Clutter-Free Writing Space: Writescape Guest Post

How does a writer stake out creativity space clear of kids and clutter? My recent guest blog post on the wonderful site Writescape.ca

I’m posting my recent guest blog post on the wonderful site Writescape.ca. Their fabulous blog ‘Top Drawer’ is a treasure trove of writing hacks and inspiration.

https://writescape.ca/site/2018/12/the-minimalist-writer/

The Minimalist Writer

Open concept is a must in all modern IKEA-catalogue-worthy homes. The glossy photos selling Swedish furniture promise you zen and relaxation. The reality is, unless you are living in a staged home, the open-concept layout likely means you’re being more overwhelmed by constantly looking at your overstuffed abode.

And for some writers, that can be deadly.

When you don’t have an uncluttered space to disappear to, your ability to hunker down and write can be seriously hampered.

Yes, you can write amid household chaos, but on some level you will always be fighting the distraction. It’s something I’ve had to struggle with until I found a solution.

Writer in a small house

Without a basement rec room, our main floor living space does triple duty:

  • toddler jungle gym
  • adult relaxing space, and
  • hubby’s office

Our cozy open concept dining room/living room always contains a lot of noble to-dos. The clean laundry waiting to be folded, the out-grown toys that can be donated or sold, the droopy plant begging for some water, and a thousand other half-finished projects that “will only take a few minutes.” You can’t feel guilty about not writing when you’ve tackled a stack of six months’ worth of unfiled health insurance claims.

But that’s exactly why we need to create a dedicated writing space. It should be a firm barrier against the rest of our lives’ clutter. No bake sale reminder notes or unpaid electricity bills allowed.

For Stephen King, it was the laundry room. For me, it’s the kitchen.

Choose your clutter battles

Even on our messiest kitchen days, we can get that sucker clean in about twenty minutes.Thanks to minimalizing purges and keeping things simpler, the countertops are clear once devoid of dirty dishes. Just don’t peek in the odds and ends drawer that every kitchen seems to harbour. (Editor’s note: That odds & ends drawer image is what inspired Writescape’s weekly blog for writers: The Top Drawer.)

The chairs may not be the comfiest ones in the house, but my kitchen has a good sized — and most importantly — empty writing surface. The best part? There is no sightline to the main living area — a minefield of emotional and physical clutter despite our best efforts. Once the crushed Cheerios and glitter have been swept up, the kitchen feels light and clear, and so does my mind.

Plus, the kettle is very handy for a cup of tea.

Clear off other distractions

Clutter goes beyond the tangible mammoth expresso machine and stack of Keurig cups eating up half your counter. Better turn off the data on your phone too when you want to have the space to write. The reminder pings of library books to renew and notices of who’s commented on your status go a long way to derail your week’s word count goal.

If you are fortunate enough to have a dedicated writing space, it’s well worth the time-investment to apply a Marie Kondo approach to that room. In a nutshell, keep only items that you consider beautiful or useful (i.e. research is informing your novel – but really, can’t you just digitalize that and recycle the folders?).

Even tackle that mug of twenty random pens picked up from conferences and hotel stays. Yes, pens are useful. No, you don’t need twenty of them stuffed into a coffee mug with an undecipherable dishwasher-faded logo. We all work best when not distracted and stressed by our things.

Sometimes though, life’s clutter can be a welcome creep into our writing havens. The other night, both kids ended up in the kitchen with me for cups of cocoa after a thunderstorm had them calling for “Ma!” Their presence  — a lovely distraction that left sticky cocoa rings and dirty mugs on the table  — provided the bones for this post. So, some distraction can give birth to inspiration.

Just make sure the laundry hamper is tucked out of sight. It’s hard to write a bestseller while folding undershirts.

Old Fashioned Thrift

I have a copy of a 1924 Popular Mechanics for Women magazine that I inherited from my grandmother. And while I don’t suggest you attempt to build the terrifying DIY chicken wire playpen, I was struck by the advice to rotate stroller wheels to equalize wear.

play pen
1920s Portable Play Yard

The short article advised readers that when baby stroller tires are the same size, the rear tires wear down before the front ones. Rotating tires would make it “unnecessary to renew them until all are worn out.”

Thrifty mom saves herself from buying a new set of four tires until all are worn down.  

My Stroller Stash

I own three different strollers- three! The single, the double (which also has jogging wheels) and the umbrella. If one of the wheels were to wear down, I’d shrug and order a new set online. 

