5 ways I continue my creativity while living in a small space.

5 ways I continue my creativity while living in a small space // maggie whitley

For two years now we’ve lived in a small space, meaning our home is a 600 square foot apartment in Los Angeles. It’s a one bedroom with an extremely large living room — which thankfully has allowed us to make a section of our living room into a bedroom so the actual bedroom could be the nursery for our children. Our apartment has excellent storage for it’s size, but we’ve definitely learned to live with less. And honestly, this all started after traveling with Compassion International to Tanzania, Africa in May 2012. I remember coming home and very clearly feeling uncomfortable sitting on our couch, living in such a large home, having so many things. Our lives changed drastically soon after, but totally for the better :)

One way we live with less is by decorating with our favorite pieces, verses packing them away. Living in a small space has also helped me better realize my wants and needs — especially with my craft supplies ;)

We live in a small space for various reasons, but mostly because it fits our budget the best. Living in Los Angeles is extremely expensive (too many people and not enough places to live), so we do our best to live wisely. Besides, the weather here averages about 75*/80* throughout the year, so we’d be silly not to spend a lot time outside (ahem, hello beach) where we have plenty of room to stretch our legs.

leafy houseplant maggie whitley

When Zack and I lived in Detroit and Minneapolis we had more than enough space to run my handmade businesses, brainstorm product, create endlessly and the like. But Los Angeles has definitely stretched us in new ways, and so I’ve allowed myself the freedom to try new things. Turns out adventure-chasing and mamahood and learning to happily navigate adulthood aren’t as scary as they seem ;)

I’m a visual person, and living in a small space has challenged me in new, hard ways. And while I no longer have dedicated studio space, I do have a lovely kitchen table to work from and I’m rarely away from my family. Need another alternative workspace? Set up a 6-foot folding table.

embroidery maggie whitley

Here are 5 ways I continue my creativity while living in a small space:

* consider even the smallest of spaces as a potential for studio space. My friend Ashley of The Vanilla Tulip uses a teeny tiny closet as her office — perhaps something like this could be perfect for you, too? Also remember to build up. Pegboards, shelving and large cabinets are easy storage solutions and require very little floor space.

* work in small scale quantities. And remember: quality over quantity! Perhaps having a smaller shop inventory would encourage you to price your handmade wares more accurately. (No excuses! Underpricing is bad for everyone.) Also, making less means you work less which gives you more time to be with your family.

* remind yourself that seasons exists for a reason, and their ebb & flow is critically important to your growth. They may only last for a week, a month, or a year — but allow yourself the grace and flexibility to view your season as an opportunity for change.

* use this time to pursue a smaller-scale project. Sometimes small projects can be just as intimidating as the big ones, but girl, don’t let that hold you back! An example of this for me is with embroidering. It’s the perfect small space project because I can organize all of my supplies in a box, it’s easily transportable, and I can start and stop super easily.

* creating fills me up in so many ways, so it’s important I make time for it. Zack often takes Maxwell and Bauer out on an adventure so I can work (without worrying about little hands grabbing for the project). Living in a small space has challenged me to get creative with my creative time! An hour or two alone with my sewing machine or embroidery hoop benefits me, and my boys benefit from exploring the city together — without mom around!

embroidery maggie whitley

A few additional tips:

* many cities offer shared workspace opportunities, meaning you rent a workspace that’s shared with other creatives in your community. You can even rent a private shared workspace, conference rooms, etc. If your creative project requires more space than your home provides, definitely look into this.

* if you’re running a handmade business and absolutely need space to create & ship product, now is an excellent time to hire help. Your hired assistants can help you make product within their home, as well as ship directly from their home to the customer. Think outside the box here, literally ;)

* if you fail, remember to try (and try again!). I’ve had many set-ups for my workspace, and every time a change was needed I kept this bit of wisdom in the back of my mind. Sometimes an idea we have doesn’t work out perfectly the first time, so allow the process inspire you.

* what if — gasp! — you hung your collection of thread spools on the living room wall? What if you kept your fabric organized in a cute bin on the bookshelf? What if you invested in storage bins for under your bed (or couch) so your supplies are not only within reach, but they double as art for your home? Sounds like an excellent use of your small space to me! :)

embroidery supplies maggie whitley

Whatcha think? Are you inspired by your small space, or does it feel like an impossible hurdle? (Don’t give up yet.) Something I’ve had to remind myself (over and over and over) is this is real life, and in this season my family comes first; work comes second. Sure, I have big handmade dreams, but I hold on to the hope that those dreams will come true once again — just not right now. Let hope float you by, whatever that means for you personally. My home doesn’t ever need to be pinterest-ready, so I’m OK with my kitchen table for a workspace. I don’t have to set bigger and grander work goals for myself each year, at least not right now. Creativity can exist anywhere, at anytime, with any medium. How’s that for some solid inspiration? xoxo

PS. some of the cutest shared workspaces for kiddos

This post is a part of the Creativity Expressed Blog Series hosted by Jen at Lovely Messes.  Nine creative women are sharing the secrets behind their creative process, don’t miss a single bit of inspiration!

