Cluttered vs. Tidy Work Area – Where are You More Creative? (Video)

Jewelry and Coffee with Rena

by Rena Klingenberg.

Here’s what a recent study reveals about creativity and clutter vs. tidiness. Where are you more creative?

Transcript of this Video:

Are you more creative when you work in a cluttered space, or in a space that’s neat and tidy?

I recently read about an interesting study by researchers at the University of Minnesota.

The researchers found that a cluttered workspace tends to encourage innovative thinking and trying new things.

And that a neat, orderly workspace tends to encourage traditional thinking and playing it safe.

Of course, these results are what the researchers observed – but that doesn’t mean they necessarily apply to everyone.

But I’m interested in how they apply to jewelry artists.

For me, when it comes to working with wire and metals, I tend to be most creative when I have a space that’s cleared off and tidy.

That makes me feel open and like there’s nothing in my way to allow creativity in – and I don’t want things around the edges distracting me.

But if I’m working with beads, it does help me to have a variety of beads all around, to see how different colors and shapes work together – it’s a great way to discover surprising new color combinations!

But if I get too many different beads all over my bead board, I start to feel less creative and I usually wind up putting the project aside till later.

What about you?

Where are you more creative – do you need an area that’s neat and tidy, or a more cluttered environment?

Please share your experiences in the comments below – I’d love to hear what you have to say about this!

Thanks for stopping in today, and I’ll see you next time.

The Jewelry Rena’s Wearing
in This Video:

Coffee and Cream jewelry set by Rena Klingenberg

Necklace and Earrings – “Coffee and Cream” jewelry set by Rena Klingenberg. Ceramic pendant with Czech glass, sterling silver, copper.

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  1. Interesting question – I think I am an in betweener and like you it depends on the material I am working with. I usually start with a clean bench when I work with my polymer clay. And working with polymer clay is by nature incredibly messy. Once I get going my stuff is everywhere – inks, clays, wax paper, tiles – when I make several items I run out space and leave some trays in the kitchen! Because it often days to complete things my work bench and conservatory tend to stay chaotic for a while. When I am finished with a project I tend to give it a good tidy and clean and also check what colours of clay I have left – until the whole process starts again. When working with beads I tend to be a bit tidier and things to get tidied away after use and not days after use. And with wire work I think a clear space does help.

  2. Kathy Szmolke says:

    Hi, Rena! Not too long ago I received a shipment of beads that I was excitedly waiting for. I went up to my craft room and took everything out and had it covering my work table. But after having it sitting there for a while, I found that when I sat down to be “creative,” I was instead feeling stressed. It was too much at once, and I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. So finally, I put everything away and started from scratch. I found that I worked better and had more imagination when I had a clean work surface. Of course, it helps to have my favorite country music station playing in the background!

  3. This is certainly one of those things that can really vary between person to person. I have a serious type A personality. I love things to be organized, neat and clean. This also holds true in my creative space. Like Kathy I get stressed when there is a mess around! Plus I have 2 cats so the beads and wire need to be tucked away so the paws don’t get at them.

  4. Great question. I like to start out with a clean workspace, which gradually becomes a mess. I can happily work in that mess until I can’t find my pliers when they’re right in front of me. Then I tidy things up and continue. A chaotic mess wears on me emotionally, and leads to overwhelm.

  5. Which do I prefer? Well, my work space is not that large considering most of my tools and my soldering area are all on the same table. Plus my son gave me his old monitor so now I have 2 monitors and one is on the table so I can watch what ever I want when I am working on my projects. Gotta love hand me downs…LOL Most of the time my work space is cluttered. But when I finish one project and go onto the next, I try to tidy up some. Most of the time my tools get in the way because I use maybe 3 or 4 different ones on what ever it is I am making. I need to re-organize my space so I dont have this problem. But I do think I do my best creating with the cluttered space. The not so fun part is putting all of the left over beads back in their spaces… πŸ™‚

  6. Funny you should ask!
    Before I left for a vacation my workspace was a creative mess! I am a neat person by nature so it needed re-organizing..I have a very small table so I have to be organized..I usually get ideas and start pulling bead combinations and pendants out of the storage units and/or baskets I have organized…after several hours it can get crazy so I try and put away as much stuff after I complete a necklace or a series of similar things…then on to the next adventure! I even found things I forgot I had after the last clean up and was so pleasantly surprised!

