Creativity is all about freedom. Both the presence and the absence of it.
In fact, life itself is, in large part, about how we navigate and negotiate our freedoms.
What is free will? How much of it do we enjoy – if any at all?
These are important philosophical questions. But those most relevant to us as free creatives appear in a series of seemingly paradoxical statements:
- Too much freedom of space makes us lazy and buy too many things.
- Too much freedom of time makes us lazy and do too many things.
- Too much freedom of thought makes us lazy and think too many things.
Let’s look at how not only both laziness and excess can be true of unrestrained freedom, but actually, inevitable.
Freedom of space
‘The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.’Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
If you’ve lived in a small space, even for a short while, you’ll know how difficult it can be to keep a small space organised.
It would seem the less space you have and the less stuff you have, the easier it is to keep house. But in reality, it often requires a lot more work and thought, at least at first, to keep a small space well-organised. Only once your systems are in place does the ‘small places take less time to clean’ promise become a reality. Why is this?
Larger homes can make us lazy
In a larger home, you have the advantage of space. This can make cleaning – or at least, what might appear as cleaning on the surface! – a breeze. Guests coming over? Close the laundry door! Dump the unwashed dishes into the dishwasher. Sweep the kids’ toys into the spare room. No time to make the bed? Quick, shut the bedroom door.
In a tiny home or a studio apartment, none of these options are available. If your bed isn’t made, you can’t hide it by closing a door. You have to make it. If the dishes aren’t done, you don’t have the space for a dishwasher. You have to wash them.
To achieve the same appearance of cleanliness and tidiness in a smaller home requires a higher level of organisation and better systems. But it also results in a home that truly is clean and tidy, rather than just looks it.
Larger homes encourage us to buy too many things
Because of the space larger homes afford, they can encourage us to buy things we don’t need, in two ways.
First, we seem to have a desire to fill space, so it doesn’t look ‘sad’ or ‘lonely’. If you buy a house with two lounge rooms, even if you’ll never have people sitting in one at the same time there are people sitting in the other, chances are, you’ll buy a second couch. For the same reason, if you have two spare bedrooms, chances are you’ll buy two beds, even if you never have two guests at once.
It’s not just big ticket items. Think of all the decorative items. Rugs, photo frames, lamps, and knickknacks, bought to fill an ‘empty’ looking space. The clothes to fill our wardrobes (which eventually fill our laundry rooms).
This not only wastes money but it wastes time, too (impeding your temporal freedom). Think about how much extra washing and folding and bed making and dusting and vacuuming every item involves.
‘Tidying’ a home to make it presentable may take less time the bigger your house. But properly cleaning a large house filled with things takes a much longer than a small home with less clutter.
The second way large homes encourage us to buy more stuff comes under the guise of ‘organization’. Organizational goods are a multi-billion dollar industry, having doubled since the early 2000s. The average American family home has doubled in size too. But despite having double the space and double the organizational goods, this stuff doesn’t seem to be doing much. It simply shifts the problem, considering it one of ‘storage’ instead.
In a small home, you can’t afford the space to store things you infrequently (or never!) use. Rather than buying storage boxes, you:
a) cut back on buying things you don’t need in the first place, or
b) adopt a one-in-one-out policy, selling or donating things when you don’t need them.
These steps result in, once again, time and money savings. There are fewer things for you to spend time taking care of. And by cutting down on spending, and selling things you no longer need, you save money too. And learn to value what you have more.
An excess of physical space can result in our not seeing a need for organizational structure. This results in the accumulation of clutter. And in our time and money being tied up taking care of our house (or office or studio). This detracts from the creative freedom we crave.
By encouraging us to be more organized and frugal, having less space can (seemingly paradoxically) give us more freedom of time and money.
Freedom of Time
‘Lack of time is not the issue… The real problem is a lack of clarity and definition’David Allen, Getting Things Done
How we fill time is like how we fill space. We often get more done when we have other things on. Not run-off-our-feet-busy, of course, but when our days have some structure to them.
If you’ve ever had long stretches of time with no commitments, you may have noticed you didn’t seem to get as much done as you’d have liked. And, seemingly paradoxically, when you have a commitment that gives your schedule a little organisation, suddenly, you’re getting more done.
Again, there may be two reasons for this:
Spare time can make us lazy
When you have lots of time stretching out in front of you, it’s easy not to take action immediately. Both on creative and non-creative tasks. Why do the dishes or pay that bill now? I don’t feel like it, and it’s not urgent. Why try and create now? I’ll just wait around for inspiration to strike me.
Free creatives don’t wait for inspiration to find them – they go out and find it. But with no constraints on your time, there’s no impetus for you to make a schedule and get things done. No reason to focus on what matters to you.
Some people diagnosed with terminal illnesses have a tough time dealing with this devastating news. Yet others find the newfound knowledge their time is not unlimited sparks them to do more in six months or a year than most of us achieve in a decade.
Spare time can encourage us to take on too many things
When we don’t have a clear idea of what we want to do with our lives, we can end up filling our days with stuff that isn’t important. Just as we fill our houses with clutter.
