5 Creative Truths I Needed to Discover: A Decluttering Story

In January of 2020, I started decluttering. Again.

This is something I've done since I was little. My copy of Organizing from the Inside Out for Teens (co-written by Julie Morgenstern and her daughter, Jessi Morgenstern-Colón) is one of the most ruffled and well-loved books on my shelf. I especially love her idea that it's not about following a "one size fits all" system but rather if your possessions are organized in a way that makes sense to you and supports how you live your life.

More recently, I heard about the KonMari Method and started incorporating some of her suggestions into my days, too, such as thanking the objects I pass on or recycle, and looking at things from the perspective of whether they spark joy.

With the organizing and decluttering process being a welcome part of my life rather than a despised one, I actually thought my possessions, digital and physical, were in decent shape, until a milestone birthday on the horizon got my wheels turning and an unlikely trio of movies changed my life.

When I say changed, I'm talking phoenix from the ashes, "my life has been leading to this moment for the past decade" levels of change.

I'll be sharing more concrete, specific details of my decluttering story in the future, but it felt right to start with this: the foundation beneath it all, and the creative truths I learned that apply to so many of us.

More than anything, I hope it helps to convey that the process doesn't need to be an impersonal, strict, soulless experience, especially if you've ever worried that it would require a cold detachment and peeling away bits of yourself that you still love and appreciate.

Speaking for myself, there were times when I cried and felt overwhelmed, but more than anything there were times of excitement and gratitude and lightness. I have no regrets, only hope.

And to think this all started with Elsa ...

Which movies sparked this momentous change?

Frozen 2

I loved this movie even more than the original (and I've seen Frozen SO MANY TIMES), for so many reasons, but that delighted more than surprised me. What I genuinely didn't expect as I walked up the theatre steps and settled into a seat beside my mum was how much this movie would serve as a catalyst for my own personal phoenix experience.

Hearing Elsa give voice to the sensation of feeling trapped in "Into the Unknown", of not knowing how to realize her truest self and being scared to lose what's already wonderful in her life, bruised my heart with its familiarity, and my elation when she came into her own in "Show Yourself" was the brightest star in a new-moon sky.

And then there's "The Next Right Thing". Tears rolled down my cheeks as Anna's inner turmoil echoed my past bouts with depression and other personal struggles over the last few years. As Anna climbed out of the darkness, I saw every struggle that threatened to crush me and felt an intense wave of gratitude for where I am today, for everyone who's supported me and the realization of what I'm capable of, of my own inner light in the darkest of times.

Rise of Skywalker

After the emotional rollercoaster of Frozen 2, I felt ready to take big, ground-breaking steps ... but how? I'd had this desire before and hadn't been able to do anything with it. Why should this time be any different?

I was a youngster in the days of the prequel trilogy (which I still enjoy) and before that I was a huge fan of the original trilogy, so I grew up watching these movies, like many Star Wars fans. Seeing the Skywalker saga come to a close was exciting and emotional and overwhelming in turns.

Being totally honest, I enjoyed Rise of Skywalker but wasn't entirely satisfied with some of the character arcs (and in some cases was in more of a wistful "if only" mood), so I turned to fanfiction!

While I read a few stellar fics that took place in the canon Star Wars universe, I also dove headlong into fresh, modern starts for some of my favourite characters, where they got to work in restaurants and have chance meetings in coffee shops and go to the beach and pursue their dreams of being writers or rock stars or teachers. Kind of an evolution of my passion for "moving to New York City and building a creative career" stories, if you will, and I loved it.

As much as I was enjoying the plot twists and fluffy-swoony romances and adorable friendships, there was something else that spoke to me, too: these characters had their basic day-to-day lives sorted out.

In the midst of personal struggles and creative confusion over the past decade, I dropped some key habits. Things like remembering to have lunch, or drinking enough water to keep my head clear, or flossing more than once every ... who knows?

Without that basic foundation, I was struggling to sort anything else out.

I'd made a start on these sorts of Everyday Caretaking tasks already but gained momentum after this fanfic-fuelled revelation. On days when it felt like a struggle, I'd even ask myself, "If this was a fanfiction chapter, what would you do right now?" Often that was the nudge I needed to press on and embed the habit that little bit deeper in my daily routine.

I'm in a much better, healthier position today than I've been for years (something I'm incredibly grateful for in the midst of everything that's going on in the world right now), and I'm looking forward to moving on with this foundation as I turn the page to future chapters!

Marriage Story

The key that opened the lock in the door I'd found through the first two films was Marriage Story.

