I was cleaning out my office the other day – as I usually do every 3 or 4 months – and I immediately realized something as I was throwing out the garbage this time around: I enjoyed doing it.
I’ve never been one for organizing and keeping things neat. I enjoy a little chaos and dynamism in the places I choose to work since it keeps me on my toes a little bit. However, as practicality demands, I do have to empty out drawers and folders and notebooks filled with accumulated junk every 3 or 4 months lest I be labeled a hoarder (which I don’t think I am).
History in the Making
What I realized I enjoyed about doing a purge of the junk I accumulated in last 3 or 4 months is that doing so has a time-capsule quality about it. Believe me, it’s definitely a pain to have to pore over what I know is junk. However, what I realized is that the movie stubs, receipts, invoices, lost business cards of people I’ve met, used up pens and broken pencils, and random pieces of paper with sketches and thoughts written on them, all combine to form a sort of archaeological record; a history; a narrative of the last few months of my work life. Our work spaces are a big part of who we are. They are bound to accumulate traces of your life since you spend quite a bit of time there.
As I pored over what I’ve collected over the last few months, sure enough, I was reminded of the ideas that came and went. I was reminded of conversations I had with people; of days when I could not come up with anything; of moments when I thought I had a game-changing idea. I was able to piece together a story of the last few months. And while I still planned on throwing everything out, having that story (when I would otherwise have forgotten about it) is valuable for a couple of reasons: 1) so that I know where I can avoid making the same mistakes and 2) so that I know where I can succeed even more in the way I work.
Learning from the Past
Cleaning out your creative work spaces not only relieves you of the burden of holding onto what ultimately amounts to junk, it also allows you to revisit and reflect on the last 4 months with fresh eyes and a new perspective. An idea that might not have worked 3 months ago is suddenly something I might be able to do this time around. An old sketch that I intended to develop but forgot about is now something I can think about doing again.
The best part is that I am 4 months older with 4 more months of experience and 4 more months of mistakes and lessons learned. While that may not be a long time in the big scheme of things (for instance, some people don’t read their diaries until they’re old and gray), it’s still enough time that I can reflect on it meaningfully and revisit my old ideas in a fresh light and perhaps even use them. A lot can change in that span of time and if you look closely at your own life, you’ll realize that a lot often does.
Doing a purge of the junk in your work space is, effectively, also a purge of all the junk you have in your mind. All your bad ideas, your unfinished work, your meaningless musings all go in the trash and you’re left with a distillation of all the good parts of your work (the things you choose to keep).
While not all of us will have the opportunity to do a purge like that one I do every 3 or 4 months (most of you, I’m sure, are more fastidious and organized when it comes to your work spaces), there are still certain corners of your creative lives in which you can undoubtedly create a record. It might be that “miscellaneous” folder in your computer, your filing cabinet, that tray in which you empty out your pockets after you come home from work, or just a simple diary in which you purposefully create a record. No matter how you create a record of your creative lives, there’s no doubt that there’s value in being able to revisit your old ideas and learn and perhaps even capitalize on them.
Therefore, if you’ve been putting off doing a spring cleaning or are averse to the prospect of having to do the work involved in purging all the unwanted/unneeded junk in your work spaces, know that there’s often a light at the end of that tunnel. At best, you’ll come out of the purge more enlightened and enthusiastic about your work. At worst, you’ll have a clean work space.
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