  7. Margo Clark says:

    I am inspired by the clutter that surrounds me, until I can no longer find a thing! I keep my sectioned boxes of beads scattered around me As I look around at what others would call a mess, I usually hit upon a new idea or color combo I had not thought of before! The way I look at it, if a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what does an empty desk mean? Haha…just kidding!

    Where I tend to stay organized is with my components. I mostly use clear, sectioned off plastic storage pieces on my shelves. They are clearly marked as to what is inside. When I get inventory in, the first thing I do is price the components and put the info in the section with the product. Saves a lot of time when it comes to pricing my jewelry for sale.

  8. coraNation says:

    Wow. This is not easy to answer. I like to think I’m organized, but my work space belies this notion. Sometimes my creativity get jammed. I have so many ideas that I have trouble with execution. These are the times that I start sorting, cleaning and discarding. When I can’t find a particular tool, notion or gizmo, it drives me crazy! I find it hard to work within too much clutter, but art is all about expression and inspiration. This is easier when you see color, texture, pictures. Depending on the day and on the project-I’m neat or I’m the queen of chaos.

  9. I’m like Nelson above, I start with a clean and orderly work area, soon to become cluttered. I work well for a while until I can’t find something I just sat down, then I have to organize it again,

  10. Great subject and question!! I’ve always heard that a cluttered desk is a productive one. I guess I believe it because when it comes to my work area, I’m most creative when its cluttered.
    Don’t be confused, cluttered is not necessary unorganized. I know where everything little thing is even though it may look like a mess to an uneducated person LOL.
    Having everything around me makes my eyes and mind wonder across everything around me, quickly accessing what I can create by using this piece or that or combining this piece and that piece. Seeing certain things and pieces within my work area also serves as a reminder of what I may have put away somewhere that will work perfectly with what I’m creating at the moment.
    I love a cluttered work area…a cluttered work area is a creative mind….thats my story and I’m sticking to it.

  11. Hi Rena, this question is on my mind a lot at the moment because my worktable is an absolute MESS! I am working on two different designs right now for the upcoming holidays, plus I like to have a ‘go to’ project in progress that I can pick up in odd moments. I design by pulling out all my beads together and letting the design just flow, which means that my table is covered in boxes of seed beads. I have to clear a space to do any beading. From time to time I clear them all away and start again. It’s a bit like the tide going in and out…
    but I love it!

  12. Leslie Schmidt says:

    I read this somewhere in February 2013: “A creative mess is better than tidy idleness.” I am a sanguine personality, and clutter is our personality. My art room starts out clean and then we move stuff in there when we have company, then another season starts and I have another craft to work on, then I don’t get that put away and it’s something else. For my jewelry ~ I have several cookie trays that have ongoing projects or pieces left over from a project just finished that don’t get put away. Right now I can hardly move my office chair to get to my desk. We rescued four baby kitties in July so have been spending more time keeping them out of my room and entertained than working on stuff that needs to be finished so I can put stuff away. Sigh, I actually like clutter ~ when I put things away (or someone else helps me) I can’t find anything. The problem is that it moves to other rooms and my hubby can’t handle clutter being a melancholic and perfectionist.

  13. I would like my work area tidier but it is always more on the cluttered and messy side. Either way works for me. I do find it helpful to have lots of beads laid out to choose from.

  14. Melanie and Elizabeth says:

    We enjoyed your video with our morning coffee. Although we are jewelry-making impaired, we do work on other crafts. I like a very organized work space, however Elizabeth likes an excessively messy one. (sorry, no photo to attach) :O)
    Love, Melanie and Elizabeth

  15. This is an interesting question! I’m definitely in the cluttered camp!
    I work in my living room/kitchen, on what’s laughingly called my dining table (I don’t remember the last time anyone actually ate a meal at it!), fortunately I live alone, so don’t have to consider anyone else.
    I do keep all my jewellery findings in colour coded boxes, and they’re fairly organised, but as I make one-off pieces I have loads of stuff out when I’m creating and I do find that having a lot of beads either on the table or just close by helps my creative process.
    Funnily enough, the clutter on the table doesn’t bother me quite so much when I’m jewellery making, but when I’m card making it spreads all over the floor too, with stacking boxes of inks, papers, stamps, etc., etc., and that does get to me and I find that I spend maybe a week doing cards, then am relieved when I can put it all away and the area is clear again – well, for an hour or two at least!!!
    I go to markets regularly during the summer months, and keep my bags of pieces, display stuff etc. all ready packed in large bags so that they can just be picked up and taken easily, and also have the same set up for the Pottery where I do one day a week, and take up things to make as I have space to work there. I do find that if I don’t have everything with me, I always want to use something I’ve left at home, so tend to take far too much.
    I’m definitely more creative with lots of input and inspiration from things around me, but I do sometimes wish that I could walk away from it and shut the door! As I use my living area for work, that’s just not possible, so I clear it up when it’s driving me mad, then start all over again!

