How Clutter and Creativity Are Linked and Why It Matters to Your Process

Visual clutter is the most common type of clutter people deal with on a daily basis. It builds up over time and can quickly overtake your home if you don’t have systems in place to deal with it. But many people — particularly creatives — thrive off a slightly unhinged environment.

According to creativity coach, Beth Ann Dailey, the effect clutter can have on creatives depends on the individual. For example, she prefers a tidier space whereas a study done in 2013 showed that when people were surrounded by a messy desk, their brainstorming sessions proved more effective.

Creative people will often use the term “organized mess.” In that their workspace might seem cluttered to the trained eye, but they know where everything is.

There’s a funny scene in the 2005 remake of Yours, Mine & Ours where, in an attempt to break their parents up, the children organize Helen’s (Rene Russo) studio. She’s appalled when she sees it because she knew where specific fabrics and buttons were prior to the space being cleaned. Whereas Frank (Dennis Quaid) is impressed with the update, Helen is furious, claiming it will hinder her process.

Other creatives cannot have a single item out of place or else their process is ruined. Of all minds, the creative one is the most visual and so their environment can make or break their work.

What matters most is balance and that takes some time to figure out.

Creativity begins and ends in the mind. It’s where people get their ideas, break down how they’re going to execute them, and keeps them motivated until it’s finished.

On a daily basis, creative people are thrown idea after idea. Where they come from, they can’t always tell. But they come in waves, filling their heads with wonder and aspiration. This can lead to brain clutter and it is another form of clutter that can make or break the creative process.

Like visual clutter, the amount of mental clutter one deals with may or may not affect their creative process. A 2022 study done in Trends of Cognitive Science showed that while brain clutter makes recalling details and memories more difficult, it did enhance creative thinking.

There are pros and cons of continuous mental clutter, though. On the pro side, it can promote creative ideas, especially if there’s a lot to draw inspiration from. On the con side, it can make it hard to focus on a single memory or idea when so many others are hovering around.

Unlike visual clutter, mental clutter is harder to clean up and organize. In this digital age, we’re constantly bombarded by news, images, and videos on social media that it’s difficult for our brains to process everything. That can hinder a creative mind who simply wants to focus on completing something.

But others might find the constant influx of news inspiring. They use it to create a piece of art that represents their feelings.

If you’re a creative person it can be hard to determine whether you sink or swim when surrounded by clutter. You may not mind visual clutter. But mental clutter can keep you from overcoming imposter syndrome or a hurdle you’re facing with your latest project.

One way to determine if visual clutter works for or against you is to experiment. The next time your desk or creative space gets a little messy, don’t clean it just yet. Continue working. See how you do.

If your eyes keep glancing at the mess, then you know you need a tidy space. If you’re able to work without distraction then an “organized mess” might be fine for you.

It’s still important to tidy your space every now and then. If only to replenish supplies and clear away any dust.

On the other hand, mental clutter is a bit more tricky to navigate. One method you can try is this: test different creative times.

For example, if you start your day by looking at the news and/or social media and find your creativity hindered, work on your project first thing. Don’t check any feeds or news until you’ve worked on your project for 30 minutes or more. Consider social media a reward for working on your project.

If your creativity comes alive at night, make it a point to put your phone away while working. Turn off the television and work on your project.

You might also want to meditate for a few minutes before working. Meditation has been proven time and again to help reduce mental clutter and stress. And the good news is you don’t have to do anything too complicated.

Simply sit comfortably, set a timer for three minutes, and focus on your breathing. There are plenty of amazing guided meditations you can find on YouTube or the app store if you prefer that.

In the end, what matters is creating an environment that benefits your process. It may take some time, but you’ll know when you land on the perfect one for you.