Posted by: Liz Massey | September 20, 2011

Decluttering for Learning … and Creating

Photo courtesy of SXC.

I recently ran across an excellent article on decluttering. Although Michele Martin’s “Decluttering for Learning” post on her Bamboo Project blog  is aimed at helping adult professionals learn, it also speaks to the Creative Momentum model I espouse, particularly since the very first step in developing creative momentum is to clear a space in which creativity can happen.

Michele articulates three important benefits of de-cluttering when she discusses why the activity is so necessary for learning (the bolding for emphasis is mine):

 “In my experience, we learn best when we have cleared an area for new ideas and skills to take root. This isn’t just about forgetting a fact from middle school to make room for a work fact now. This is really about slowing our brains down, helping them to move processing power from our cluttered thoughts to the learning we want to gain. Decluttering also helps us become more productive because it improves our ability to focus.

In the post, she lists a number of tools that can aid mental de-cluttering. There are three tools I think also work well for creatives trying to clear their head.

List of 100. To prepare a list of 100, simply write your topic/issue/problem/etc. at the top of a page, and write down 100 things related to it on the list. Michele recommends the technique as a way to dive into a topic in much greater detail; I find it a great way to use OCD-ish sort of energy around an area of great concern to actually move a project forward.

Visual De-cluttering. For this tool, Michele utilizes Christine Martell’s VisualSpeak Image Set or her online Image Center. The idea is to pick pictures/illustrations that represent the issue at hand and ponder them, or perhaps make a collage out of them. Of course, it’s also possible for creatives to pull the images out of their brain and onto paper by grabbing a stack of old magazines and a pair of scissors and cleaning out their subconscious that way.

Blogging. Michele explains blogging’s power to assist de-cluttering this way:

“I’ll have a bunch of ideas floating around in my brain that are driving me crazy as I try to find some coherence, something to DO with them. Having this blog as an outlet for my thoughts helps me de-clutter by organizing them into something that’s (hopefully) more useful–kind of like turning garbage into art.”

I find this to be true in my own life, as well. In addition to clarifying what I’m learning about the creative process by posting to this blog, my partner and I have started a private “developmental” blog about an idea we’re considering growing into an online business. In one week alone, we posted 70 entries to the site! Mostly, they were idea- and image-share posts for us to discuss and keep in a safe place for potential use later. There’s no question they helped us keep momentum going on the project and have preserved our thoughts about the idea for easy access later.

One of the things I like the most about Michele’s post is that it reinforces that learning (just like creativity) doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it involves active choices, and requires preparation and open space for the process to be successful.

Please go and read the post on Michele’s site. And come back to post your thoughts on de-cluttering, learning and creativity here!


  1. Hi Liz–I think you’re right on in how decluttering applies to creativity and maintaining that creative momentum. I’ve found that I’m most creative when I’m able to get the gremlins out of my brain! But I also have to be really mindful to include decluttering as part of my creative process. I find that it’s very easy for me to try to “force” creativity and then I will realize that the reason I’m not getting anywhere is because my brain needs some emptying out, not filling up.

  2. @Michele: I was hoping you’d reply! Thanks for your input!

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