There is a connection between how much stuff we own and our sloppy care of our possessions. I’m willing to bet that ‘1920s momma’ didn’t have multiple strollers at her disposal.

Three strollers is actually my pared down minimalizing number. I just gave the single running stroller away as the amount it got used didn’t justify its storage for when we return to being a single stroller family.  The others I just can’t part with yet.

The double is the daily go-to for outings farther than a few blocks. The single does nicely for short runs to the library and nearby parks that are walkable for our preschooler.  The umbrella fits neatly into our packed car for outings and is light to lug onto our inaccessible street car and commuter train.

transit stroller

Taking Stock

The stroller tally doesn’t even include our other wheeled methods of pushing kids from A to B. The small wagon and push car.

I wish I could just let some of these go and clean up our front yard but its all so handy right now. While I sometimes long for a suburban garage to hide things away, I am grateful for the trade-off of living in the city where I can walk to so much.

Suffice to say, if we were in a condo without backyard spill over options our storage locker would be scary. Or maybe not.

With limited storage I’d have refused the kind offer of the push car and sold the single stroller. And maybe with less possessions to care for, after seeing that 1920s article I’d have even gotten out the tool kit and rotated the tires on my umbrella stroller.

Electronics + Water = Disaster

I always turn down buying warranties and I have a good track record for coming out ahead. So perhaps I was too smug with the cashier as I wrestled my then eighteen-month-old back into the stroller. “Oh no I don’t need a warranty for the cellphone, I never let him play with my phone”.

For the most part I’ve stuck to my guns and opted to inflict my children on innocent bystanders in restaurants and waiting rooms versus handing them my phone as a distraction. What I didn’t anticipate was my toddler putting an open water bottle in my purse only to be discovered hours later.

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There was teasing moment of lit screen before all went dark. No YouTube videos and rice bags could save it. The phone was a decent model when bought but is definitely a few versions behind the times now. Buying something comparable would set me back about $600.

On the hunt for a fix

I decided to try to have it repaired. I first tried one local repair shop and after paying for an assessment and professional-drying I was told “it can’t be saved.” Another repair shop at least gave me a quote of $300- if they could bring it back to life. To which everyone in my life told me “its not worth it”. New and shiny wouldn’t be that much more and I could recycle my old phone guilt-free.

We are a throwaway society and I’m sad every time repair pros tell me to send something to the dump, not because they can’t fix it but because I can get a new one for a similar price.

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Moment of reckoning

I ultimately decided to go ahead with trying the phone repair. Thankfully it worked. Since it’s water damaged, no warranty on the work was offered. This time however, I was slightly less smug as I wrestled my three-year-old and one-year old out the door. As I left, I assured the cashier that I’d try to keep my water bottle out of their reach from now on.

Failing that, I guess next time I’ll be shopping for a waterproof model.

No Sock Sorting

I don’t think anyone has noticed but I’ve been wearing the same pair of socks for the last two years.  Okay only kinda. The cashier did chuckle though when I walked to the counter with one dozen individual pairs of mid-weight navy women’s socks and another dozen individual pairs of men’s white socks for hubby.

Minimalism isn’t only about having less, its also about simplifying and turning down the stress in other ways.  Yes, as the chief laundry doer in my house, mismatched socks were a source of stress. There always seemed to be a loner sock that had to be put aside for its pair to appear. And how long should you hang on to the loner before admitting the other sock is simply lost forever to the dyer vortex?

I now spend zero time sorting my socks. An extra sock just means it’ll wait around until the next load of clean laundry. Granted I can no longer express my individualism and personality through my socks.  I actually really enjoy playful socks that say to the world ‘I don’t take myself too seriously’.

No Christmas or St Patty’s socks either. The trade off in terms of no sorting is so worth it.

My little ones have some seriously cute socks and I hope there will be no permanent damage to their development but I’m transitioning their sock drawers to identical socks too.  Neither kid can seem to keep a sock on for a day’s duration.

socks

I’m literally at ten socks without pairs for my toddler and tired of looking at mismatched socks on his feet. So goodbye truck and race car socks and hello a little more sanity for momma.

The Great Media Purge

As a student without cable and pre-Netflix I used to love Thursday night Blockbuster nights. The ritual began with walking the outer store perimeter to review the new releases from A to Z and then trying to convince my friends that my pick was clearly the night’s winner. Don’t bother with the middle aisles, ever.

