How to Declutter your Artist Studio in Five Steps

Artists are by nature experimenters. We adore trying new products and techniques. As a result, our studios are often filled to the brim with supplies that cost good money that we will use “someday.” But having a cluttered, unusable space is probably one of the BIGGEST barriers we have to creating art. Your studio should not be a graveyard of unfinished projects, supplies and ideas. It should be a sanctuary to create in.

After years of obsessively reading blogs and books on minimalism and decluttering, I think I have a good idea of how to tackle a cluttered studio. So here is my advice for those wishing to turn your cluttered studio into a streamlined centre for creativity.

 1. Develop a Sorting System

I believe all the decluttering gurus start with a system something like this. Create a space for three piles or set up 3 boxes. Label these: Keep, Re-Home, Throw Away.

 2. Sort Sort Sort

Here is the hard part. Actually deciding what to keep. Organization Guru’s offer dozens of criteria to use when sorting through you things. Marie Kondo advocates: Only keep things that spark Joy. Others would suggest purge anything you haven’t used in a year. Whatever your criteria, it will have to work for you. Be patient with yourself and take your time.

I find it helpful to sort supplies into categories,  like paints, brushes or canvases. This is the best way to truly see what you own. Why do you have three tubes of Chinese white when as a watercolour artist, you NEVER use white? Why do you have three books of hot press paper when you exclusively use Arches Cold Press (guilty)?

If you are overwhelmed with decisions, I love the Minimalist’s 20/20 rule. If you are unsure if you should keep an item, but you can replace it for less than $20 in under 20 minutes, purge it. Maybe you will use those kolinsky sables some day, but don’t loose sleep over coloured pencil stubs and broken pieces of charcoal. And of course, purge supplies that are used up, broken or worn out.

If you have doubles of paints or supplies that I do use, be sure to store them together. I use an elastic band to attach extra tubes of paint to each other. This way, I know exactly how much I have before going out to by another tube of burnt umber.

Most importantly, be honest with yourself and what you love to use. If you are a watercolour artist, why keep oil paints? If you HATE alizarin crimson, why do you have three tubes of it? Identify what you LOVE to use. What media do you use most frequently.

3. The Purge

Now what to do with your box (boxes?) of discards? Try donating to a School or Art Program, Selling on Kijiji or gifting to fellow artists who you know would actually use them. Perhaps host an Art Supply Swap. Just be mindful of your time. Ask yourself, is the time spent trying to earn back a few bucks for your half finished tubes of paint better spent actually creating?

4. Maintenance

This might be the most difficult part of the process. Learn to shop carefully for supplies. I am guilty of almost never leaving an art supply store without spending more than I intended. Try borrowing or trading with fellow artists. I have been known to trade garden produce for a few sheets of hotpress paper from my friend and hot press aficionado Lee Angold. Be creative and find a solution.

5. Enjoy your New Space

I hope you found these tips useful and enjoy working in your newly decluttered studio! Do you have any tips on keeping a clean and productive studio?

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