Being Creative When you Absolutely Can't Stand Messes

Being Creative When You Absolutely Can’t Stand Messes

My mother used to tell me cleanliness was next to godliness. I always thought “why would God care if my room was clean?”

As a young child the thought of cleaning my room was akin to rolling the rock of gibraltar up a hill (I think the fights I put up made my Mother think the same way.)

When I grew up I turned into a type-A neat freak (I don’t know how.) Studiously maintaining a clean and tidy home despite the best efforts of my kids and pets.

But aren’t creative people supposed to be messy?

Isn’t there supposed to be a paint-strewn corner of a room where piles of canvas and projects sit? Where supplies are waiting to be picked up by the frantically creating, constantly busy creative person?

That thought just gave me the heebie jeebies. The idea of creating in a mess is so inconsistent with my inner nature I wonder if I’m cut out to do this creative thing.

So can you still be creative if you abhor messes?

Messy pile of books

Can you be a clean creative?

If I don’t like to be messy or have things out of place – how can I partake in this whole creative flow thing? Should I just throw in the towel now and resign myself to my perfectionist ways?

Every person has to play to their strengths. Mine do not include the ability to paint while there are piles of supplies anywhere.

But nonetheless every day I am creative.

  • I paint
  • I draw
  • I cook

And I do many other creative things – so obviously you can be a clean freak and still be creative.

The key to being creative when you’re a neat individual is to play to your strengths and make sure you don’t get in your own way.

Clean or tidy

There’s a big difference between clean and tidy.  A few years ago I realized visual clutter was negatively affecting me and since then I’ve been more aware of tidyness.

When there are items or supplies strewn about the room, it looks cluttered and unclean. The moment you tidy up those items, putting them where they belong and reducing the visual clutter, the cleaner a room looks. Tidy makes a big difference to any room and can easily pass for clean.

Putting your creativity in a (neat) box

Is cleanliness condusive to a creative mindset or does an ordered life give more freedom for creativity?

I’ve pondered this question over the last few years and have found an ordered life does give you more freedom for creativity. Giving order to your life in general gives your creativity room for success.

When your life and sorroundings are in order, it’s much easier for you to focus on being creative. Can you think of the last time you sat down to create and a pile of dishes in the sink threw you off?

It’s a relief when you’re not worried about nagging items like laundry, clean floors and the crazy mess in your bathroom.  You can then focus on using your brain’s power for more creative tasks.

Organized and uncluttered creative studio space

Practicing clean creativity

How can we put this all together into a sustainable, actionable method for being creative while avoiding being messy?

Here are the three ways I use to maintain a tidy creative space so I can easily jump into my next creative project.

A place for everything

Being obsessively organized has saved me from having to hunt for a specific pen or brush so many times. In my creative space I have large drawers full of creative supplies and in each cabinet I have baskets holding specific things. Everything is grouped according to an inner classification system.

While this may seem overwhelming at first, being able to know instinctively where a supply or item is makes me less anxious about my creative mess.

Clean as you go

Nothing is worse than looking back on a room after you’ve completed a project and realizing it looks like a war zone. The feeling of not even knowing where to start when cleaning up a mess can easily take the wind out of your sails.

Avoid this feeling by cleaning as you go. As you use something, put it away, if you spill or splash paint clean it up and make a habit to not have materials out you’re not currently using.

The more you do it, the more it becomes second nature and integrates itself as part of your creative process.

5 minute tidy

Anyone here remember The Big Comfy Couch? This show was a staple for my little sister growing up and if there’s one thing which stuck with me, it’s the 10 second tidy.

We may not be able to mimic Loonette the clown’s high speed clean up but we can take 5 minutes to clean up any mess and clutter we’ve left behind. Doing a 5 minute tidy will make you feel better about leaving your creative space and relaxed when you sit down next time.

Small Actions building to big results

Small actions, every day

As a neat freak I know it’s not big cleans once in awhile which keep my home clean, it’s the small actions each day which add up. When these start to slip or when I start to neglect my daily chores, its easier for clutter to build up and messes to get bigger.

Just like an entire home, its easy to keep a creative space clean if you decide on frequent cleaning actions and commit to doing them each time you create.

You’ll never get the “where do I start?” feeling again when you follow these simple cleaning steps as you create. Not only will you appease your OCD but you’ll have a much better time creating when your brain is free to concentrate on what’s in front of it.

Give these techniques a try today and see if they help ease your fear of messes when you create.


Do you have a bit of OCD when you create? How do you handle the messes your creativity leaves behind? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject and any tips you’d like to share.

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