outside the ordinary descended. Well, no more.
As what seems to be the universe embraces de-cluttering, I am going to be the one who embraces cluttering for the sake of creativity. I am not saying be dirty. Owning numerous books is not hording. It is building a library. Honoring your creative process cannot be bad. Mine just comes from a place of sprawl where writer dinners like avocado or sardines on toast, or… I can’t believe I’m admitting this but …. turns my stomach to think of it…tin spaghetti out of the can, with a spoon because there were no clean forks, because you are on a creative whirl-wind roll and there is no time to stop for dishes or cooking. Ok, so I have done it and will probably if needed do it again. It is not the norm for me. Given the choice when I am in creative flow to clean or create??? I am choosing the muse.
So whilst the world de-clutters. I say embrace your creative process. As long as it is effective for you who cares? I had so many woulda, shoulda, couldas previously, thinking that “if I was more organised or de-cluttered” my writing would be more productive. Having created in chaos, surrounded by clutter, where I can see everything at a glance and enter my void, I know, I am most productive. Now, living in this minimalistic display house, I know it is not me. I cannot breathe to create without creative clutter. I can’t find anything and I find myself completely disheveled and disorganized.
Whether you are a clutter creative or a de-clutter creative, embrace it because there is no right or wrong. I don’t go to the extremes of Margaret Olley but I’m still creating. Clutter doesn’t mean dirty. It doesn’t mean disorganized. It just means different. Different. Different to… sterile creativity for me. I’m choosing clutter and like Miss Piggy in mud I am going to revel in it.
In my clutter, I’ve written children’s series, curriculum for adults, outlined a series of six adult novels and written the first due out September 1st, outlined the series of thirteen YA and written the first three due out in November, planned the Byron Bay Writers’ Symposium for April 2017 and continued freelancing as a Structural Editor and Mentor to writers becoming authors. All in all, I think it’s more important to know what works best for you in regards to efficiency and productivity.
I knew what worked best for me but let doubt creep in because society on mass said I should de-clutter. Note to self: No one knows the truth but you, no one knows what is best for you but you. I’m forty and still reminding myself of something I knew when I was sixteen. If like me, you work best in creative clutter, there is no shame in it, instead let’s celebrate it. Margaret Olley was a creative genius and lived in clutter because her art came first. I’m not saying deliberately go to her extreme, just know what works for you and embrace it without justification or judgement.