  16. Hi Rena,
    Love your site and the great info you share.
    I start with a clean work space that moves into clutter as I work. Most times I’m at the dining table and I store supplies and findings in drawers – so as I work I’m pulling out more things and before long the area is cluttered. I guess I work best cluttered with orderly intentions. lol

  17. Hey, Coral. I have a dedicated room for jewelry making, so I can shut the door. But that room also becomes the depository for everything that doesn’t have a home. I’ve got stuff all over the place in there!

  18. I usually start out clean and neat, but by the time my project is finished, I’ve used so many different tools and materials (along with all the scraps I’ve generated) that my area is vastly messy by the time I’m finished! Maybe I’m just a messy crafter. lol

  19. Ann Wittman says:

    Rena, I love your site and gain so much from all the comments. I am lucky to have a small but enclosed lanai for my beading but I keep about 3 trays of projects I am workiing on so it stays contained. I store my beads more by color and categorized into natural stones or glass and seed beads so I can open my drawers to see what goes with what. I guess I do my best work when I wake up with a “fabulous idea” that keeps me awake. I am creating for three different venues and different clientele. Being retired, I can spend as much time as I please doing what I love and learning from all of you.

  20. I’m very much in the messy camp. While I love everything to be neat and organized (and I do get there maybe once or twice a year) I find it impossible to maintain organization. I also discovered a long time ago that I am a very visual and hands on (as opposed to conceptual) designer. If I cannot see a material it basically does not exist to me. I could never sit down with a pen and paper and design a piece. My designs spring from my materials so I have found a way to store most all of my materials (organized by color) in see thru containers that are on shelves on either side and in front of me. I will still end up with hundreds of beads on my work table and am forever cursing the fact that I can set a partially finished piece, or a tool, or a specific bead on my table one second and have it be totally lost 20 seconds later. What can I say?- I’ve learned to somewhat live with me πŸ™‚

  21. Hi Rena,
    My little brother calls me Felix, after the neat freak from “The Odd Couple” tv show. However when it comes to artisan projects, including jewelry making, there will be no space available by the end of any given project. Yep, I start organized but always end up with ‘stuff’ all over the place. Could be how I go about creating, since I often gather research material(usually lots), materials and tools first. On the other hand, I have to make a mess. Because I know I’ll have a great feeling after cleaning up the workspace, after a project is finished… he doesn’t call me Felix for nothin’.

  22. MaElena Rodriguez says:

    I DEFINITELY like a clean and uncluttered work area. Mind you, I start off with this, but by the end of the day it is cluttered all over again! However, usually, before I start working again, I put everything where it goes, even the tiniest components, because when I need them, I want them accessible. And just about everytime I put things away, I find something else I’d fogotten I had! I have just about everything at arm’s length, and I love it that way. I have a couple of girlfriends that also like to make jewelry and they are always frustrated because they can’t find anything. I live in a very small one bedroom apartment, but I HAVE MY WORK SPACE! It is just so important to me and such a major part of my life. I look forward to being there, and most times that’s my reward when I have to do other things…being able to go to “that place” and enjoy look at my beads, components, wires, color, shapes, sizes, etc… When its clean it just motivates me so much to start my creative juices going and I feel a sense of accomplishment. Best to all.

  23. When the accumulating things that just seem to come from nowhere and find their way to my bench create a six inch deep mulch of potentially avalanching jewelry supplies it’s time to straighten things out.

  24. MaElena Rodriguez says:

    Its hard to keep a crafter/jeweler’s table completely clutter-free, but the discipline is well worth it. Not being able to find components because they could be anywhere, just drives me crazy; I have to keep my area clean, it gives way more to me in creativity and imagination. For my pliers, I use those stackable wire shelves that are covered with white soft plastic-like material. These have either lines of thick wire, or squares, where I can hang my pliers and I just keep reaching for them continuously while I am working (after training myself not to leave them on the table).

