I have been spending some time setting up my creative space due to our recent move, which has put me in an organizing mood in general. We are experiencing a loss of closets and storage in our new house, which is always challenging. Add maternity supplies, a second young child and a tight budget to the household mix, and the result is me digging deep and getting back to basics when it comes to managing our stuff. I'm fighting to keep the household balanced between the clean lines of open spaces, and the fun of making acessible our hobby supplies and toys. As I've been working through it all, I have realized that I typically follow some basic guiding principles any time I do this, and I have had more opportunities than I care to think about in the last decade to verify that they work.
Use spatial constraints to your advantage. You chose a particular living space because it spoke to you; now make your life fit into your space so that you will be happy in it.
Use what you have before heading to Ikea. You think you need a dresser, or a shelf, or fourteen plastic storage bins, but resist the urge to drive directly to Target. Maybe you have a basket that used to be in the kitchen, but now it will be on a shelf with your socks in it? Maybe your files were in a drawer, but now they can be streamlined and stored in magazine boxes instead? Something usually shakes down as you consider your options. In recent years, I have saved money by resisting immediate purchase of storage and furniture items immediately following a move into a new space, especially since we tend to rearrange shortly after moving in, and then rearrange even more deeply a few months down the road.
Group items together that get used together. You won't use the things you can't see. If you don't have enough space for the items in the group, then change the location of the group. You might surprise yourself...it's possible that your sewing machine will end up in your living room. Once I put a home office in a large closet. You never know. But I do know that if you can't see it or reach it easily, you won't use it.
Make yourself live with stuff that you are tempted to get rid of or bury in a closet. Put it out on a table, in a basket or on a shelf. Make yourself look at it, use it, remember why you acquired it in the first place. This will force you to understand why you want to keep it and also maybe avoid acquiring stuff you don't need. Or it will allow you to find the courage to part with it if you are certain it's time to let go. Give yourself a deadline for the considering process, if that helps.
If your organizing task feels overwhelming, start with just one item: one box, one pile, one little block of fifteen minutes...(see Start With an Onion)...inevitably you will make progress this way. You will probably keep marching on to a second block of fifteen minutes, or an additional box, and you will likely get farther than you expect, but if not, at least you got one thing done.
It will feel worse...messier...more cluttered...more confusing...before it gets better. Prepare for that feeling. Have a cold beer in the fridge or a favorite movie queued up for when you need a little mental relief or physical time out. Stop sometimes. Make sure to take breaks, because you need them, but also because you will get fresh ideas when you step away.
But just before you stop, "Build a bridge" to the next session (a phrase that I like from a book called The Creative Habit), and you will be excited to come back and keep working at it. In order to build a bridge, you leave yourself an obvious, clear-cut, or pleasant task that can be the first thing you do when you come back. This is a good way to get warmed up continue your work when you first re-engage. This is also a very handy technique at the office or in the kitchen, or anywhere that you may be prone to procrastination or time wasting.
Put in the time. Set a minimum number of minutes per day and you will be surprised how often meeting your daily minimum gets the job done in less time than expected. One word of warning though, real breakthroughs almost always happen right before you are about to stop. You will probably want to keep going, so do that if you can, or build the bridge.
If you're like me, it's hard to create if you don't make a mess, but it can also be hard to create in a mess. It's a true conundrum. These techniques help me achieve the balance I need to make stuff without being surrounded by stressful conditions.