Our Daily Breather: Maintaining Sanity During A Pandemic In Our Daily Breather, we ask writers and artists to recommend ways to find calm in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Kathy Valentine says the muses can wait; right now, it's time to clean your house.
NPR logo Our Daily Breather: Kathy Valentine Says It's The Right Time To Declutter Your Home

Our Daily Breather: Kathy Valentine Says It's The Right Time To Declutter Your Home

Kathy Valentine Christopher Durst/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Christopher Durst/Courtesy of the artist

Kathy Valentine

Christopher Durst/Courtesy of the artist

Our Daily Breather is a series where we ask writers and artists to recommend one thing that's helping them get through the days of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Who: Kathy Valentine

Where: Austin, Texas

Recommendation: Making space


Here in lockdown with my daughter, I've been conscious the whole time of this well of creativity inside me, waiting to be pumped. The muses follow me around like vapors, restless apparitions with their nagging little haunts: Make something! Bring out the sketch pad and charcoals! Make art! Start recording! Write a collection of stories! Craft jewelry!

Muses don't like being ignored. They move on. There's always another artist, writer or musician willing to pay attention to their insistent tugs and nudges.

Kathy Valentine organizing
Courtesy of the artist

I trust they'll be back. Right now, something else needs my full attention. I need some space.

I'm making space, everywhere, in every way I can.

Space in drawers holding jumbles of anarchy. Space in clothes closets packed like a pre-pandemic mid-town subway train at rush hour. Space on shelves wedged and stacked with books, photos, mementos. Decorative dishes overflow with mismatched odds and ends. Every surface hosts its own little clutter party. Each nook and cranny, its own mosh pit. Even nature needs my clearing out help: The trees left a seasons worth of dead leaves, foliage that didn't survive the winter, weeds overtaking landscape. Potted plants huddle in groups, random and matching outdoor chairs are pushed together, remnants from a time when visitors would gather close together on the patio. I shove and push, pull and drag, arranging seating for a spread out, hoped for reunion of friends one day.

Kathy Valentine's Recommendation

Kathy Valentine recommends decluttering. Here's her "Method to the Madness."

  1. First: Make space and order in the place that will be the "holding station" — a place where boxes and items for donations can be gathered so that when things open up and it's safe to do so, it's all there, ready to be loaded up or picked up.
  2. Make a place for everything. If it doesn't fit in a place I already have, maybe I don't need it.
  3. Be flexible, re-think spaces, re-arrange furniture to make space.
  4. Photograph and document. I'm going to sell stage outfits for charity, so I take a picture and put in a section of the closet. Also photos, letters. A great way to "keep" the memories without having them take up space. Upload to a hard drive and label it.
  5. It's going to look worse before it looks better. Organizing stuff is a messy business.

There's the mother of all that is space-less: the two-car garage that hasn't had a car enter since we moved in. Instead, furniture, my boxes, other people's boxes, band merch, bins, crates, suitcases and wardrobes, guitar cases and holiday decorations line the slim pathway I can squeeze by from the kitchen to the garage door.

Eighteen months ago, I downsized, by half, my living quarters — in preparation of my kid going to college in 2021. I tried to match my newfound small space to my belongings — much was relocated, donated, junked, re-purposed. But it wasn't enough. I'm surrounded by excess, a consequence of my particular blessings. I'm aware of Kondo-ing, and I've seen the Minimalism doc, and I want to be free, pared down to essentials, those which bring joy.

But there hasn't been time. Bookwritin' was a biggie. Making my last record. Now, all the projects are sewn up and making their way through the world, even as I stay tethered to home.

The pandemic has given me the no-excuse, buck-stops-here, elusive gift of time.

I set up a Sonos speaker in the garage: "Alexa, play classic hip-hop." To a soundtrack of Dre, Slick Rick, Sugarhill, Quest, I cleared and conquered. Then, on to new territory: inside my home.

Songs, essays, new book, crafty things: I trust those things will still be around, even after the restless muses move on. It feels really good to make some space. It feels like freedom. And we all know creativity thrives in freedom.


Kathy Valentine's new book, All I Ever Wanted: A Rock 'N' Roll Memoir, is out now.

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