  25. Normally, I am surrounded by beads on my mat, the problem is at times I cannot find what I am looking for and I realize I need to use more of my supplies that are sitting behind me in organized containers. If it gets too overpowering I move to the other end of the table, where the mat is empty and I create there for a while.

  26. Janet says:

    I work best in clutter. With a photographic memory, I know where every scrap is. Sometimes it’s frustrating to have to move stuff to get to something else, but it’s the price I pay for small work area. Btw, I love your tutorials!

  27. I try to begin each project in a clean workspace. If the piece involves any heavy duty work ~ etching, soldering, forming, punching, dapping…..then I’m in my studio where the space tends to get cluttered as I work. If I’m doing fine finishing work ~ earrings, bracelet, or creating the “necklace” for a focal, I work in a tidy space in my office. Since I’m working off a design I’ve drawn and a color palette, my choices are comfortably narrowed down so I don’t need to have everything in my repertoire on display. Thank you, Rena, for getting me to think about this!

  28. My daughter says that my bead room looks like I’m a hoarder!!

  29. I am more creative and producting in any craftwork I do, specially in jewelry making when there is more clutter. I believe in the saying: ” better a creative mess then an idle orderliness.”

  30. Cat Slavin says:

    My work area is very small and clutter really stifles my creativity

    Since I tend to have several projects in process at any given time, I’ve found that using bead trays for each project helps to keep me organized. If I’m doing earrings, I’ll use a small muffin pan to sort the pieces I’ll be assembling. If I get interrupted, it’s easy to stack everything back onto the tray and back on the shelf it goes.

    Chains are sorted by color/material (gold, silver, gunmetal, copper, etc.) with each having its own clear plastic shoe box.

    Beads are sorted (turquoise, red, black and assorted) and have their own shoe box on the shelf as well.

    Findings, spacer beads, components, etc. are sorted similarly and kept in small organizer jars located behind my tools so I have access to whichever metal I’m working with easily.

    That’s what works for me.

  31. I have always crafted in one medium or another as far back as I can remember. All of my crafts have to do with either, stained glass, which led to mosaic, which led to fusing which led to lampworking, which led to lapidary, silversmithing, and now I have just learned the art of cloisonnΓ© and enameling. All this leads to jewelry making. Oh my, if you want to see a cluttered studio…. Being A.D.D. does not help. There are times when I have glass rods all over the torching station, jewelry components and U.F.O’s (unfinished objects) all over my jewelry bench and trays of mosaic tesserae waiting to be attached to something, and maybe a stained glass panel being worked on. When it gets this bad, I just have to stop and force myself to FOCUS! Finish one and clean that area, till I have a clean studio. Then the whole process starts over. I am organized in that there is a designated place for everything, it just always isn’t in that place. I am in fact reorganizing my studio right now, so I can find a place to put another kiln and be able to do enameling. Right now I am torch enameling, and am thinking maybe I need to give up one of my other kilns that isn’t used often to make room.

  32. Cluttered…definitely, cluttered! I work with seed beads, leather cording and large hole beads for the most part. I almost find it necessary to be that way to discover the combinations that can be fashioned. But when the design phase is over, I do prefer a clean space to assemble the piece. If I get too overwhelmed or the design is coming together as I thought it should, the project goes into a “project tray” and it waits until my head is cleared enough to tackle the project again.

  33. Thanks to all of you for this great dialogue. Currently, I am so disorganized that no creativity is flowing. I am scheduled for brain surgery soon and all but the simplist creative processes are overwhelming. Something about overload on my brain stem, so I hope this resolves post surgery.
    I am in gatherer mode now, as in women’s activity in hunter/gatherer culture. But, I can’t seem to collate that which I bring home into my studio. Maybe this is a better post for the disability section, but I’d love to hear or better yet, see images about staying organized during the creative process.
    My torch area is separate from my studio out of necessity for venting, but I envy those with multiple work zones designed by function within one shop space. Rio Grande and Silvera metalsmith studio in Berkeley both have videos about best practices for work flow with torch/ metalsmithing based on safety. I’d love to hear about strategys for different jewlery processes to keep organized. I never seem to keep large layout tables free of clutter except for by the large plotter, at my day job, and the need to layout 36 x 48″ images. Any ideas?

  34. I like to have a relatively clear space to begin a project, but once I’m off and running, I am happily working among the clutter. If I had to keep putting things away, only to need them 10 minutes later, it would interrupt the creative flow. As mentioned in one of the above posts, clutter doesn’t always translate to disorganized. To the untrained eye my studio space would look like a hurricane blow through when I’m in the middle of creating, but I pretty much know where everything is. I never feel stressed, in fact I’m the happiest when I’m working in the middle of my mess, totally immersed in a project.

