4 tips for clearing your artist workspace

Sheila Chandra - Monday, April 24, 2017

Clearing your artist workspace efficiently in order to begin work – or even just so it’s nicer to work in – is one of those essential skills we all need to have. It may look simple but it’s a task that can trip the best of us up as we run into problems with indecision, the need to keep old and irrelevant but expensive work materials, or hoard. Most of these problems come out of not knowing how to do the job properly in the first place, as it’s not a skill we’re formally taught as children. And maybe we should be! In the meantime, here are my four tips for clearing your artist workspace with the minimum of fuss and effort.



Tip #1 - prepare for clearing your artist workspace properly

Start out by incorporating plans to go to the dump with your useless items and to the charity shop with useful ones. You shouldn’t end a clearing session by tripping over bags in the hallway, or you’ll be tempted to second guess yourself and your room clearing will have been in vain. Clearing a room isn’t finished until these bags are disposed of, so make sure you load them in the car, or can actually dispose of them on the same day. Equally, leave yourself enough time to do the job, and plan for breaks with maybe some convenient snacks, drinks and meals on hand.



Tip #2 – make sure you’re clearing your artist workspace systematically

If you can’t see the floor you’ll have to start there, at least until you’ve created some space in which you can sort things into categories. But if you can, begin with your most obscure storage spaces in the room e.g. the big cupboard, highest and least used shelves etc. The reason to do this is twofold. First, these places will contain all sorts of ‘out of date’ items that you no longer need or which are no longer relevant to your creative life. Making a decision on them should therefore be relatively easy and you’ll be clearing a high volume of things and creating more space.

The second reason is that when you get to the higher traffic areas in the room you’ll usually find it full of things which are useful but which don’t need to be cluttering up your working space/that particular area. But you still need them, so you need somewhere to put them. Well, if you’ve already cleared the cupboard/that high shelf, you’ll have the perfect place…



Tip #3 – clear your artist workspace by asking yourself three questions

Clearing your artist workspace has to happen one item at a time. And to make a good decision you need to ask yourself three questions. Will I use this item in the next year? If you’re keeping items because you think you’ll use them ‘sometime’ chances are you’re mentally loading up your ‘to do’ list and making yourself feel overwhelmed while each of these items ‘nag’ at you. So take this opportunity to ‘unburden’ yourself by getting rid of them. When and where do I use it? You’ll need this information to know where to replace the item as I’ll explain below. And lastly do I need to keep it for legal, copyright or financial reasons? You should have an archive space well away from your working surfaces for storing accounts and tax information. Asking these questions will help you make the right decision on every item.

If you run into a series of difficult decisions on items that all belong in a certain category e.g. books, or items related to a particular work activity which you seldom do now, then it’s best to make a ‘policy’ decision. So you might decide only to keep books in a certain category e.g. technique reference books. Or only to keep old work activity items which would be difficult or expensive to replace, if you intend to do that activity more at some time in the future. This will free you up to get rid of much more that’s not useful to you in that category, with very little thought – always a bonus!



Tip #4 – make sure you’re clearing your artist workspace systematically

This sounds obvious but in practice, people often do the opposite. Clear items systematically. Don’t overwhelm yourself by emptying an entire cupboard’s contents onto the floor, but it is worth taking every item off a particular shelf or out of a particular draw you’re working on, for instance. The reason is, putting it back takes effort. Therefore you’re more likely to only put back what you actually need. Equally, if you’re working your way along one wall, don’t skip over ‘difficult’ items. You’ll only be leaving a ‘wake’ of them for later…

Every serious professional creative person needs an easy-to-use workspace. Having one will save you hours a week. If you want to know more about how to develop efficient work habits, try downloading a free excerpt of ‘Organizing for Creative People’.


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