Everyone’s time clutter is different. But we all have a hard time saying ‘no’ sometimes. Or we waste more time than we’d like to binging shows or social media. The average person spends 5 hours passively watching stuff. And 3 hours on social media, ‘liking’ things other people have created, or watching to see if others have ‘liked’ what we made. That’s 8 hours of wasted time.
Imagine if you had 2.5 months each year to devote to creative projects.
In essence, we’re all always doing something. Filling your day up with the right things is what it’s all about. It’s easy to put off being creative, longing for great uninterrupted stretches of free time. But the reality is, most people who have this luxury don’t do anything with it. Creativity often draws its inspiration from the other parts of our lives.
An excess of free time can result in our not seeing a need for time management. This results in our wasting time on activities that aren’t aligned with our life’s purpose.
By encouraging us to be more organised, and by giving us creative inspiration, structured activities can help us value our time better and give us more creative freedom.
Freedom of Thought
‘When intelligent people read, they ask themselves a simple question: What do I plan to do with this information?’Ryan Holliday, Trust Me, I’m Lying
Thinking creatively does not have to mean being ‘out there’. It doesn’t mean suspending logic and believing everything you come across. On the contrary, just as systems are important for managing our space and time, systems of logic and reasoning are vital for managing our thoughts, too.
Relativism is defined as the idea that there is no universal, objective truth. That every viewpoint is thus equally valid.
It’s important to note that you can believe in the existence of truth without knowing what it is. Or even without believing that we will ever know what the truth is for sure.
For example, some say the Earth is flat. This used to be the accepted wisdom. More people these days, believe the Earth is round.
A strict relativist position would be that both viewpoints are valid, and it is impossible to tell which is best.
A more moderate interpretation of relativism would state that while we will never know 100% for sure which (or even if either) is correct, there is more reliable evidence to suggest that the Earth is round.
Why is this important?
Relativism can make us intellectually lazy
A strong version of relativism, in which we consider every viewpoint equally valid, means there’s no point engaging with various ideas. No point comparing or contrasting them. No point trying to synthesize or build upon existing knowledge.
Instead, it encourages us to throw up our hands and say ‘what does it matter’?
Relativism can encourage us to think too many things
While it is not possible to think too much, it is possible to think too many things. Cognitive dissonance is the name for the discomfort you feel when you hold two or more contradictory ideas or beliefs. Strong relativism forces us into a position of cognitive dissonance. We need psychological consistency to function in the world.
This doesn’t mean conforming to the system. Popular opinion is not what makes something right. The vast majority of people used to believe the Earth was flat. Nor does it mean selecting an idea at random. While strong relativism preaches that all ideas and perspectives are equally valid, a more useful method is to evaluate the logic and evidence supporting each idea, and then make your decision.
An excess of relativistic thinking can result in our dismissal of logic. This results in an inability to respond to or generate new ideas. And this kind of thinking can pervade all aspects of our lives. Resulting in an inability to organise our time or our space either.
By encouraging us to think critically while acknowledging our limitations, logic, evidence, and a weaker view of relativism can help us to make better decisions. And to generate new and build upon existing ideas. That is, being creative.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and the Low Information Diet (LID)
Humans have always had a ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO). But it’s only since social media’s massive influence on our everyday lives that this has become a common cry.
Thanks to the internet, we have access to more information than ever before. This can be engrossing. And, as master media manipulator Ryan Holiday says in Trust Me, I’m Lying, people have come to confuse their constant consumption of media with actually doing something.
Personal finance blogger Mr. Money Mustache advocates a ‘low information diet’. This gives you ‘the most powerful asset of a free mind’. Likewise, Your Money Or Your Life recommends evaluating every activity in your day according to whether it was a good use of your ‘life energy’. We can apply this kind of thinking to creative pursuits:
Is cleaning the spare room a good use of your life energy, aligned with your purpose in life? Has it advanced your creative development in some identifiable way?
What about your 2 hours on Facebook?
Or the time spent doing your makeup?
Or the time in front of the TV?
While Your Money Or Your Life encourages you to reflect on your spending behaviour, David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology asks you to assess every task as it comes into your life according to whether it is going to further your purpose.
Ask yourself these questions about everything that comes into your life:
Is this thing I’m buying (or gift I’m receiving) either necessary to living or going to further my purpose in life? Or is it just something extra for me to waste time working for, cleaning, etc? (Spend a few minutes now and try out the life energy calculator – you won’t believe the results!)
Is this activity I’m planning (or invitation I’m accepting) either necessary to living or going to further my purpose and enjoyment in life? Or is it just a distraction?
Is this objective claim a reliable, likely one? Or is it just misguided nonsense? Is this subjective opinion healthy for me to think (or listen to)? Or will it just make me depressed?
To be a free creative, you must learn to curate your space, time, and mind.
‘We are naturally creative beings… The challenge is not to be creative, it’s to eliminate the barriers to our natural flow of creative energies’David Allen Getting Things Done.