Sunday, December 16, 2012

Creative Clutter

As usual, I am reading a book.  The cover of the book is a collage of gorgeous lifestyle photographs with a simple quote that serves as the title, A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life, by Mary Randolph Carter.  I am always drawn to picture books, but this time the title called my name.

For most of my life, I practiced perfectionism.  A neat and tidy home with a place for everything and everything in its place was my goal.  But this second half of my life has been a creative journey, and quite unexpectedly I am not nearly so concerned about everything being perfectly in its place.

Carter describes, "Finding solace and a little beauty in the clutter of the things we cherish in our everyday lives at home and at work." 

"A cluttered house is a lived—in house.  It is filled with signs of life; stacks of magazines; newspapers spread over a sofa; books piled next to the bed; a desk arranged with letters, invitations, and family photos; children’s artwork tacked to the wall or displayed on the refrigerator . . . Everything in its place may give a certain satisfaction, but a lived-in room exudes comfort and warmth."

For her work environment, Carter is "happiest surrounded . . .  by stacks of books, magazines, tear sheets,  photographs, contact sheets, jars of Sharpie markers, pencils, wooden rulers, old alarm clocks, postcards, letters, magnifying glasses, and ubiquitous Post-it pads in pink, yellow, blue, and lime green."

As a photographer, quilter, crafter, and maker, I work from my home.  For years I set up my sewing machine or spread out my pictures on our dining room table and worked for days at a stretch.  Once the work was finished, I faithfully returned the dining room to its house beautiful state, ready for a gourmet meal with family around the oak trestle table.  But here’s the rub. We seldom actually ate around this table.  Mostly, we gathered in our small kitchen, eating on the well-worn farmhouse table.  Putting up and taking down my work environment slowed my progress, and often my creative ideas were damped by the notion of having to work so hard to get to the good stuff.

Hearing my complaints (and likely tired of my whining), my husband asked, "Why don’t you just leave the dining room set up as your studio?" Well, at first I couldn’t envision my house without the perfect dining room, set up and ready to entertain.  And then I could picture it.  So began my journey to the comfort of creative clutter.

My studio is a bit of a hodgepodge.  There are scissors and pins, old cameras, photo albums, stacks of books and fabric, tins of ribbon, boxes of old pictures, jars of buttons, rulers and bone folders, cardstock, photo props, and my dress form named Gladys.  My studio, like my home, has a mix of mementos I gathered on adventures I enjoyed and want to remember.

Donna's studio
Donna's studio
Donna's studio collage
Donna's studio

Birds of a feather really do flock together.  My friends work in creative clutter, too.

My friend, Jo Miller of Miller Farms Market, cooks and bakes and cans from her farmhouse kitchen.  For every season she creates food that is healthy, homegrown, and handmade.

Miller Kitchen

My friend, Joni Ulman Lewis of Visual Treats, creates and sews cards, scarves, hats, sachets and collages using vintage materials that she collects.  She has a passion for beautiful rust, peeling paint, and objects that tell a story.  Joni tries to control her clutter by using different work surfaces to lay out her stuff, and when she runs out of surfaces, she always uses the floor.

Joni Studio Collage

My friend Candice Ransom is a Southern writer.  She is the author of 115 children’s books, including Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World and Rebel McKenzie.  She collects everything vintage.  She really doesn’t belong in this century as she longs for simpler times and old treasures.  She is my just-down-the-road neighbor and we are "same, same, different." She tells stories and can make even a speck of dirt sound fascinating.  She tries to corral her clutter by storing everything in vintage suitcases, but to me, it just looks like she’s either planning a very long trip or running away from home.

Candice Studio

I don’t know if messy really is the new neat, but I do know that you can’t worry about how neat everything around you is when you are working on a project.  I still long for the "less is more" lifestyle, so I finish one project, clean it up, and put it away.

Creative clutter and organization live in perfect harmony here at Patchwork Photos where life is well spent.


  1. I have been in Donna's studio and I want to sit right down with my coloring book and crayons, and scissors to cut out scraps, and nose in *her* suitcases of stuff. Donna's studio is the heartbeat of her home--anyone is welcome. She will fix you a cup of tea and happily chat while she is working on her sewing or crafts.

    Like Donna, I need a certain amount of creative clutter to keep boredom at bay, but I don't like working in chaos. The stuff for one book is out on my desk--other projects are out of sight until it is their turn to come out. Thanks, Donna, for making my office look better than it really is!

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  3. It was easy to make your office look like a page directly from a magazine! You are always an inspiration to me. Thanks to your encouragement, I'm looking forward to 2013 as the year of "un-perfect photos." Stay tuned.


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