Decluttering My Art Supply Closet Part I: Choosing My Media

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

I tend to go through alternating minimalist and maximalist cycles when it comes to acquiring stuff – and when it comes to taking on hobbies! Recently, I’ve been in an expansive, more-more-more phase: I started watercolor, explored various related arts like gouache and ink, got a ton of different supplies, tried new things. Now I’m entering the restrictive phase of the cycle, where I pare things down and decide what to focus on and what to let go. 

Both parts of the cycle have their place. Without the maximalist phase, I wouldn’t try anything new. I would hate to be the kind of person who never tries things. Starting watercolor, for example, has added a lot to my life! Not all of the hobbies I’ve tried have worked out the same way, of course; but I wouldn’t know what to add without dabbling in a bunch of different stuff to try it out. 

Without the minimalist phase, though, I would get overwhelmed. I only have so much time and space. I live in a small apartment, and I struggle to control clutter. I have that ADHD push-pull where visual clutter overwhelms me easily, but I tend to forget about things I can’t see, and the only solution is just to not have that much stuff. 

In a maximalist phase, I tend to take on a lot – a lot of possessions, a lot of projects, a lot of commitments, a lot of possibilities, a lot of directions for my attention to be split. It’s joyful, but not sustainable. The minimalist phase is about choosing: of the various options, what are the most important to me? What brings me the greatest joy? Which areas are not serving me as well; are taking up too much space (mentally and physically) for the amount of value they bring; are causing me guilt rather than pleasure? 

Giving myself restrictions can, paradoxically, be freeing. It’s similar to the way an assignment can free your creative juices, but the openness of a blank page can cause artist’s block. I find myself excited by the possibilities within specific boundaries, but overwhelmed by a lack of boundaries. 

By deciding you’re not going to bother with (things you didn’t want to do anyway), you free yourself from the feeling that you “should” being doing them. You give yourself license to be as creative as possible within your own chosen lane. And if that lane starts to feel restrictive? You can widen it or choose another! But as long as you’re inspired, feel free to stay where you are.

What media do I want to work in?

A prerequisite for effective decluttering is clarity about values. In the case of art, what media am I into? Deciding ahead of time helps me to budget my time, space, and art supply money effectively.

You can divide your media (or really, any hobby) into three groups:

  1. Committed
  2. Half-assing it
  3. Not doing it

Committed

Q: What kind of art do you do?
A: ______, mostly.

How did you fill in the blank there? Mine have changed over the course of my life, but right now, of course, it’s watercolor. That’s the hobby I’m committed to at the moment.

(Commitment doesn’t need to be proven by time, by the way. Whether it was a slow burn, you fell in love at first sight, or you and this media have more an enemies-to-lovers thing – the important thing is to listen to your heart about your priorities at the current moment. I’ve only been into watercolor a bit over a year.)

The downside of committed hobbies? You probably don’t have the time and bandwidth for that many. Personally I can only have 1-2 at any given epoch of my life.

The upside? You can go all in! Committed hobbies are the ones for which it makes sense to keep the most stuff and devote the most space. I reworked my art supply drawers so that more than half of them were devoted to watercolor stuff. This allowed me to spread out my stuff instead of jamming it into small corners because the rest of the closet was taken up with stuff for other hobbies I’m not as into.

Which brings me to:

Half-assing it

Half-assing is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a realistic thing. I can only be committed to 1-2 hobbies, but I can half-ass lots more.

If you know this is not one of your main hobbies, more of an add-on, you can be a lot more rigorous about decluttering, and a lot more cautious about expanding. You don’t need every accessory and add-on for this hobby. You can keep only the essentials. Acknowledging that you are half-assing a hobby frees you from FOMO and from insecurity about “A real artist would…” This isn’t even your main media. Bare minimum is the name of the game!

You have more scope to be strategic about choosing your half-assed hobbies based on practical considerations (as opposed to “commitment” hobbies give you so much pleasure or fulfillment that you need to make room for them as a quality-of-life thing). You may want to choose hobbies to half-ass based on the fact that they are easy; their equipment doesn’t take up much space; or they can be mixed with/share equipment with your commitment hobbies.

Here are the art forms I’m half-assing:

  1. Photography – Supplements watercolor in that I can take my own reference photos. Can be done at the same time as going for nature walks/birdwatching, especially if I just use my phone instead of a bulky camera.
  2. Pen and ink – Works well with watercolor if I use waterproof ink. Doesn’t require much equipment.
  3. Colored pencil – Can be used in mixed media pieces with watercolor. Doesn’t require much equipment as long as I keep my number of colored pencils manageable.

I was fairly ruthless about decluttering all of these and passing along all my duplicates, extras, less-used colors, less-used pen widths, etc. I only need a barebones kit for a half-assed hobby.

Not doing it

The most sweeping way to pare down a supply closet is to drop an entire media. You can get rid of all the supplies for a particular media if you simply decide not to worry about it anymore. 

I use the phrase “worry about” because the ones I choose to drop are the ones that cause me more worry than pleasure. Red flag thoughts/feelings that indicate a hobby ripe for discard:

  • Anxiety/dreariness/homework feelings: “I guess I should practice to get better at this.” 
  • Appeals to the past or future: “I used to do this a lot.” “Someday I’ll do this a lot.”
  • Imagining an entirely different reality: “I could really get into this if I lived in a big house.”
  • Other people’s feelings: “XYZ person loves this, so I should give it another chance.”
  • Sunk cost fallacy: “I spent a lot on supplies, so I should keep at it.”
  • Any kind of “should.” In reality, I never do art projects because I “should.” (Or at least, I don’t enjoy them when I do.) I do them because I want to.

Green flag thoughts/feelings that indicate a hobby to keep:

  • Joy: “I love this.”
  • Sense of possibility: “There’s so much I can/want to do with this.” 
  • Specificity: “This is ME all over.”
  • Thoughts of the present or immediate future: “I want to work on this right now/tonight.”

I opted to opt out of markers and gouache.

I had a large number of alcohol and watercolor markers. The alcohol markers were something I was really into a couple of years ago, but I didn’t feel compelled to use them very often, in part because of the fumes and in part because it felt like a never-ending hamster wheel of buying new colors. Meanwhile, the watercolor markers were really just a lead-in to watercolors that I didn’t end up liking as much. Since I now prefer watercolor in every situation, I couldn’t imagine a project for which I’d pull them out.

I’d been toying with the idea of getting into gouache “next”, i.e. alongside watercolor, an idea that logically makes sense because I like gouache art and it uses a lot of the same equipment as watercolor. I’d even bought a starter kit of 12 colors, but it was collecting dust. Every time I buy a new watercolor paint I immediately play with it, but I felt intimidated by the idea of starting gouache, and it felt like a big project that was always “for later.” I felt relieved when I decided to give the 12-color kit to a friend. Maybe I’ll get into it someday, maybe I won’t; I know that for now I’d just rather do watercolor! And that’s okay.

Dropping a media is one way to quickly declutter supplies, because you can keep literally zero items.

Conclusion

By deciding which media you want to commit to, half-ass, or drop altogether, you can make sure your closet space is allocated effectively. There is no point to having even a half-ass (much less a commitment) level of stuff for a hobby you don’t actually do or enjoy.

It’s also perfectly okay to decide you like a hobby a little: just enough to have the essentials.

And finally it is awesome to know you love something enough to devote the majority of your hobby space and time to it – as long as you’re realistic about how many of those there are!

However, being committed doesn’t mean there’s zero scope for reducing your stash; you may certainly find you have some declutterable inessentials, tangentially related items, or tools for side avenues that don’t match your style. Next time, I’ll continue decluttering the supplies for my main media, watercolor!

1 thought on “Decluttering My Art Supply Closet Part I: Choosing My Media”

  1. Good goddess, honey, thank you for writing about my alternating phases! You explained exactly what I do in my small studio space of “lots of art goodies that can overwhelm” to “I only use a few tools anyway so time to filter the stash”. I just sent off a box of art supplies to friends in Canada that included the things I no longer use but knew still had life in them. After years of questioning my minimalist/maximalist approach, I finally accepted it for all of the positives it’s brought into my artistic adventure. Looking forward to Part 2!

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