Mamahood vs. Full-time Work: what helped me decide.

maxwell twin shirts maggie whitley

Max and I are kinda like “two peas in a pod” these days, soaking up the last few weeks where it’s just he and I at home together during the day. When I reflect back on the last 17 months I have so much peace over what we’ve learned and how we’ve bonded. Of course, so much has changed too, comparing what I thought would be to what actually is. These changes have me so, so grateful for the support in making one of my biggest decisions ever: to focus on our family instead of also trying to run two handmade businesses (and write a blog). Naturally I did slow down big time once Max was born last March, but as he became more of a toddler (and less of a little baby) I knew I needed to adjust exactly where my attention was going each day. I like to refer to that time as, learning the art of saying “no” :)

Every woman experiences mamahood differently. And while we each have our personal preferences, one thing in common is the number of hours that fill each day — it’s exactly the same. Before Max was born I knew I wanted to take an eight week maternity leave from handmade, but as that mark neared I found myself not quite ready to jump in with both feet. A few more weeks passed and still, I wasn’t ready.

When you find yourself in a mamahood vs. full-time work dilemma, like I did, I think it’s important to listen to your body and heart for guidance. We each have totally unique experiences, requirements, support systems and family needs. My story is probably different from my neighbors, which is likely different from their neighbor, etc. It can be hard to know exactly what to do, but knowing there’s beauty and grace in customizing my new plan was so encouraging for me.

Before having my first baby I was incredibly organized and (let’s be honest) a scheduling pro. Now, I’d like to think I’ve hit a more realistic balance with all of that advanced-planning stuff ;) But, trying to do too much each day during that first year absolutely frazzled me and I constantly questioned if I was doing it right. Come bedtime I didn’t feel like I had been creative enough or rested enough to continue with my previous schedule. My emotions felt uncontrollable and nothing I was doing felt like it was being done well. (Not a good feeling.)

Really, what I wanted to focus on was this precious new baby — and that felt like “enough”. Working full-time, in addition to be a mama, was something I felt could be put on hold, at least for now. I encouraged myself, saying as my need for more creativity rose my new schedule would help me be able to say “yes”. I felt peace in this decision, and the peace was constant. Success! (I also reminded myself this new schedule is what works best for me, for my family, for now, but we could make changes at any time.)

A friend shared something with me a few months ago. In summary she said, “your children won’t wait for you to grow up; they’ll do it regardless of how you prioritize your time.” That was hugely powerful for me and helped to propel me forward.

Am I nervous for another little baby to join our family? — totally. But I know my days have room for this kind of exciting growth, so that’s what I’m leaning on.

fine print: I know many mamas who work full-time and have peace over that decision, and I fully encourage them to continue with that personal decision. I believe part of what makes someone a good parent is their ability to do it well, and consistently. This blog post is in no way a “my way or the highway” post, but it IS a post that I pray will encourage you to move forward in confidence with whatever decision your heart is guiding you to do. There is nothing worse than the guilt of self-doubt. I’m cheering for you :)

State of the Biz: “How large is my margin of error?”

One topic in particular that never bores me is on the business side of blogging and handmade shop ownership. And when I think about it, this topic goes back to the beginning roots of my blog’s content. For this very reason I’m inspired to introduce a new series, State of the Biz: blog & handmade shop. Inside each post a reader question will be featured and answered. I’m really excited about this and how it will allow us to dive even deeper into a multitude of business topics. Do you have a topic suggestion for this series? Perfect. Either leave a comment below or send me an email.

Whenever I reflect on why I truly love blogging I come back to this thought: I thrive on community and the personal encouragement that swells from it. This is going to be a really fun series to write, no doubt…

state of the biz maggie whitley

Q: Could you speak briefly about the issue of imperfection in regards to sewing. I feel like all I can see in my products (I make custom iPad covers) are the little imperfections, and it holds me back from feeling secure enough to ask the price they are worth, because of MY hang ups that they are not “perfect” (store bought looking). Does this feeling ever go away, the longer you sew? Or is it feeling you just try to manage? — Jessica

A: It’s so easy as a maker to see our imperfections everywhere (we can be overly self-critical with our work, yes?), so my advice is to ask a few trusted sources for feedback. Start with your spouse/another close family member, then add a couple other people to the list: fellow handmade makers, close friends, mentors you trust. Your goal is to receive their feedback as a buyer. Would they buy your product “as is”? What would they like to see differently in your product that would encourage them to buy? That sort of thing. But, it is also important to spend some time making your product as perfect as it can be, within the handmade/”small imperfections are beautiful” mindset. Remember you’re exchanging your work for the buyers money — you’re running a business here!, so you should aim to produce high-quality work.

Your products prices should reflect your materials, labor, profit and overhead — but also included in your labor rate is your experience. The more experience you have the more you are able to charge for your time (or your seamstresses time, should you have hired help). You also need to decide the amount of flexibility you’ll allow for visual variances from piece to piece. Definitely make sure the product is 100% functional, but the beauty of handmade is there are tiny margins for variance. Note, I’m not saying the finished product should be negatively different from what you’re advertising it to be.