Watching this movie caused a seismic shift in the foundations of my life. As much as I adore escapist fiction with fantastical settings and historical dramas, watching Marriage Story made me realize how much I missed watching something raw, immediate, and uncomfortably real. Something that both swept me away and made me want to devour every interview, every behind-the-scenes clip to see how it all came together.

Not only that, but it helped me remember myself.

There's been times over the last few years I've thought wistfully of my teenage self, the one who spent several years entrenched in the theatre world, both in front of and behind the curtain; the one who coordinated costumes with friends for movie releases; the one who baked the scones from Bread Alone at 2 AM; the one who found a kind, welcoming spot in the writing community on Livejournal; the one who wrote thousands of words of fictional prose every week; the one who devoured stories suggested by her mum or Goodreads or friends.

Some things inevitably gave way to adult responsibilities, and in spite of my attempts to find a new kind of balance and live passionately and truly ... I lost my way. And the more lost I felt, the more I despaired of finding my way again.

The fire of creativity in my soul dimmed to a flicker, then glowing embers, and finally went cold.

My Phoenix Moment

For a long time – nearly a decade – I've tried to find a way to light that spark again, to stir the embers back to life.

Frozen 2 helped me see how far I've come and be honest with myself.

Rise of Skywalker helped me discover the foundation I've been missing.

Marriage Story helped me remember what it felt like for creativity to dance in my soul and realize I know what to do already ... I just have to muster the energy and create the space (mentally and physically) to do it.

It was time to let go of all the half-finished projects that weighed me down, the advice that was no longer relevant, the ideas that held no spark of excitement.

I could release the clutter surrounding me because I didn't need to protect myself with those things anymore.

And so I did. Pages and pages, files and files, years and years of emotional, physical, and digital clutter, now either gone or given new life - woken up, as Marie Kondo might say.

While some of my decluttering story has yet to be written, I've mined a few nuggets of creative truth from the rubble strewn about thus far. Let's polish them up and lay them out for a closer look, shall we?

Creative Truth #1 | Words have power

Going through old morning pages and journal entries showed what an emotional catharsis journalling is for me. I usually only do it when going through something major.

Most of those major things no longer hold power over me, but the words on the page do. While I let most of the pages go, it was a stunning reminder of how visceral and transporting writing can be. For the space of time I sat and read those pages, I was right back in the moment, right back in those experiences (sometimes elated, sometimes heartsick).

Words and stories have an incredible power that's not to be taken lightly. During these uncertain times, I've turned to stories more and more to help keep my head above water, and it's yet another potent reminder how important the arts are.

What I've also found is how beautiful the little everyday, seemingly unimportant notes are. Writing down a song I heard on the radio or the conversation I heard at the lake seems so small at the time, but reading those notes, too, takes me back. Details are transporting, and life is full of these as much as (even more than) intense emotional experiences.

Creative Truth #2 | Outlets for creativity are crucial

As I scoured notebooks for the bits and bobs worth keeping, one thing became very clear: even in periods of time where I didn't write a single word of fiction (sometimes for weeks or months), I never stopped being creative. More specifically, I never stopped getting new ideas or finding connections between disparate concepts or being curious. It didn't matter that I didn't have a path in mind for many of these ideas at the time, I just wrote them down.

The creative wheels never stopped turning, even if they slowed down at times. I do think, though, if I hadn't respected their presence and given them space in my notebooks, those wheels might have ground to an eventual halt. And in the meantime, I know all too well that when I don't provide myself that outlet for getting ideas, notes, and observations on paper, I start to feel claustrophobic and overwhelmed.

Having an outlet, an easily accessible space, for these things not only keeps my Muse and I close but frees my mind to focus on whatever is most pressing at the time, whether or not that's a creative endeavour.

Creative Truth #3 | Stories evolve beyond our imagination

More and more, I've started to think of storytelling as a kind of alchemy. Ideas that seem worn and threadbare on the surface combine with character archetypes and themes and plot structures, and, along with a little bit of soul magic and a whisper from our Muse, turn into something magical. Something new and different. Rarely can we anticipate exactly what path a story will take in the end.

This became all the more evident to me as I went through years' worth of notes for my current work-in-progress. It had totally slipped my mind that this WIP evolved from the melding of two separate story ideas, one of which I'd completely forgotten about! ("Is Louisa's younger sister the one from the cooking books?" is one of my earliest records of the stories intertwining.) And that forgotten idea was originally brainstormed as a loose sequel to a story I started back in my teens. What a journey this story has been on, and it's not over yet!

While you don't need to give a story years to ferment (unless you want or need to), don't be afraid to explore a new path or surrender an old idea to a new story. Allowing ourselves the freedom to explore has the potential to ignite powerful alchemical forces.

