A Life Less Cluttered

Earlier this year, I participated in a 40-bag decluttering challenge, filling one giveaway bag daily for 40 days. If you like to hold onto things for a just-in-case scenario, this might sound crazy, and I used to be right there with you. But the clutter was stifling my creativity. That’s why I decided to be intentional about decluttering my home and studio. I wanted space in my life. Space for creativity, for possibilities.

Before delving further into the concept of decluttering, maybe it would be helpful to cover the basics. What is clutter? By a dictionary definition, it’s “a collection of things lying about in an untidy mass.” Decluttering is to “remove unnecessary items from (a place).” The difference between those definitions is the key to actually decluttering for good. Decluttering isn’t just putting everything away. It’s getting rid of things that are unnecessary. Minimizing, if you will.

As photographers, what should we declutter? The computer. The email inbox. The office and desk. All the equipment in the studio. Let’s get started.

Declutter your computer

Yes, you have a lot of files to store. But do you really need to keep every single image? Portrait photographers, if there are images you aren’t ever going to show a client, why keep it? It’s not a stock photo, so you can’t sell it to anyone else. If it was good enough for you to sell, you should have shown it to the client so they could buy it. Familiarize yourself with the Rejects flag in Lightroom, and add a step to your workflow to periodically purge the unsaleable images from your computer. Of course, you’ll research this before implementing with care.

Could you bring in a little cashflow by having an occasional archival file sale for portraits and weddings that occurred X years in the past?

Speaking of marketing, do you have old marketing materials languishing on your computer? That pricing flyer PSD file from 2005 is outdated, so free up hard drive space by deleting it or saving it as a PDF copy if you need it for future reference.

© Betsy Finn

Declutter your email inbox

An inbox full of emails can feel like a weight on your shoulders. I like to keep my email inbox clean. Some of my friends report a staggering number of unread messages in their inbox (one boasted around 15,000). To me, that’s clutter. I struggled with the best way to manage incoming email until this year, when I ran across a tip by author and tidying guru Marie Kondo to keep no more than 50 emails in your inbox. “The only emails I keep in my inbox are those that are pending … requiring a reply or some kind of action,” she said. This tip is a practical email management technique that works for me.

Declutter your office

Unless you maintain your work area diligently, it can become a clutter magnet. If you have obsolete printers or computers, consider taking them a local tech recycling center. Your office probably has a variety of promotional materials and marketing mailers that are outdated. Yes, you paid for them, but that’s a sunk cost, so recycle them and free up valuable storage space. When I decluttered my office storage area, I found reams of a weird colored paper, stacks of cardboard, and other items that served no functional purpose. I cleared them out. You may find a local group—school, scouting program, theater, church, nursing home—that would be happy to make creative use of your office castoffs. Finally, if you find that stash of old studio samples just gathering dust, why not offer them to your featured client for a discount? It might be a win-win.

Declutter your studio

What gear is necessary when it comes to photography? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, no magic list, because what you need depends on your photographic style and specialty. Posing props essential for a baby photographer aren’t needed by a wedding photographer, and only a pet photographer requires a stash of dog treats. So consider the backdrops, props, and posing tools that you have. Are there any that don’t match your photographic style anymore? Time to pass them on.

Maybe you haven’t gone through your lighting and camera gear in years. If that’s the case, check out my article from the November issue on how I organized my studio equipment to see what I decluttered (“Tame Your Studio Equipment Clutter”).

Up next

I have to be honest. The decluttering process is never-ending. It’s more of a habit than a one-time action. If you make the effort to continually remove unnecessary items from your studio, you’ll notice a difference over time. And maybe, like me, you’ll consider adopting the one-in-one-out mentality when you bring a find back to the studio. This habit leaves me room to be creative and try new things while still being mindful of my limited storage space. Find a new prop? Awesome. Pass an old one on. Pay it forward while feeling your creativity blossom.  

Betsy Finn owns Betsy’s Photography, a portrait studio in Dexter, Michigan.

Tags: gear  studio