Why you need a ‘creative space’… and how to build it.
The number one thing that stops my creativity in its tracks is not a lack of time or a lack of energy. It’s something more tangible, and a little less obvious. There’s one thing that stops me getting into the creative headspace where I can write, or make, or paint or do any other right-brain activity with gusto. It is a lack of dedicated space.
That’s right: space is what you need to get your heart and hands talking to each other. You need your own turf; your own little corner of the desk; your own messy (but sacred) space.
This is a lesson that took me years to learn, and I’m sharing it with you now because it’s a game changer. If you don’t have the physical space to be creative, then you won’t have the mental or emotional space either.
The bigger picture: how physical space affects your wellbeing
A quick example of how physical space can affect your wellbeing:
Think about your wardrobe in its current, chaotic state (no judgement here). What do you feel when you see those bulging racks and overstretched hangers? This is how I feel: overwhelmed. Nothing new is going to fit in there. And when I do try and shove something new in there, I’ll never find it again. Like that swanky black top I always think about wearing; haven’t seen it for months. I mean where is that thing? It’s all too much. I can’t breathe! Argh!!
You get my point?
When you don’t have enough space – physical, mental or emotional – you lose momentum. You stop. A barrier appears. You no longer have the time or the energy … blah, blah, blah, excuses. Well, the same goes with creativity. You need to make space for it in your life. So let’s do it.
Step 1: Start small. Make space, in your handbag even.
I suggest starting small and working with what you have. If you carry a bag every day, perfect! Put a little notebook in there – you’ll have instant space to capture any little gems that have been waiting patiently to bust out of your brain and into reality. Get those things down on paper, for now (be a little bit descriptive about what you’re thinking, and move on).
Consider this small notebook as physical space to hold the ‘first draft’ of your idea – you capture the spark and it will be there later when you need it.
(And congratulations – this is the start of your new journaling habit)
Step 2: Go bigger! Find a permanent, flat surface.
If you had a dedicated creative space, you’d be there now, being all creative, instead of defaulting to the couch. So let’s go hunting … location hunting. Look around your home / apartment / bedroom and claim a chunk just for you.
Some super useful tips:
- Don’t make any grand gestures at this stage; you don’t need to spend the weekend gutting a spare bedroom and calling it your ‘Studio’ (we’ll work up to that).
- Start with something as basic as a study desk; or half a desk… or a coffee table with a drawer. Basically, a clear flat surface where you can make some things, and keep it all there.
- Include some room for a few containers, or small storage area to keep a few supplies within arm’s reach (simple stuff like a larger notebook, some scrap papers, glue and scissors, pens, etc). I recommend a drawer or a plastic tub under the table for now. A flat surface and small storage space are non-negotiable.
- Tidy up AFTER your creative session. Whenever you visit this space, day or night, you don’t want to have to tidy it up just to get started – that is the perfect procrastination right there: searching for a half-finished project, shifting the kid’s / pet’s toys, clearing up the mess. You need a space where you can be comfortable leaving your ‘work in progress’ in plain sight, or you will spend more time cleaning than creating (your first lesson in overcoming perfectionism). Everything must be ready for you to keep going when you come back next time.
Step 3: Own it.
Is it yours? Really? This space – does everyone know that it is yours to do with as you please?
I suggest you brand this space up front, by telling everyone (including the kids / pets / yourself – yes, especially yourself) that it is YOUR CREATIVE SPACE. Not to be used for any other activity by any other human or animal. Put a Post-It note down if you have to. With PVA.
Step 4: Make it comfy.
Finally, take a seat. You need a chair for that, obviously. A dedicated chair is a critical element in your creative space; also attach a Post-It note to the chair if you must.
If you can’t spend ten minutes in this nook because you’re cramped or you feel uncomfortable, you need to go back to step one and find a better location. This is serious: your creative space needs to feel good, and feel like it’s yours.
A tiny place to call your own with a comfy chair and supplies in arm’s reach = your creative space.
Boom! You just made something – a START! It will take practice for you to just be in this space, and if you’ve done all of the above, you will make adjustments over time, and you’ll even start to miss it when you’re not there. Crave it, even. Time and energy will appear, almost by magic.
A peek into my creative space
Here’s a look at my own slow progression over the years:
In the beginning, I worked long hours and needed space at night. I had the bare essentials sprawled out across my quilt: a small journal, magazines to cut up, scissors, glue tape, a black pen and a couple of coloured pens. Clearly not a permanent solution.
I gradually upped my journal game: one for ideas, one for long-form whinging. I’d keep some tools in a small gold-striped pencil case. And I can’t help it, I like pretty looking supplies (I mean – those scissors!)
I finally progressed from my bedroom… to the hallway, when I brought home an old roll-top desk. Having a few shelves and drawers to stash tools made all the difference, and it meant I didn’t have to pack everything away all the time. Remember my point about leaving your creativity on display? Progress!
Eventually I struck a deal with my partner and stole half the spare bedroom. I have since claimed the rest of that bedroom (it took a few years) and yes, sometimes I do call it my Studio. Or the Craft Cave. Because I can.
Claim your creative space: Go!
Your turn. I’d love to hear how you go – whether you convert a hallway corner into your sacred space, or if you’ve worked up to ‘converted shipping container in your backyard’ status – please share your progress with me. There’s always room for growth, but you do need to start somewhere.
Got the space… now what?
An extra tip: if you find yourself sitting there, mind blank but you want to make, make, make… grab out that small notebook from step one and start a list of things you see yourself creating in the future.
If you’ve already got a list going, select one of your trillion ideas and build on it. Start to make it real. Sketch out some more details for ten minutes, of things you might need to collect, supplies you might need to make something. Then go do something else. Trust me, you’ll want to come back to this again later.
This is just the beginning. I know you want to build up to that bedroom / converted shipping container phase, but a) it’s not always necessary, and b) too much space can be counterproductive. You just want a space that works for you… for now. There will be time for an upgrade in future, to really make it your own.