“Fitting in is the opposite of belonging”. -Brene Brown.
I love helping creative people get organized and stay organized! As a creative person myself, I have experienced many of the challenges that I help my clients with. There is a stereotype that creative people can’t also be logical, sequential and good with time management. Some creative people are highly organized, love to plan, and are very good at following through on projects. It all depends on what perspective they’re being viewed from. People hire me when they’re ready for change in their life. Sometimes the work is actually to make more of a mess! I’m kidding, but I’m also not kidding. Perfectionism can be one of the biggest sources of procrastination. There are the people that procrastinate on doing something because if they can’t be perfect, why even bother? But then there are the people that want to work on a project until every square millimeter is perfect (possibly to avoid fears of success or failure). I know when I was in art school, I spent days in the RISD basement, carving waxes until they were close to perfect, so I could cast them into crystal. Lost-wax casting glass is one of the most nitpicky things I have done as an artist, right behind slip casting porcelain. Although my slip-casting teacher was notorious for being tough, I really liked him. But what I really loved were his cleaning lectures. I loved learning the “right” way to clean my tools, buckets and table tops. Call me a nerd, but I took notes during Frank Bosco’s speeches. I would always blush when I saw him in the halls, and I still smile when I think about him.
One thing I pride myself in is being prepared. On any given day, I probably have a complete change of clothes with me (which will allow for a temperature variance of 50 degrees, give or take, and can also accommodate rain, snow, or a heatwave). I like to plan my day out to make sure I can drink my 128 ounces of water (mapping out bathroom breaks along the way), and so I can eat 3 servings of protein, 4+ servings of veggies, some fruit and lots of nuts. I also have a variety of other habits I do daily so that I can show up for myself in the best way possible. Although organizing can be a huge dopamine hit for many people, it can also be a way to avoid doing the harder work. Whenever I’m stressed, the first thing I reach for is the vacuum. I know I’m not alone on this.
I just read a book called “Organizing for the Creative Person” by Dorothy Lehmkuhl. Although it was written in 1993, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Consultants (NAPO) deems this book to be relevant, and I agree! At the beginning of the book, she explains that she is using the word “creative” to describe people who are attracted to unconventional methods of doing things. She also explains that if your mess doesn’t bother you or the people around you, you don’t need the book. She clarifies that there are many creative people that are organized, and this book is just for the people who need help. The book divides up two personalities, the right-brained “Arbie” and the left-brained “Elbie”. Although the right and left brain dominance theory may be regarded as a myth, these stereotypical personalities are fairly common. Reading this book with an open mind will generate empathy for yourself and others.
Stereotypically, “creative” people aren’t good at planning, don’t think logically or sequentially. When I was in graduate school, I thought I needed to get better at all of those things, but in reality, the opposite was true. After the first week of classes, it became clear that “planning” was something that I needed to unlearn. The goal was to stay present and “to go with the flow”. While not being able to visualize the outcome of a work of art (or a situation) can be anxiety producing, learning how to “trust the process” was what I realized I went to school to learn to do! I needed to loosen the reins and let go of control. Although I do possess many left-brain qualities (I do have a very opinionated Jack Russell, if that says anything), I can also be very right-brained in other instances. I love to make giant messes when I make art and usually love working on several projects at once.
But then there are the creative people who really want help with organizing their supplies, figuring out what to do with finished pieces, and creating comfortable and functional work areas. I have been there too! Because I’ve experienced my own challenges with organization from time to time, I think that’s part of what makes me a good organizer. In addition to my own experiences, I’ve also helped hundreds of other people get organized as well, and I’m dedicated to continued education. I regularly take classes and do research on organizational theories so that I can meet my clients where they are, rather than where I want them to be.
One of the biggest issues usually isn’t organizing the work area or supplies, but it’s creating harmony within the home. Usually one person is upset with another for their mess, yet occasionally the messy person is upset the other person is “too clean”. Regardless, there is often a lack of understanding for brains all function differently, and one person’s way of doing things is not necessarily the correct way of doing things. But if you’re messy and disorganized, you’ve probably been shamed for it your whole life.
