Bronwyn Hannelas, guest post
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.
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.
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.
Bronwyn Hannelas is a blogger at Small House Big City where she writes about her family’s adventures in minimalism.