Conquering Digital Clutter

We've all read the popular decluttering books. You know, those ones that talk about keeping objects that spark joy, and tossing those that are boring, redundant or broken?

Like me, I'm sure you've done tours of your house, travelling room to room, filling bags with items to toss or donate.

But what about your computer? Your hard drive? Your cloud storage?

How many megabytes (gigabytes) of unnecessary digital clutter are you storing?

The clean slate

This month my husband got a new laptop. His previous computer was over a decade old and was giving warning signs for weeks before it collapsed completely. He managed to back up the important files onto a hard drive, and then ordered a sleek, neat, compact, new laptop.

It's magical.

Not because of the RAM, or the high resolution screen, or the amazing speakers... it's magical because it's almost empty.

It's a clean slate; a tabula rasa. It is ready to facilitate any new idea or project, and isn't yet bogged down by countless megabytes of extra data (we all know computers slow down when they're too full of stuff).

There is a wonderful freedom in that simplicity.

The purge

Inspired, I analyzed my own computer. It is FULL of images. I have files and files of scans and artwork, illustrations and clipboard files. 

Since 2011 (when I got this computer) I have kept annual inspiration files on my desktop into which I put any images that inspire me. Over the course of 5 years I've accumulated thousands of images. Sometimes they were for specific projects (what does a zebra look like from above?), and sometimes I kept them simply because I liked a colour combination, or a compositional idea, or a way of drawing a face or expression. Often I saved an image because of an idea that automatically came into my mind when I saw it, sometimes only tangentially related to the image.  Some inspired me once, but when I look at them now, I can't remember why. 

All those thousands of pictures were sitting in the annual folders on my desktop, making my computer and my workplace cluttered. 

This was in addition to all the folders of my own artwork, photographs and illustrations. 

So, I dedicated part of this bank holiday weekend to sorting through those folders (and others). I deleted thousands of files. 

Some tips

1. Clear off your computer desktop (I'm still working on this). It makes a huge difference. 

2. Clean out your downloads folder regularly. 

3. Go through your photos regularly (monthly?). Discard those that are blurry or duplicates. Then find a way to display the ones you love. Maybe actually print a few!

4. Find a file structure that works for you and stick to it. I group my artwork into folders by year, and then into subfolders by project. This keeps everything organized and easy to find. 

5. Delete ruthlessly. 

6. a) Back everything up regularly in a hard drive or cloud storage

6. b)  While you're doing that, delete anything in your hard drive or cloud storage you know you don't need anymore (this includes Evernote, and similar programs). Just because files don't take up physical space doesn't mean the can't weigh you down mentally. 

7. Bask in the free, floating feeling of knowing that your digital life is streamlined and easy to manage. 

And while you're at it... give your screen and keyboard a good clean. 

Take a deep breath. 

You'll feel like a new person. And you'll feel like you've gotten a new laptop without having spent a cent. 


My week in drawings

Dappled shade in Richmond Park.

Deers in Richmond Park

Canada House as seen from a bench in the National Gallery

Curves and cones in every angle: All Souls Langham Place


My week in a drawing

It was a bright and cloudy day, perfect for wandering along the Thames with Little One in the early morning. Even at 10 am it was almost empty; we shared the cobbled walkway with a couple of pedestrians and a flotilla of seagulls. We listened to Big Ben chiming the quarter hours ("Bing bong!" said Little One) and watched the waves ripple over the low-tide waters of the river. 

Thick, fluffy clouds scudded across the sky.  The sunlight flashed morse code: sun, shadow, sun, shadow. The city winked back: glimmer, glint, glimmer, glint.

I wished I knew what the sun and the city were talking about... what was their secret conversation? 

Little One and I met a friend and we shared hot, buttered toast, berries, and lattes (but only steamed milk for the littlest of us). Then, we covered our faces with "mer-may" (mermaid) stickers, much to the amusement of the clouds and the city; they winked and blinked their approbation. 

It was liberating to do something so brave. It took a lot of courage to pack up the stroller, bundle up my almost-two-year-old and take a thirty minute train journey into the city. 

"I studied there, just across the river." I pointed out the building to Little One. I used to wander those streets every day with visions of art in my head. 

"Wow," she said. It is her word for anything she approves of. 

All it took was a short train journey to open up our eyes. I had forgotten that London was right there, spread out like a fairy city, just beyond the doors of Waterloo Station. 

