Stationery

brushes

We all have that one drawer, the one shelf, that one cupboard that seems to draw in no small quantity of pens, pencils, scissors, paints, paper, cards, note pads, and various and sundry items that would, in some way, fall into the category of stationery.

There is a special class of people, known colloquially as “Stationery Queens,” or “Newsagent Tragics,” who inevitably find themselves surrounded by all manner of writing, drawing, crafting, or colouring tools.

Working in a school, I’ve seen a fair few of these folks. It’s not hard to spot the classroom where the teacher has to bring in extra cupboards to house her collections. We all know that one teacher whose garage is full of all manner of creative ingredients that she “might need some day.”

But how many pens do I need? How much paper can I reasonably assume I’ll use? Do I really want those 7 boxes of assorted greeting cards taking up valuable shelf space (a.k.a. “life space”)?

I have to confess, I have always loved anything to do with creativity. Pens, paper, paints, frames, canvas, staplers glue guns, tins and boxes to store my creative elements in. . . . I liked the idea of having any tool that would take my fancy, at any split-second of inspiration, at my fingertips. I mean, how could I paint that beautiful sunset if I didn’t have a full set of oils, watercolours, acrylics and pastels? And, obviously, I needed to have a selection of boards, papers, canvas and mounts from which to choose.

Minimalism is about making the complicated simple, and this can be incorporated into all aspects of your life, including your creative practice. (Dan Johnson, Right Brain Rockstar)

What I realised—and am still realising—is that keeping a large amount of material on hand “just in case” is almost a guarantee that a rainy day will never come. Truth is, I have a few pens and brushes that are my favourites and which I use regularly. I prefer watercolours so hardly touch other media. I find sketchbooks or multi-purpose pads of paper work fine for me. Then I have a number of art supply shops nearby if I ever find I need a canvas, another medium, or different tools.

So, in looking over my own art-supply-decluttering trajectory, I have used a few principles which I would like to share with you.

You can have too much. You accumulate to a certain level and then the brain starts to work overtime whenever it comes to making a decision on what to use, what to do. Being overwhelmed with choice is the malady of our generation. What often makes life simpler (and provides focus as a bonus) is to limit your choices to what you absolutely love and can’t live without. Play the “lost on a desert island” game and pretend there are only 5, or ten creative tools you can have with you when you are marooned on an island.

It’s the little things. Another imprinted pen offered by a salesman? Another pack of notebooks bought on sale? Yet another box of those cute greeting cards? Recognise the difference between free and useful, and between something that adds value and something that is on sale.

Limit available storage. Nothing says “I can’t buy any more” then having no place to put stuff. Allow yourself one drawer, or one box, or one pencil case. Whatever fits in that place is OK, but no overflow. If you truly need something new, you must then dispose of something old to make room.

One more thing: Try digital. Do you have an iPad or Tablet PC? Why not get a stylus or pen and use it? A Wacom pen tablet may be something you can use, attached to your Mac or PC. You might wish to invest in a simple art app or programme. I have a couple of good ones I use on my iPad: ArtRage (painting) and Sketches Pro. Using apps, you can have a near-limitless quantity of pens and brushes, a huge variety of media and materials, and virtually-limitless storage for your creations.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. If you are creative, you will know the feeling of joy and fulfilment when you complete a piece of art. Your idea of what you can live without won’t match mine. In the end, it’s all down to whatever brings you joy and brings value to your life.

Explore Further

24 Best iPad Art Apps for Painting and Sketching  (CreativeBloq.com)

The Minimalist Guide to Creativity  (lifehack.org)

How Minimalism can Help You Beat Overwhelm and Be More Creative  (Right Brain Rockstar)

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Clutter

“If you have clutter in your real life, your tangible life, then it really adds to the emotional clutter in your mind.” Giuliana Rancic

Early in our marriage, my wife and I dropped by to see my mum’s cousin. Her daughter was a reporter with the local paper and it seems like our visit was something that didn’t happen too often in their part of the country.