Also consider yourself as the customer: would you be 100% satisfied with the finished product even though it has an “error” or two?

With sewing, for example, you’ll want to pay close attention to ensure your zippers are sewn in straight, your stitch tension is even, and your materials aren’t flawed. Of course there are other things to be on the lookout for, these are just a few things that come to mind right away. I think ultimately you have to decide what you’re comfortable putting your name on and selling for profit, and then that will likely help you decipher what you’re not comfortable selling. Lastly, don’t be afraid to spend some extra time perfecting a technique so your business can grow and be it’s best. 

Have a “State of the Biz” post question you’d like me to answer? Leave a comment below or send me an email!

State of the Biz: “How do you decide what to blog about?”

One topic in particular that seems to never bore me is on the business side of blogging and handmade shop ownership. And when I think about it, this topic goes back to the beginning roots of my blog. For this very reason I’m inspired to introduce a new series, State of the Biz: blog & handmade shop. Inside each post a reader question will be featured and answered. I’m really excited about this and how it will allow us to dive even deeper into a multitude of business topics. Yeow!

Every time I reflect on why I truly love blogging I come back to this: I thrive on community and the personal encouragement that swells from it. This is going to be a really fun series to write, no doubt. Do you have a topic suggestion for this series? Perfect. Either leave a comment below or send me an email.

state of the biz maggie whitley

Q: I think I want to start a blog. Of course I love to read other’s blogs, and I enjoy writing and taking photos. My problem is I’m not sure what my blog should be about. How did you decide when you first started blogging? And does your blog cover the same content as it did originally? –Jamie

A: Ahhh, this is a fantastic question! And one I have two ways of thinking to consider when deciding what exactly to blog about.

The first is to think of your blog as your dream job. If you could blog about any favorite topic(s), what would you pick to write about?

Some questions to ask yourself… What topics encourage you to continue learning? What topics do you already have a lot of knowledge on? What topics are underdeveloped, but you feel should be more developed? What topics are easy for you to share because you are passionate about them? One of the beauties about blogging is you are totally in charge of your blog. No one else is in charge — you’re the boss lady! :) Here are a couple other questions to consider… What don’t you want to blog about (what is off-limit, for any reason)? What topics drain your energy?

The second way of thinking is to grab a piece of paper and work through a simple brainstorming exercise. One you have some paper and a pen, write down all possible/realistic topics that come to mind. Be sure to leave a few spaces between every topic as you list them out on paper. Once you have exhausted all possible topics for your blog, review what you’ve written down. Consider the questions I’ve typed above as you review your topic list. Your goal is to have a list of master topis with subtopics written beneath. The more realistic subtopics you can write down the better, because you know you can cover that topic for many, many posts. You can either rearrange your original list to create subtopics or you can add subtopics under the topics you originally wrote down, whatever makes the most sense.

Something else to consider is creating a series (short or long term) on a specific topic. Creating a series can help you decide on whether a topic should stick around or get booted.

Spend some time defining your blog’s purpose. Is it to teach others, to encourage, to provide updates on a personal project, etc.)? Whatever you decide for your purpose know your blog is firstly for you. Don’t start a blog for anyone but yourself. I consider my blog a lifestyle blog and cover the topics of inspiration, adventures, family and blog/handmade encouragement. Also, when I write my posts I write as though I’m talking to a friend, since that matches my blog’s purpose the best. Maybe it is better for your written voice to have a more professional voice, but be sure to know and maintain your voice at all times when writing. Defining your purpose and knowing your voice will help you maintain momentum as the months and years pass.

If you need additional encouragement on what to blog about, consider asking your family and closest of friends — those that know you the best and you trust their feedback. But keep in mind, they may suggest a topic that you really don’t want to blog about (like baking, for example) — even if you are amazing at it and enjoy it very much. Maybe baking is something best reserved as a personal stress reliever instead of a “dream job blog topic”. If any topic suggested is going to exhaust you, like I mentioned above, kindly accept their suggestion but know you don’t have to consider it once the conversation is over.

Jamie’s last question asks whether my blog content is the same today as it was when I originally started blogging (in 2008), and I’d say “yes”. Although I have developed certain master topics over the years, and others have ebbed and flowed in frequency. There are a few particular life events that have helped shape my post content: starting a handmade business, traveling to Tanzania, Africa, and having a baby (with a second baby on the way!), and it’s been interesting to watch things unfold. I think I was personally most surprised that having a baby would encourage me to slow down with my work, because blogging has always fueled me in great ways. But I think what I’ve learned is to be OK with the seasons of life and how my work fits into all of that. I’ve recently decided to slow down with my work and being an owner of two handmade shops, but ironically it’s fueled me in grander ways with my blog — like better blog posts, consistent and long-standing inspiration, and greater overall personal satisfaction. Sometimes the less you put a limit or expectation on something the more it can (naturally) bless you.

So that’s my response! Kinda a bit to digest, but ultimately know you’re the boss lady (you can make any changes you want), maintain your momentum by writing about topics that inspire you, and think of your blog as your dream job — enjoy it! :)

Have a “State of the Biz” post question for me? Leave a comment below or send me an email!