Lehmkuhl’s first recommendation is to get clear on your goals, and write them down. You can always change them later, but it helps to record them in a place that you can reference regularly. If you work with a coach like Erica or myself, we can help you keep track of your short and long term goals. Clarify what your goals are versus others’ expectations are of you. You may need to create some boundaries to be able to put yourself first, and it may feel uncomfortable to let parts of your “to-do” list go. Be careful about who you share your goals with. We can all be vulnerable to messages we hear from others. Trust takes time. Don’t share your goals with someone if you know you’re going to be doubted, ridiculed, or berated if you don’t achieve them fast enough. Conversely, when someone shares their goals with you, watch how you respond to them. How you talk to other people can often be a reflection of how you talk to yourself. If you want to learn to become more supportive and kind to yourself, consider altering the ways you talk to others. This was major life lesson I learned through taking dog training classes at Ahimsa.
What I found particularly interesting in this book was how right-brain processes are complicated because they may not even be understood by the person who is experiencing them. These are processes that are “nonverbal, holistic and simultaneous”. So someone with a strong right-brain dominance may have a hard time organizing or getting started because of the mental flooding that can occur. If someone’s thinking has that holistic feeling where everything needs to happen at the same time, it can be overwhelming.
I started this post with the quote: “Fitting in is the opposite of belonging”. -Brene Brown. Many people who have strong right-brain tendencies may feel like they need to change to become more like “organized” left-brained people. They may be used to people scolding their disorganized work areas, maybe even internalizing it as inherent character flaws. I recommend reading this book because it goes into detail about the differences about right and left brain thinking (and goes far beyond what the pop-psychology articles that you can find on Google!). You’ll learn how to recognize whether your thoughts and habits are influenced by left or right-brained thinking, and how and why your thoughts are formulated. By recognizing these differences (no matter which spectrum you lean towards), you’ll be able to develop more compassion for yourself and others. Neither side is better, it’s just that our society seems to praise the left-brained organized, logical and sequential thinking. This book does a great job of leveling the playing field as it highlights both the light and shadow sides of each hemisphere. The book talks about procrastination, excuses, saying no, productivity quadrants, why we engage in “busywork”, causes of clutter, receiving criticism (and giving it too!). Although it can sometimes be entertaining to read or listen to some of the more well-known organizing celebrities who like to enforce harsh and opinionated “rules” on their audience, this is not one of those books. The author presents a very emotionally aware and balanced explanation to what drives choices or compulsions. Instead of trying to force right-brained people to be more like left-brained people, she does a great job at highlighting why some things that are easy for left-brained people can be hard for right-brained people (like making decisions). She also talks about the inner struggle someone can have with self-management, and how to self-parent yourself. Although someone can look mature on the outside, they may have an inner conflict that resembles the battles between a parent and a little kid or rebellious teenager. One part of the brain may think cleaning a room is a good idea, while the other side might say, “Oh yeah? Make me!”. In addition, if you’re someone who’s been called a disorganized slob your whole life (especially by people who you look up to for guidance and respect), you probably believe that you’re a disorganized slob, and so will continue proving that identity out of respect to the people you’ve looked up to. Lehmkuhl describes the phenomenon of guilt in a way I’ve never heard of before- but you’ll have to read the book to find out what she says!
A quick word on the concept of “choice” versus “compulsion”. I’ve heard many authors, speakers, coaches, and other people who work in the helping professions identify actions as “choices”. They aren’t always choices (although sometimes they are!). But sometimes there is something much deeper at work. If you are someone who has a very hard time making the right choices, or you get hard on yourself for the choices you make, it’s possible you are experiencing unconscious compulsions or addictions. They might just be choices though! If you’ve tried observing your choices as simply choices, and that works for you, great. But if not, seek help from someone else. I have a variety of practitioners that I like to refer my clients to, so contact me if you’d like help finding additional support.
What is your organizing style? Do you prefer things to be neatly put away, or do you like them to be visible? Whether or not you’re the type of creative person who’s challenge is to break free from perfectionism, logical thinking, “using the intellect”, or you’re the type of creative person who would like to implement more structure into your life, I’d love to help you get organized! I provide in-home organizing and remote coaching. Or you can work with Erica Rodgers, Powerhouse Person for Seattle Sparkle. She offers digital organizing, virtual assisting and motivational coaching. Fill out our Organizing Questionnaire or Coaching Questionnaire for more information on working together. Or join our Facebook Group: Declutter and Organize with Seattle Sparkle.
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