Next a stop at Metro for Smart Food and M&Ms. Over the years I managed to amass a fairly sizable collection of DVDs largely thanks to Blockbuster’s bins of pre-owned treasures.

Remember two-day rentals and please be kind rewind? Blockbuster has faded to nostalgia thanks to online streaming and I haven’t bought a DVD since getting Netflix but somehow my boxes of DVDs haven’t faded away. I didn’t even bother with a media display when moving into our home five years ago.

Ditto for my CDs which haven’t had a new addition since I discovered Songza and now Spotify.

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Its hard to say goodbye to old friends, isn’t it? How many bed-ridden days has Bridget Jones gotten me through? And Never Ending Story is clearly a classic in my books.

Netflix obviously doesn’t have everything, though more than I’ll ever be able to watch. Thankfully you can also rent movies online of course, that’s how we finally managed to see the latest Star Wars released during newborn baby madness.

There’s also the local library, I headed straight there to remedy the fact that I hadn’t seen or even heard of Lilies of the Field a Sidney Poitier classic, much to my parents dismay (clearly I should have spent more time in middle aisles of Blockbuster).

So I’m ready to let these go, mostly.  Johnny Cash’s greatest hits stays for cleaning marathons, Disney and awesome road trip cds stay too, Princess Bride hangs in there because its my favourite and Bridget Jones stays too because I’m just not ready to let her go.

 

 

Goodbye Yoda: Letting Go of Collectibles

I just sold my entire collection of unopened Star Wars Episode 1 figures for $20. I didn’t even broke even with what my geeky 13 year old self paid for them. While E-bay confirmed over the years that they weren’t worth much, I could never let them go for ‘nothing’. As I minimalize and reclaim more and more of my house I was more than happy to have these gone and reinvest the $20 into pizza and garlic bread.

Star Wars Episode 1 Figures Hasbro CommTech x 5 NEW

So yes happy- relieved even, to say goodbye to yoda but still unwilling to pitch my pog collection which was housed in the same now emptier box as the Star Wars figures. I’d planned to give the pogs to my kids one day until reading this:

Things that were fads should fade away from your life. You probably wouldn’t re-buy that pog collection, right? Some things served their purpose for that time in your life, but they’re superfluous now https://www.everydollar.com/blog/cash-in-your-clutter  

Ouch! If the post had used a Star Wars example I’d be patting myself on the back instead of being smacked with reality. Pogs aren’t making a comeback and my kids won’t want them. They were a nice recess distraction in grade four and its now time to let them go. At least these suckers are cardboard and can be recycled. I find the idea of things having served their purpose for a specific time in your life as a good mantra to purge collectibles. Maybe I can let go of my china dolls next.

 

Are Quality Kid Clothes Worth It?

One of the pluses of a minimalist wardrobe is buying bigger ticket quality pieces guilt-free.  I own one pair of everyday boots that get me through the early spring, fall and most of Toronto’s winter. Being a Canadian I still do own a pair of serious snowfall winter boots mostly for out of city excursions- shoveled sidewalks being a nice perk of big city living.  Since I’m only buying one pair I look for something stylish that isn’t going to fall apart. So, I splurge on my Blundstones without any guilt about dusty forgotten ‘cute but man do these pinch my toes’ boots hiding in the back of my closet.

With the days getting cooler and my Blundstone’s soles looking rather sad after five years, it was time to scout out a new pair. I brought my toddler along on the shopping trip to get him his first pair of Blundstones or as they’re adorably called Blunnies.

Up till now I’ve gone the second-hand route for kids footwear but I’ve been finding it hit and miss on the shoe condition presumably because at this stage the shoes are getting more wear before being outgrown. At over $100 I’m really hoping that we will get a few seasons out of the Blunnies- fall, winter and next spring. I also steered clear of the army motif and bought a style that will work well for my daughter to wear as a hand-me-down.  By the time she’s three, she might have something to say about overly “boy” clothes.

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The Blunnies of course won’t get five years of wear like mine so is the investment worth it or should I have gotten something a little less durable? I’m thinking that at this point quality is worth it as both kids will be able to get a few seasons of super warmth and dryness from these and I expect to get a decent resale value down the line. And while I’m not too into dressing my kids like mini adults, these are just so darn cute.  Definitively worth it for the planet too, as I’m sure these are going to see a lot more happy feet before they see a landfill.