I have a deeply held belief that having creative things makes a person creative. And according to this belief, having a lot of creative things makes someone very creative. Looking around our schoolroom, one would be led to believe that some very, very creative people lived here. Most likely a couple of creative kids who had a super creative mom. They must paint with acrylics and watercolors. Model with beeswax and clay. Embroider all the time with every color of the rainbow. Not to mention knit, collage, sew, needle felt, wet felt, fold origami and do lots of other creative things with construction paper, crayons, oil pastels, colored pencils, rubber stamps, felt and buttons. Yes, they must be very creative – or absolutely overwhelmed and exhausted!
In contrast to this general belief, I have a deep personal knowledge that I am most creative in a clean, some might say sparse, environment with just a few favorite supplies. This knowledge was confirmed during our post-holiday beach trip when about 5 minutes before we pulled out of the driveway, I did some last-minute packing. I put some art supplies in a little bag and threw them in the trunk. I didn’t know if I would have time to do anything creative, but I wanted a few things just in case: a glue stick, my favorite scissors, a vintage children’s book to cut up for words and images, a tiny set of alphabet stamps and an ink pad. From a schoolroom full of supplies and shelves full of books, that’s what I took. With my limited amount of things and some recycled cardboard, I kept myself busy for 2 days straight. It was probably the most art I’ve made in months.
For this post, please humor my semantics. I’m not talking about belief versus knowledge in any kind of big spiritual way. Consider these beliefs and nuggets of knowledge to be the size of postcards, glue sticks and little pieces of rusty metal. My belief as to what makes someone creative (lots of stuff) goes against what I know that actually lets me be creative (not a lot of stuff). My spiritual director calls this kind of dissonance “a story you tell yourself”. It is a fiction that because of unconscious and unchecked repetition is seen as truth despite all evidence to the contrary. I have lots of stories I tell myself, however the older I get there are thankfully fewer and fewer tales in the book.
Upon returning from the beach, I went through every single drawer, box, bin and shelf in the entire school room. If we didn’t actually use it, it went into a rather small trunk to be stored under the bookcases. The trunk is a three-month probation. If the object is needed it will be given space in the schoolroom. If not, it will be relegated to the attic or banished to the Goodwill. Only time will tell.
Time and space: these are the things that allow me creative. The same goes for my boys. We each have our few favorite things. For me, it is those items I took to the beach. For Vincent, lately it is a couple of balls of yarn, a variety of knitting needles and some origami paper. For Jude, it is a stack of blank index cards, the tin of colored pencils and scotch tape (lots of scotch tape). Of course, there are those supplies that we use for school: materials to do wet-on-wet watercolor, modeling and drawing. I have a few crafts planned for Candlemas and Valentine’s Day which will require beeswax and felt. Other than that, there are a lot of empty drawers, boxes, bins and shelves in the schoolroom. The space feels good. It feels expansive, clean and above all creative.