Wondering how to make a creative space? The secret lies in noticing how environments affect you—and acting on it.
This past summer, I spent two weeks subletting a friend’s apartment in NYC. Although I LOVE the city, the place I lived for those two weeks never felt comfortable. Safe, yes? But comfortable and relaxing—definitely not. I was anxious and antsy the entire time I was in New York. I’m sure you’re thinking, well, of course you are in the “city that never sleeps!” But it wasn’t until I returned from another journey, this one to San Diego, that I realized it wasn’t the geography or the urban setting that made me anxious: it was the space I was living in. (I know, I know. the beautiful coastline of Southern California definitely doesn’t hurt.)
Whenever I visit San Diego, I stay at an AirBnB run by a best friend of mine. I call it my “Zen House.” It is an older, quaint bungalow with a courtyard garden. So what was different? Yes, the cities for sure—but what about the homes, the spaces? The apartment in the city was tiny, cluttered, and had only one window. I felt constricted and always needing to get out and about. Windows, light colors, minimal decor, art and lots of plants fill my San Diego abode. Here, I write more and moodle often.
In my travels, I’ve realized that environment is critical to my feeling balanced, peaceful and at ease. Lighting, smell, space, color all affect how I feel and process. When these things are aligned, I’m most creative.
So when I came back to my Ohio home where I float between the two environments—not New York constricted but not quite San Diego zen either—I decided to make some adjustments.
We really notice the extremes of pleasure and pain, which is why I wanted to stay forever in the beach bungalow and felt trapped in a cramped apartment. But in the middle ground between the two, we tend to stay stagnant and tolerate things that aren’t best for us. That’s the way my house was for me: comfortable, but not creatively inspiring.
What are you tolerating? I realized I was tolerating creative homelessness.
I have tried to make a creative space in my home before: I have a super cute craft room in my basement that I never visit. The tools are tucked away in drawers and cabinets. Because of this, I equated painting, playing or project-ing with the chore of unpacking, setting up, cleaning and re-packing. I used this “it’s too much of a hassle” excuse so often that my cute craft room became an obstacle to my creativity!
I am a huge fan of the magazine Where Women Create. I often pick up the quarterly publication and dream of what my art space would look like—how I would dig in and create with paint, paper, pens or piano in a space set up for just that purpose. Those artists in the magazine seemed more legitimate, “realer” than me. Really, I only saw them as more committed to their art because they had an entire studio in which to create. Sigh… If only…
When I focused on the commonalities of the creative spaces of the women in the magazines I realized that all of their materials are ready to go, ready to be grabbed and used. I also realized that consistently these spaces are filled with inspiration and color, each unique to the individual woman. They are organized and beautiful but FULL!
And so, this past weekend I claimed our study for art’s sake and turned it into a creative space.
When we had our business in our home (before having three kids) we REALLY used the study. We spent more time there than in any other room. But for the last 17 years that we have had an office out of the house, the “study” has become a room of unfinished projects, boxes to be hauled to Goodwill or stacks of bills that need sorting. Maybe for you it’s the basement, the formal living room, or a spare bedroom that gets visited once a year.
Now with a little shift of furniture, the removal of a nice throw rug, and the addition of a big table, our barren study is now the Zimmerman Family Art Studio. As I have been challenging my own beliefs about creative purpose and my calling to build, make things and express, I have come to realize HOW VITAL my space is.
Up till now, my bedroom closet has been my “thinking room” where I conjure up my best business ideas. Now our art studio offers room for my entrepreneurial ideas to expand too.
In this room, Mirabelle and I will paint. Noah will play the piano. Oliver will wander in and pick up the guitar, and Curtis will drink lots of coffee while watching us all. (Maybe he’ll even pick up pottery again!)
Where do you need to make space?
We need space everywhere, not just in physical places. Maybe your mind is cluttered with toxic thought patterns or your schedule is overflowing with unnecessary commitments.
- Opt for joy. Notice what affects you. Does sunlight infuse happiness into your day? Do dark walls make you feel trapped? Do busy days make you exhausted? Really notice how you feel, and be willing to opt for what brings you joy.
- Ignore the rules. This is your life, your house, and your mind. You get to decide what brings you joy. I had to ignore traditional rules of home decorating—there’s no reason for my creativity supplies to stay in the basement! Why can’t I have an art studio right by my front door?
- Claim your time and space. No matter what you have—20 minutes during your lunch break or a corner of your basement—make your space easy to access and make it yours. If you’re making a physical creative space like me, I suggest inspiring quotes and a beautiful cup holder containing your supplies to start.
- Say no to the things that don’t serve you. Wherever there is clutter, there is a crowding out of priorities. Start saying “no” to the objects you don’t need, the volunteer work that you do only out of obligation, and the thoughts that don’t serve you.
- Create a purpose for everything. I had a rock collection from San Diego in my sock drawer. When I created my art studio, I put them in a basket, ready to be painted. What are your “rocks?” (The things in your life that need purpose.) Are they thoughts that you have all the time but never write down? Long commutes that you could fill with fascinating podcasts?
Before you begin, ask yourself: What environments create stress for me? What environments fill my soul? Then, move whatever furniture, thoughts, or hours it takes to make space for you and for your art.