  35. This post gave me a boost, as my work area quickly becomes cluttered…and it apparently encourages creativity! πŸ™‚ I find it easier to work when I can find my beads (which I color code), but I like to “spread out” when I create.
    I do clean and clear my area when it gets to be too much…and then build out my tools, wire and beads again!

  36. This is my second entry to your question. My first was many months ago, before I moved my workbench to a new, larger area where I had room to put everything in its’ spot . . . no more tidy, cluttered area! And guess what? I’ve hit a brick wall! All my beads are put away in tiny drawers and I can’t see them . . . no glitter, no bling, no sparkle to spark my imagination and get those creative juices flowing. . . . . I haven’t been able to create anything in over a month!!!!

    So, I’m going to try an experiment and get some creative clutter going on . . . and see if that helps.

  37. Hi Cat! I’ll be interested to hear what happens as you experiment with having creative clutter to jumpstart your artistry! πŸ™‚

  38. I need to see everything I have for designing anything…so clutter is inevitable.
    I constantly try to re.organize, but I don’t have a knack for it….so, I learned to accept it….besides, it s beautiful to look at. When I tidy up, I leave one of every bead I have on my table, and that works well as a reminder….I have a photographic memory of where things are when I need them, but I need to see as much as possible….

  39. Hi, have been enjoying your articles, but don’t have the time to comment.I have been noted to be messy worker. I believe in this saying, “better a creative mess, then an orderly idleness.” Indeed this is true to my working style. I can produce more jewelry items when I see all sorts of materials cluttered on my work table,ideas of designs and colors just pop out my brain.
    You may ask what I do with my creations, I make jewelry to satisfy my creative juices, for gifts and give always for certain occasions.
    By the way, have been in jewelry making as a teacher in home economics and and livelihood instructor for different groups.
    Selma, Philippines

  40. What a wealth of comments! I agree with most everyone here, that I like to start out tidy, and as the creative juices flow, I can get terribly messy! Right now I am in a cramped work-space where I can’t have things as organized as I would like, and have several plastic containers stashed away in closets. We are working on creating a new large and wonderful work-space where everything can be organized and where I can see things I need for different projects. I dream of ways I can use the space efficiently, when I have a separate area for each skill, and it will be easy to move from one to another and combine them.

  41. Betsy Murphy Adomkaitis says:

    So glad you brought this question up. I recently was watching a tutorial or just a video and someone had the audacity to write to the person and say some like, “how can you work in that messy area?” I found the comment remarkably inappropriate, but people feel powerful while hiding behind e-mail, (and their cars) right?

    Well, I’m not quite a horder but I do have, let’s say, an inventory of things: beading; silver smithing (torch and all); a huge buffing machine; an extruder; toaster oven; kiln; tables galore (collected on the side of the road); a drill press; 18 shelves to hold just mokume; and tools galore. The room is tiny so my husband is putting up more shelves (of course to the ceiling) so I can put things I don’t use everyday way up high (or as a 6 yr. old friend used to say, “apple pie” instead of way up high). I began moving immediately unused (so I thought) stuff out of the studio for him to work. I love a neat area but it always becomes messy as I work. I guess that’s just how it is. And, like you, I love to see stuff I’m working on out and about. I guess that makes me creative, huh? I hope so.

    Love and kisses,

  42. well, I can answer this from my perspective as a counselor and a PTSD person. I know that when I have a small place to work in on my craft table it makes the larger world go away and I can focus better and be able to get into my crafting better, the part of me that is not PTSD tends to get anxious about the clutter. But having my stuff in containers I can see, surrounding my area reduces that anxiety. When all is clean and organized I love the look, which quickly turns to looking like chaos when I get going on a jewelry project. I oft times encourage my clients with anxiety disorders to do something in a small space, like coloring, or putting headphones on and concentrating on just the music to make the wide world diminish its noise. Playing tetris is also good, I like match three games too. So I can see why clutter in a small area can be very helpful to create. When you have PTSD you are constantly creating tools to cope. Isn’t it nice to find ones that don’t involve alcohol, drugs, or thoughts of homicide or suicide.

  43. Jackied, thank you so much for your perspective on the size and use of creative work areas for people with PTSD or anxiety. I appreciate your sharing your knowledge.

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