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The Art of Taking Away

michelangelo-sculptures-13Michelangelo is famous for defining sculpture as the “art of taking away,” as opposed to painting, which is the art of adding on. Good organizing is also about the art of taking away.

The question a new prospect most commonly asks me is “what do you charge?,” but the question a new client most commonly asks is “what should I buy?”  The hope seems to be that I can recommend some magical containers, that will solve the organizing challenges at hand.

Effective organizing begins with subtraction, not addition.

Recently I have been taking different approaches to the same message: organizing is about taking the less important stuff out of the way so that you can get to the most important stuff.

I have been fortunate to see the great sculptures of Michelangelo, including his David in Florence.   Like most tourists, I had come a long way to see Michelangelo’s David, so I wasn’t going to leave without spending some time studying the sculpture and trying to understand what all the hubbub was about.  What was the artist’s vision?

First and foremost, the dude is nude.  I don’t exactly think he’s ready to do combat with a giant just yet.  He does, however, look poised and confident, despite the vulnerabilities of his nudity and youth.  Maybe this nude warrior thing is just part of the Renaissance artist’s love for classicism.  Maybe David is just looking in a mirror and trying on the sling for looks.  I don’t know.  What I do know is, this is not your typical warrior.   Why? Because Michelangelo has chipped away a layer of armor and even a layer of clothes that he might have seen in that block of marble.

What’s your vision for your home office? If you want to bring clients in, do you want them to see a huge collection of framed photos and tchotchkes on your desk surface?  If not, chip away at that collection.  Do you feel overwhelmed by those piles of paper everywhere? If so, chip away at those piles.  Do those rows of reference books feel necessary, now that you can get so much information online?  If so, chip away at the excess books.  When you’re done chipping away, you should be left with the productive office space you envisioned.

At the opening I said that sculpting is MORE like sculpting than painting (not EXACTLY like).  That is because this is not a perfect analogy.  After you have sculpted down to the essentials in your home office, you may need to ADD certain containers and structures to stay organized, but it is not possible to choose the appropriate structures until you have arrived at the appropriate quantity first.  If you’re serious about getting organized, grab yourself a chisel!

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