Flags of Love flying above Royal Festival Hall


A month in review: July

How can I summarize a month of such extremes? July spanned two continents, two homes, two different experiences of summer, and one long journey of flights and connections across a very wide, very cold ocean.

Through the changes and opposites, one thing has remained a constant: family. This month started with a family reunion which gathered all 40 of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and their spouses and children, on Hecla Island in the middle of Lake Winnipeg. We sang songs, breaking into spontaneous four part harmony whilst playing games or hiking. We hugged. We laughed. We cried. And we hated saying goodbye when the weekend ended.

The day after, we flew home to London. We returned back to our small home, on our little street, right near the vastness of Richmond Park. We recentered. We made our beds. We settled into the routines of our small nucleus.

Family, big or small, was what July was about.

Top 5 Highlights for July:

1. The family weekend on Hecla Island with all 40 aunts, uncles and cousins.

2. Seeing the walls of our walls stripped of peeling wallpaper and freshly plastered and painted.

3. Returning to my studio and my ongoing projects. I have fresh inspiration from three weeks away.

4. Splashing in the pool with Little One, and helping her down the toddler slide. She loves the water.

5. The London heat wave. While not exactly my favourite experience, it was certainly memorable!

Books read: 

1. A desperate fortune by Susanna Kearsley

2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (this one was too dark for me to finish.)

By the numbers: 

2.5 + 7: Hours in an airplane with an sleepy and slightly grumpy toddler.

2: Hours in Toronto airport trying to stretch our legs and letting Little One run around shouting "Ah-blane!" (airplane)

5: Rooms that are like new in our house with fresh, smoothly painted walls

7: Amazing, multi-petalled clematis blossoms in our garden

17: sketches in my moleskine sketchbook (check my Instagram to follow along as I fill the pages.)

May Stats: 

Instagram: 489 (+3)
Bloglovin: 903 (+4)
Facebook: 946 (+1)
Twitter: 507 (same)
Mailing List: 402 (sign-up in sidebar for bi-monthly updates and freebies!)

(Please pick your favourite platform and come follow along!)

Posts from Past Julys: 

Window Boxes in London
Today is Monochromatic
Taking care of small things
Adventures in Johannesburg

Goals for August: 

Returning to my studio has been refreshing. After three weeks away I have new eyes for the big project that needs finishing. The deadline is looming, so I'm working every minute I can.

My goals for the month:

+ Finish as much of my current illustration project as possible. It's contractually due Sept 1, but I'm sure I would have a little wiggle room if I needed it.

+ Write. Edit. Write. Repeat. I've completed writing the first draft of a short story, which now needs careful rewriting and editing. I'm looking forward to weighing every word.

+ Daily drawings. Because they're like yoga for my fingers and my creative mind.

+ Dedication to blogging. I love this little space. I love you, my dear reader. You make my little studio above the kitchen feel like it's connected to a world of friendly people. I want to connect more with you. What do you want to read about? Tell me. I will write it.

Are you writing a monthly review post? Feel free to share a link below in the comments. Let’s celebrate our accomplishments! 


My week in drawings : Kingston Upon Thames

Here are a few drawings from the past two weeks of life in Kingston Upon Thames.

We returned home from Canada and immediately entered a huge heat wave. Couple that with a sick toddler and two polish workmen tramping around the house trailing plaster dust and paint daubs, and you have the recipe for an adventure in patience.

So Little One and I cozied up in her bedroom (one of the only rooms not frequented by said workmen) and did wooden puzzles and sang songs. We picked lavender in the garden and rolled it between our fingers, letting the astringent, clean smell calm our senses.

We ate ice cream when things got really out of hand.

And while she napped, I did a few drawings in my moleskine sketchbook.


Daily Sketches in Canada (continued)

Here is the story of our trip to Manitoba in daily drawings.

The clouds in the sky spoke volumes. Toddler cuddles were filled with whispered songs and stories. And the waves of Lake Winnipeg recited haikus as they lapped against the stony shore.



June was a month for slowing down.

The roses and peonies were in bloom. The days were sunny and warm (but not yet the sweltering heat of mid-summer). Our smiles widened, our laughter rang between the trees, our hearts opened wide to the delights of fresh blueberries and ice cream, and barbecues in the long evenings.

This June Little One and I flew to Canada together to spend time with my mom. We're resting, napping, and running around in the back yard. It's wonderful to reconnect with family after so many years. And to imagine many more such summers to come.

Top 5 Highlights for June:

1. Spending time with my mom in my home town in Canada.

2. Baking some delicious banana bread to share with friends and neighbours.

3. Planting jasmine, lavender, clematis and box hedge in our garden.

4. Having babyccinos, mommyccinos and grandmaccinos at the local coffee shop with my daughter and my mom.

5. Watching thunderstorms roll across the Canadian prairies. They rumble through town in the evenings, and the next morning the air is so fresh and clear, like it's been scrubbed clean by the rain.

Books read: 

1. A house with four rooms by Rumer Godden

2. Tell it Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola

3. The Fairy Tale Girl by Susan Branch

4. Martha's Vineyard: Isle of Dreams by Susan Branch

5. A Fine Romance by Susan Branch

6. Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr

{Looking at this I realize I haven't read any fiction this month! I'll have to focus on fiction in July.}

By the numbers: 

8: Hours in an airplane with an active, curious toddler

3: Hour nap for toddler on the above flight (yay!)

1: New boiler installed in our house

3: playdates (and fun coffee times for the moms)

60: cups of decaf coffee (Or more, at least two per day. Is this something I need to reduce?)

11: sketches in my moleskine sketchbook (check my Instagram to follow along as I fill the pages.)

May Stats: 

Instagram: 485 (+13)
Pinterest: 141 (+2)
Bloglovin: 898 (+4)
Facebook: 945 (+3)
Twitter: 507 (same)
Mailing List: 401 (sign-up in sidebar for bi-monthly updates and freebies!)

(Please pick your favourite platform and come follow along!)

Posts from Past Junes: 

The Diamond Jubilee in Pictures
Unleashing your Inner Creativity
In my Cape Town studio
Reinventing the Resume

Goals for July: 

We will be holidaying in Canada for a good portion of July, so I intend to enjoy every moment. I want to slow down and listen to my heartbeat. I want to chase my little one around the yard, and roll around in the grass.

Other than that, I want to:

+ re-invorgate my daily drawing habit while I’m on holiday. Stay tuned for lots of sketches of the great Canadian prairies.

Are you writing a monthly review post? Feel free to share a link below in the comments. Let’s celebrate our accomplishments! 


Daily Sketches in Steinbach

I have been trying to capture small moments from our trip to Manitoba in my sketchbook. 

Stay tuned for more!  

Going through boxes of memories in the attic.

Exploring the hidden recesses in the back yard with Grandma

Having my teeth cleaned....


Un-planning my life

The other day, in the late afternoon, Little One and I listened to the complete piano sonatas by Mozart at top volume.

The day had been chaotic, and I hoped that the soothing tones and rhythms would quell the thirtieth (or was it fiftieth?) toddler-tantrum of the day.

So, we listened, we took deep breaths and we read a story.

We floated on the music for half an hour, and then started the quiet ritual of bath, dinner and bed.

It was the simple act of letting go, just for a moment, that changed the tenor of the day.

The afternoon before had sat down with my journal, determined to plan my life "once and for all." I turned to the next blank page and drew bullet points down the left-hand side. This was to be my "list to end all lists." I was finally going to feel like I was leading my life, instead of it leading me.

I sipped my decaf.

I stared at the blank page.

I wrote two, maybe three ideas down.

And then I realized something important.

I write the same lists, day after day, week after week. I write them because I think they're going to help me feel more in control and more accomplished. But they don't: so I repeat the process over and over.

But... lists are flat.

There are linear.

They don't, in fact they can't, reflect the messy, three-dimensional complexities of life. So, I write list after list in an attempt to control the chaos, but instead they make me feel more frenzied and frustrated.

I have decided that this summer we are going to follow rhythms instead of lists. We are going to float with the ebb and flow of the day. We are going to sleep when we're tired, drink when we're thirsty, eat when we're hungry, and dance when we're happy. We will run in the rain and bask in the sunshine.

All those bullet points on my lists were like a sack of bricks slung over my shoulder. It is liberating to let them go.

I will listen to beautiful music and let go. I will daydream and let go. I will draw and write and let go. The folding and scrubbing will happen (as they always do), but I won't spend time dwelling about them, or writing detailed schedules for them.

I am finding, when I let go, even cleaning can become a kind of meditation.

This week I am un-planning my life.

What are you doing?


My Week in Drawings

It's June already? Where did the time go?

Summer in London: the roses are blooming, the wisterias are long gone, and everyone is in a brighter mood. We've just had beds dug into our yard, and I can't wait to start planting flowers!

The ballerina completes a grande jeté and lays an egg.....

Those colours!