Spring Cleaning: Work- (and Play-, and Pray-) Space Renewal

I’m always inspired by ideas for organizing and purging the things that seem to accumulate around my life. I could happily jump on every social-media challenge to get rid of 1000 items in a month, or to say “thank you and goodbye” to everything that doesn’t “spark joy.” Sometimes I’d rather organize my stuff than actually use it, and I can be ruthless in purging. When you move every few years, ruthlessness is next to godliness.

Years ago, before the days of social-media influencers and podcast episodes, I did organizing by the book, literally. I read Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern, and while I haven’t exactly lived in an organized paradise ever since, I did cling to one principle. Maybe it didn’t change my life, but it changed my thinking. Simply: put things away in the place where you use them.

You wouldn’t think this would be a mindblower, but it was for me. It made me look at both my habits and my space: both what I do and where I do it.

What I do.

That simple organizing principle made me be honest: I might have had the perfect yarn-, or book-, or yoga-storage space, but I dragged supplies into other rooms to knit, or read, or take child’s pose. Result: clutter. And figuring that out the first time was only the first of many. Every time we move, I have to reevaluate. What do I do at this stage of my life, and how do I do it in this house?

After living here for 7 months, I have a better idea now of what I’m actually doing (not just what I think I want to do, or what I used to do, or what I picture an idealized version of me doing), and how I need the space to work for me. The challenge is having one space to do all the things: research, reading, and writing; prayer and meditation; yoga and strength training; yarn storage and weaving; Etsy stole photo shoots; violin practice. Having tools close at hand is key to me actually doing these activities. But I also want to surround myself with things that evoke memories or prompt inspiration, so the space can’t be strictly utilitarian. It’s a lot to expect from one 10ishx10ish room.

Where I do it.

The best shot I could get of my office when we moved in 7 months ago. Photo taken standing in the doorway from the living room. I’m convinced this was once a screened-in porch; the brick wall is the back of the fireplace.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I spent a lot of my cleaning time yesterday sitting and looking, trying to be thoughtful (so I don’t have to do this again anytime soon!). But there were a few things I didn’t have to ponder. For example, I had two canvas tote bags full of—guess what? tote bags!—hanging in my yarn storage cabinet. That was low-hanging fruit; a few good project bags will stay. The big sturdy totes will move into the car, the others can go. And I can turn the main tote out so I can actually read it!

After finishing curriculum writing a couple weeks ago, I needed to reclaim my desk from the remains of study and from the piles of “rewards” (*cough*books*cough*) I’ve treated myself to. The desktop is the place most likely to collect clutter and the place I most like to have clear. I want to have things in arm’s reach but I need open space for the times I need to pull out study books or the sewing machine.

And yes, there’s (another) tote bag on the chair. No comment, please.

Paying attention to the things I reach for over and over again helps me realize what actually needs to live on the desk. I need to keep out scissors, a pincushion, pencils, hand lotions, and chocolates, but extra headphone jacks and battery chargers can be put away. Moving and consolidating small things created the space I needed. One of my solutions has been to use a tray to corral smaller items. (Another organize-y book I loved, What Color is Your Slipcover?, walks you through a whole intuitive process to determine your style and your needs. I learned I loved trays. Who knew?)

In my lifetime I’ve probably spent more time organizing books than any other single activity. Not saying I love it and would do it just for fun, but… I do, and I would. I really should have been a librarian. The built-in bookshelves in this room were a surprise detail we didn’t notice on our single-day househunting trip last summer. Naturally I’m using the shelves not just for book storage but as art- and office-supply storage, and also as display space. I needed to evaluate the books (which ones do I really need to have in view?) and the canisters of buttons/brushes/needles, and the sit-arounds.

I know this doesn’t look like much of a difference, but it’s the result of a couple of important realizations:

  • even a small amount of empty space makes everything feel less cluttered
  • if I can’t see things, I won’t use them (so I moved all the books I keep intending to read to the most accessible spot, and pulled the watercolor supplies out so I can remember that I have them!)
  • some things need to be accessible but not visible; the shelves behind the chair provide useful, mostly-hidden storage for office and school supplies

This is the space that started it all. I don’t have a “before” picture because I started moving stuff around this chair before I realized I was going to end up doing the whole room. This chair has come into near-daily use as I’m slowly establishing a meditation/prayer practice, so over the past couple of months I’ve accumulated multiple books, journals and writing utensils, candles, and inspirational artwork in this snug corner. Before yesterday, my body form stood next to the chair; now she has relocated to the brick wall next to my prayer kneeler, where she’s ready for Etsy stole photo shoots. My little N collection used to clutter up my desktop tray; now they’re both out of the way and visible. And the only thing that might be better than a tray is a basket to keep things gathered up.

How about you?

It’s amazing how you can spend the better part of a day cleaning, yet the “befores” and “afters” don’t look all that different from one another. I suspect that’s often the case; the big things may be the easiest to fix because they’re the most obvious, but seemingly minor clarifications might make even more of a difference. We may realize that the way we actually live and work doesn’t quite match how we thought we would when we set up the space in the first place. Small, considered tweaks can help us use—and enjoy—our places of work and of life. (Especially when they’re one and the same.)

Do you spring-clean? Do you routinely reevaluate your space and your stuff? How do you determine what to keep out and what to pack away and what to purge? How does your space reflect your own changing life—new interests, old habits, and the inspiration you look to as you dream of what’s ahead? I hope this mini tour through my workspace has given you some things to consider—at least, this: What is one small space you can adjust to work better for you, or to feel better to you? How can you make one small part of your life feel new this spring?

Stay well, friends. 🙏🏻

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