When we entered the house, I was first overcome with a smell that was something between the staleness of old, mouldy newspaper and the stench of one who hasn’t used soap for a while.

Both were probably true.

The second thing that hit us as we made our way through the kitchen was the sheer amount of clutter: picture every bench, cupboard and table piled high with dirty/clean dishes, magazines, appliances and leftover snacks. As we moved into the ‘living area’ we mused how that one could exist in this room, but certainly not live: piles of newspapers and magazines, boxes filled with who-knows-what, clothing and blankets thrown around haphazardly, and a narrow aisle through it all to get to the furniture . . . which we had to clear off before we dared to be seated . . . if we didn’t mind the dust.

Before we were able to escape outside for the obligatory photo, we both made mental notes of this disconcerting state of intense clutter, hoarding and filth, and silently pledged our home would never, ever become like this.

Thank God, our house has always been clean. We have never had to struggle to find a pathway anywhere on our home. We were pretty good at this ‘uncluttered’ life.

So we thought.

When I first came upon The Minimalists, I thought we had our stuff under control. We didn’t have boxes of unused clothing in the spare room, our bookshelves were filled with books we loved, and our wardrobes contained clothing that we wore somewhat regularly …at least that was what we thought.

Until we decided to test how much of a hoard we had and hired a skip bin. We logged on to Skip Bins Online and, the next day, a huge Jim’s Skip Bins truck dropped off an empty container in the driveway. Over the following week, we went through our shed, our spare room, our wardrobes and drawers, our cupboards and our yard and hardly found anything to throw out filled the bin to bursting with all sorts of rubbish and useless stuff … plus 12 huge garbage bags full of clothing, bric-a-brac, Manchester and kitchen gear to drop by the Salvos, plus several boxes of books to pass on to friends who read!

In the process I relieved myself of thousands of old photos (scanned them), yearbooks (took photos of memorable pages), music books (haven’t sung those songs for decades!) and ‘just in case’ clutter (you know what this is—the two kitchen drawers full of buttons, ribbons, shoe strings, nuts, screws, that old hinge from the previous kitchen door which you might need one day, golf pencils, promotional pens, various ointments and bottles of who-knows-what …)

We were gob-smacked at how much stuff—rubbish and donate-able goods—we could find in our average 3-bedroom home. Surprisingly, it didn’t stop there. For the next 3 or 4 weeks, our kerbside wheelie bin was chokka with the remnants of the clear out. And, just when I thought we had left only the essentials, I did another run-through the house and gathered enough gear together for a car boot sale (which happened last week and  I made over $200) as well as several more bags for a friend who is starting up a charity shop.

Did we need to declutter? Definitely ‘Yes.’ As Francine Jay (Miss Minimalist) is known for saying, “Your home is a living space, not a storage space”–and this enormous pile of stuff was simply making our house a beautiful storage locker. There were things in that skip bin that (first) long ago ceased to have any meaning to us or (second) no longer added value to our life. Getting rid of it was the best decision we’ve made.

Is this the end of it all? No. Living with a minimalist mentality means we are always evaluating what we own using the twin questions of meaning and adding value.

As The Minimalists say,  it’s not about the what? but the why? Decluttering is not the end result, just the first step.

You don’t become instantly happy and content by just getting rid of your stuff—at least not in the long run. Decluttering doesn’t work like that. If you simply embrace the what without the why, then you’ll get nowhere (slowly and painfully, by the way, repeatedly making the same mistakes). It is possible to get rid of everything you own and still be utterly miserable, to come home to your empty house and sulk after removing all your pacifiers. I believe we are seeing the value of less more each day and we have come to a point where clutter will not enter our home again. (Blogpost: Decluttering Doesn’t Work. Read it here.)

Strangely enough, one of our favourite programs to watch together on TV is Hoarders. It takes us back to my second cousin’s house and an unfortunately unforgettable day.

Perhaps we know we always need a reminder.

Explore Further

5 Tips for Decluttering (short video)

10 Creative Ways to Declutter Your Home

18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess