Decluttering My Art Supply Closet, Part II: Does it spark joy?

Photo by Tim Arterbury on Unsplash

Last time, I talked about how to decide which media you want to keep in your art supply closet. I chose to devote most of my room to my main hobby, watercolor.

But does that mean I should keep everything? Since it’s a hobby I got into recently, I have done a ton of experimenting with different options (paint colors, paper sizes, techniques, etc.) and to be honest, there is already some stuff I just don’t use.

Here are some questions for choosing individual supplies. Pick up each item and ask yourself…

Basics: Is it expired?

Quick and easy one. If the passage of time has rendered it unusable, toss (and don’t replace unless/until you’re ready to use it right away). 

Joy: Does it make me happy?

AKA the Marie Kondo test! That “sparks joy” emotional reaction is what we’re looking for, the rest is just justification. Similarly, if I have a strong emotional “no” reaction, I’ll get rid of something. The rest of these criteria are for use only on items (most of them in my case) where the emotional reaction is muted or conflicting. 

Quality of Experience: Do I enjoy the process of using it?

Some supplies are technically “useful,” but I simply don’t enjoy using them; they might make me physically uncomfortable (e.g. masking fluid has fumes that trigger my migraines) or simply be relatively unpleasant compared to other things I could use instead (some paint colors are harder to use than others). It’s not useful if I don’t want to use it.

Removing unpleasant items makes me feel frankly relieved – I don’t “have to” use it. I can’t use it! I don’t have it, and I made the executive decision that it wouldn’t be part of my process. This simply requires me to be more creative about how I go about things. Rather than following some tutorials exactly, I will have to find workarounds. That’s more acceptable to me than continuing to gloomily use something that bothers me. 

“Too nice to use”

Occasionally I give myself a clear “YES, I (would) enjoy the process of using this!” yet I still never use it – precisely because it is so good. It is TOO good. It’s expensive, one-of-a-kind, difficult to replace, or otherwise special, and it never seems like “the right day” or “the right project” to use it. What if I ruin it? I’ll save it for a special occasion, or for when I’m better at art. (Intellectually, I know that good supplies can be more helpful for a newbie, and I don’t believe they need to be reserved for when you’re “good enough”, but my heart feels otherwise.)

The problem is that special occasions never actually seem to arrive, and I never think I’ve “graduated” to the good supplies, so the item will continue to go unused, gathering dust, until it expires. By the time I’m consistently/reliably making art that I would now consider “good,” I will no longer consider it “good” and will be striving for an even harder “good.”

The real solution is to believe that I’m worth using good supplies right now, just as I am. But, as a stopgap, a decluttering solution can be to get rid of the “just okay” everyday alternatives that I think are good enough for the likes of me. If I don’t have any “meh” paper, I am forced to use the good paper.

Typically, you would get rid of things you don’t actually use, and keep the things you do. In the case of things that are “too nice,” you might just want to do the reverse.

Versatility: Does it have many different uses?

Does it lend itself to many different applications, or is it “perfect for” one specific situation? If the latter, how often does that situation come up?

Example: Round brushes are extremely versatile, because I can (and do!) use them for everything. Meanwhile, I never figured out what to do with a fan brush besides make grasses, which doesn’t come up that often and when it does, I can (and usually do) just use my regular round brushes. 

Specificity: How perfect is it for me & my style?

The opposite of versatility, specificity is the quality of being an exact match to your specific style and interests. (This is a quality that can only be assessed once you have enough experience to know exactly what your style and interests are.)

My Art Toolkit is specifically perfect for me in its entirety because every tiny little item in it is geared toward the exact thing I most enjoy, which is watercolor painting outdoors or in a small space.

Uniqueness: Does it open up new options? 

What can I do with this item that I couldn’t do without it? Do I have other items that serve the same purpose?

Example: I may not need both white gel pens AND white gouache for making stars. Maybe I only need one. (Or maybe I need both! Maybe one is perfect for splatter stars and one is perfect for drawing sparkles.)

Complementariness: How well does it go with my other supplies?

Thinking of your supply set as a unit, how well do your items go together? When choosing between two fairly similar items, in particular, I try to think about whether one is a better fit for my toolkit in general – if it plays nicer with the other supplies I use; fits better in the carrying case I prefer; or even just looks better with the stuff I have already. Aesthetics count!

Size: How much space does it take up?

All other things being equal, I would prefer to stick with equipment that takes up a smaller amount of space. 

For this I have to factor in not just the size of the stuff, but the amount of the stuff’s stuff. For example, by volume, watercolor sheets don’t take up more room than a sketchbook, but if I cut sheets myself, I need to also have a paper cutter and probably a drawing board.

With that said, space is not the be-all end-all. If space were the only consideration, I would have no hobbies at all! I can make room for something if it brings me enough joy. 

Meanwhile, even if something is small, I’d be justified in getting rid of it if it’s not useful; if I don’t like it; it causes guilt, anxiety, annoyance, or distraction, e.g. by looking like something else (why do I always grab the bad tape when I want the good tape?!), or even just by causing me to have another decision to make every time I declutter (that sticky old eraser that survived every round of decluttering by being small…)

This is why I finally got rid of my dip pen and India ink, even though it’s quite a small amount of supplies for an entire other media. I just find them harder to use than my fountain pen and fountain pen ink, without opening a lot of extra possibilities. They weren’t take up a lot of space, but every time I remove stuff from my drawer that I don’t want, it gets that much easier to find what I do want.

I hope these questions help you make your decisions – including the decision to keep everything, if your supply collection is already perfect! Next time, I’ll walk through applying these questions specifically to paint colors. 

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