Creative Truth #4 | Consistency is key

While I'm not one to insist that writing every day is essential (and I'd be a hypocrite if I did), I've gained a fresh appreciation for the importance of consistency.

This decluttering journey unearthed numerous drafts of several different stories, all in various states of completeness, spanning back to my mid-teens. I set some aside to look at later (especially the ones that are more nostalgic than projects I want to carry on with someday) and focused on the stories I've taken the furthest and/or am working on now.

You'd think that my most recent story would be the one that read the best, right? The one that made me cringe the least and captured my attention the most?

As it turns out ... nope!

Looking back at different WIPs, the one that feels most compelling and well written is from my early 20s (I'm turning 30 in a few months). There was so much more passion and a sense of flow and ease than I see in my fiction writing today.

Does this mean I've become a worse writer, or that my current WIP isn't worth pursuing? Not at all! The years since writing that WIP have seen a lot of changes, but two things are true now that weren't the case in my early 20s:

  1. I have curtain bangs.
  2. I'm not creating stories consistently.

When I wrote that story that still holds up surprisingly well (and gives me butterflies at the thought of returning to it someday), I'd been consistently writing, studying the craft, and devouring stories for years.

Since then, thanks to a few different factors (some within my control, some not) my devotion to writing manifested less and less concretely over time, and it shows in my fiction writing.

Had I realized this a few months ago, when I was mired in confusion and overwhelm about the direction my life was taking, I might have been more upset. Thankfully, I'd already gained some peace and clarity through the decluttering process, so this was just a beautiful reminder of the impact consistency has on my fiction writing. I can't wait to kindle that fire and nurture the flame!

In fact, there's already a hopeful spark ... in the midst of all this decluttering, my Muse gifted me an idea for an entirely new set of characters and story world, unconnected to anything I've done in the past, and that hasn't happened in years. There's a short story in the works now, so we'll see where things go from here!

Creative Truth #5 | Passions spark a creative blaze

Looking back on the novels I've started over the years, they fall into two categories: (1) thinly disguised autobiographical emotional processing or (2) an idea connected to one or more of my passions.

Unsurprisingly, the stories that evolved from passion (or started as autobiography and evolved into something passion-related) are the ones that have stayed the test of time, still hold my interest, and hold up to scrutiny. Not only that, but they're the ones I look at and think, "Is there a book like this out there already, because I really want to read one."

I love stories that incorporate vivid details and dynamics and sensations about things like cooking, glassblowing, horseback riding, anything specific and fascinating. Little in fiction annoys me more than a back cover which promises a character who's into cooking, say, and then the story itself has ... hardly any cooking? Maybe a sentence here or there where they're considering what to have for supper or monologuing about salad to a vaguely interested possible love interest, but nothing that does justice to what got me excited in the first place.

Those heartfelt stories that make good on their promises are the kind I want to write, the kind I want to be known for, so incorporating passions I'd already happily investigate for weeks just makes sense.

Also, I've noticed on looking back at old stories that the more I indulge my interests and passions, the more connected I am to the story and the more it evolves into a creative force all its own. More of this in my life, please!

A Journey Worth Taking

While decluttering and organizing has been one of my favourite hobbies since I was a preteen, I can honestly say this most recent experience has been unlike any other. I've never gained so much clarity or unearthed so many creative gems from decluttering before, or had such an emotional journey with it.

Why was it different this time? I'm not too sure. I think it's a combination of "yay, I'm turning 30!" energy; the slightly bizarre, entirely wonderful trio of movies I watched this winter; and building on the foundations of past organizing and decluttering journeys.

Whatever it was that made this so different, I'm grateful.

Even as the decluttering and organizing carries on (now that I've found a "new normal" in the midst of everything going on), I understand myself better than ever. I know what I want to create and how. I know what no longer fits and can be let go to carve out room for what's most important to me today, in every part of my life.

If this is a journey you're considering, I wholeheartedly recommend it, no matter how long it takes. You can take your time. You can do it in waves, over the course of months or years.

Done with a nurturing, open mind, whether you follow the wonderful KonMari Method or dive into Julie Morgenstern's books or pursue any suggestions that feel right (including your own instincts!), your decluttering success story can be a story of coming home. Coming home to yourself, to your creativity, and to what makes you happiest.

Take heart, creative soul: if it calls to you, this is a journey worth taking.

If you'd like to pin this post as inspiration for your own decluttering and organization journey, take your pick of the two images below! 💕 (They'll be full-size on Pinterest, not to worry.)