Why a minimalist lifestyle is a big win for creatives

Cathy Hutchison
6 min readDec 30, 2018


Let’s face it.

Creatives have a reputation for being messy.

It makes sense. After all, our heads are messy. There are so many ideas. So many possibilities.

And when creating, it’s more fun to work from a palette.

Besides, you never know when inspiration might hit and you can just start creating from things you have around the house.

The problem is that there often isn’t enough space to create in.

And, the visual clutter can spark more feelings of overwhelm than feelings of productivity.

Conventional wisdom says that more is better.

We often think that more is better. That it creates additional possibilities.

Yet when it comes to creativity, more isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Michelangelo — one of the most financially and classically successful artists of all time — said, “Art lives on constraint and dies of freedom.”

But we already know this.

Haven’t you ever created something amazing when faced with incredible limits?

And haven’t you ever gotten overwhelmed to the point of inaction when there were simply too many options?

It seems like more would create, well, more. But instead, when faced with more, we counter-intuitively create less. With more time, we get less done. With more supplies, they get dusty with a lack of use. With more space, we get too tired to clean it up so we can create in it.

There is something else at play here.

And that something is energy.

There is an energy cost to creativity.

We are used to the cost of supplies, the cost of training, and even a cost in time. But we rarely consider the cost in energy when it comes to creativity.

Have you ever been in a flow state, creating in a way that time disappeared? Then, once you finished whatever you were creating, you were ravenously hungry?

While you were creating, you had everything you needed, but once you stopped, you realized how much energy you’d burned because suddenly you felt extremely tired or extremely hungry.

Creativity burns an incredible amount of energy. It needs fuel.

And this factor of energy — the one we rarely look at — is the reason that a minimalist lifestyle is a strategy worth exploring for creatives.

Something in us knows this. We can feel it when our energy resource is drained. It’s the reason we so frequently dream of throwing a few possessions in a backpack and leaving the rest behind.

Creativity isn’t the only thing taxing your energy.

We all suffer from decision fatigue. The concept is that every decision we have to make in a day drains our reserves.

Yet in a modern lifestyle, most of us have made hundreds of decisions before we even get dressed in the morning. Micro decisions as we choose a coffee cup, something to eat for breakfast, where to look for our favorite shirt.

And that’s in the physical world, the digital world has its own set of decisions.

We decide what to click on, what to post, how to reply, and what to delete over and over again. One study showed that we check our smart phones over 85 times a day!

Is it any wonder that we just feel like sitting on the couch and binging Netflix when we finally get some time to ourselves?

The lie of “getting organized.”

Be honest. How many times have you said, “I just need to get organized”?

When we start trying to “get organized” we often focus on what we need ‘more” of. If only I had:

  • More hours in a day.
  • More money.
  • More space — a dedicated studio.
  • More organizational tools — better shelving.

Our answer to “getting organized” is usually the very thing that works against it. More.

Reality? The key to “getting organized” is about choosing less.

Of course, there is something about creatives in particular that is incredibly resistant to the idea of less. We hate constraints. And while it feels noble to support our inner rebel throwing off fetters, the real resistance is fear.


We way over-identify with our “stuff.”

Owning a paintbrush or a guitar isn’t what makes you a creative.

That thing inside you that makes you a creative? It has zero to do with the tools you own. It isn’t your supplies, the media you create with, or the brand of instrument you prefer.

The thing that makes you a creative is your ability to bring to life something that wasn’t there yesterday. It’s your gift for seeing the correlations in disconnected things. It’s your ability to tell the truth in a way that causes others to resonate with it too.

So often, those beautiful intangibles that make you a creative get weighed down and blocked out by tangibles.

There is an energy dividend when you release the stuff.

It frees you from the weight that causes stagnation.

Imagine minimizing your possessions so that you have less decision fatigue.

Imagine time gained by not having to dig through overstuffed drawers, cabinets, and closets looking for things.

Imagine having clear, empty surfaces, that invite you to come create on them.

There aren’t enough organizational systems in the world to get you there. That lifestyle is only possible if you give away the excess.

Most of our spaces are treated like one, big, long inhale drawing in things. We have to exhale to be healthy.

How minimalism boosts your reserves

While minimalism is an art term that defines a specific style, minimalism as a lifestyle is the counter-cultural practice of choosing less instead of more.

It’s having only what you need in your physical space and schedule.

It’s letting go of the non-essential to focus on the essential.

Authors and bloggers, like Marie Kondo, Joshua Becker, Courtney Carver, Leo Babauta, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus have developed huge followings training people to free up their physical space in order to reap the benefits of more time and less stress that comes from choosing a minimalist lifestyle.

But the big win for creatives isn’t just having more space to create in, it’s the creative energy that gets freed up when the visual and mental clutter is removed.

You can take your own fetters off and break free.

While you may have celebrated messiness in the past, the mental clarity and inspiration that comes when you have breathing room is life-giving.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can try it for yourself.

You can take minimalism for a test drive to see if it makes a difference for you. Start with the space where you usually create — whether it’s your bedroom, makeshift studio, dining room table, or the backpack you lug to Starbucks.

Box it all up. Everything. And get it out of that space.

Only unpack what you need and put it back into the space when you need it. (If you are like most who have tried this, it will only be about 20% of what you started with.)

After three weeks, how does it feel?

If you find it unleashes something in you, then get a book to take it deeper.

I highly recommend a comic book: Marie Kondo’s Life Changing Manga of Tidying Up. Another great book that talks about the why is Everything that Remainsa memoir by minimalists, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus. (The inspiration for the packing party which wound up changing Ryan’s life.)

Best of all, you won’t have to “get organized.” You’ll just be organized.

And your creative energy will have room to flow.

//Want more? Cathy Hutchison blogs about visual journaling at yourvisualjournal.com.