If you're anything like me, being a freelance musician involves a whole lot more than just playing your instrument.
In addition to playing and performing I:
- Write and perform comedy
- Take classes and see shows
- Research and write this blog
- Interview guests for this podcast
- Memorize scripts
- Take auditions
- Film commercials, sketches etc.
- Teach early childhood general music classes
- Teach private cello lessons
It may seem like a lot, but in my mind all of these activities make sense together. Teaching a lesson, performing improv comedy or interviewing a guest all feed into my creativity and curiosity. They are each about allowing someone to present an idea and then building with them on this idea through ties to art, health, creativity and communication.
But because I have so many things going on in my life and my job, when my living environment becomes cluttered, my mind and schedule become cluttered right along with it.
For the last month the major goal of my life has been moving. After some difficulty with my landlord and an early termination to my apartment lease, I found myself packing up my independent apartment life of the last six years. Putting it all into boxes, then into a storage unit and reducing myself down to a one-room-sized new life for the time being.
And of course, as my life became disorganized and cluttered, my brain and body began to feel the stress. I got sick. I got depressed. I had anxiety. The whole works.
That's because, according to a study from Princeton University, clutter affects our life and our workspace in several ways by:
- Providing extra, unnecessary visual and tactile stimuli that overwhelm our minds
- Adding to feelings of guilt that we have things that need to be done
- Distracting our focus from more important tasks
- Frustrating us when we can't locate what we need when we need it
- Limiting creativity and idea generating
Think about your practice space. Are you practicing in a messy living room or untidy bedroom or office? Are you constantly shuffling around sheet music to make space for teaching supplies and lesson plans? Or are you searching for compositions and arrangements while moving around basic office supplies? How often do we consider our practice or songwriting environment when trying to foster musical ideas, interpretations or creativity?
Consider these solutions for cleaning up your music workspace:
- Natural light has been shown to increase productivity and overall health in addition to making you calmer and less anxious. Dimmer lights, however, lead to better creative insights.
- File, don't pile! Create an organization system that allows you individual spaces for teaching supplies, sheet music, office supplies, arranging, composing or whatever else you have. These systems should allow for easy access to what you need when you need it. Remember energy should be used for your tasks, not on locating your tasks.
- Clean off your music stand of everything except the piece you are working on and keep your office desk clear to have a happier mindset. Boosted morale equals boosted creativity.
- Be careful not to confuse the activities on your to-do list with productivity. Results, not tasks, speak.
- Get rid of as much stuff as you can!
I know, that last one is hard for me, too. I have books of music still that I've had since I was ten that are decorated with well-earned stickers and inform much of the lessons I teach today. I also have a box of music. A box of props, costumes and filming supplies. A whole office worth of printers, papers, pens and pencils. And, I have three cellos. (Those things take up space!)
A 2012 study from the Yale School of Medicine found that the two parts of our brain associated with conflict and pain react in an exaggerated manner when we try to let go of possessions we feel emotionally connected to. Not only that, but we have a higher tendency to avoid feelings of loss than to enjoy feelings of gain.
So it's not unsurprising that we feel strong connections to items that we have now tied into our art, practice, creativity, identity, pleasure and fulfillment as well as our paychecks. Since purging our entire business and artistic expression is unlikely, get organized to get to the happiest, healthiest most creative and productive space for the happiest, healthiest most creative and productive version of you!
Less pain and more music!
PS The first time I wrote this post, I accidentally deleted it. Then I had to research and write it all over again. Half of my life is still in boxes, there are piles on my desk and my online desktop (yes, virtual you suffers from clutter, too!) is packed with open windows. There is most definitely a correlation. So today, I plan on finishing the moving process and getting back to normal, organized me!