One thing that defines us as human beings is our ability to think and, more than that, to think creatively—and, more than that, to create. I think this ability reveals an innate need. We’re our best selves when we engage in the act of creation. But what does that mean?
I’m not a budding photographer. My scrapbook sits empty. I watch with wistful fascination as the deft fingertips of experienced artisans wind while weaving, or as a bookbinder paints glue along the seams of a book. Somewhere along the way, the tiny voice of comparison pipes up and says that because I can’t do that, I’m not creative. Sound familiar?
But we are. We know that we all have the basic ingredients for creativity. We also know that creativity is good for us. So what are some things that we can do to practice creativity—so essential to being human—without feeling like we have to pull out a glue gun, or if we simply don’t feel inspired?
01. Solve a problem.
One way to reap the benefit of thinking more creatively is to simply look around your live, identify something that isn’t serving you properly, and take steps to make it better.
Not happy with how your largest organ is acting? Learn about and diagnose your skin and whip up some fun, healthy treatments. Our skin is far simpler than most of us think, and learning about it from people trying to sell you things often presents a conflict. Natural recipes are cheaper, better for the environment, and often more effective. A great resource for this is Adina Grigore’s Skin Cleanse.
Got a closet full of clothes but never anything to wear? Create a streamlined wardrobe that works for you so that getting dressed in the mornings is easier and makes you feel more “you” in your clothing. Great resources for this are The Curated Closet by Anushka Rees, or the Unfancy blog by Caroline Joy.
House perpetually cluttered? Put your house through a Kondo-lite overhaul; if doing the whole thing is too much for a weekend, just see what would happen if you followed one piece of advice. I’ve found it simple to put on one of the new Netflix episodes starring Marie Kondo and sort clothing in the background; her simple, joyous strategies seep through the screen quite naturally, and my home is happier for it.
02. Set a challenge.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Challenge yourself, and watch the magic happen.
Go a week without grocery shopping. It’s better for the world and our wallets, as well as forcing us to experience making do with what we have in a time where everything we could ever want is at our fingertips. Sarah Von Bargen’s #nogrocerychallenge on Instagram is a fun resource, filled with ladies poking through their pantries and making delicious dishes from the last of the salsa and wilted spinach.
Avoid looking something up instantly and instead think or debate about the answer to a posed question. For example, yesterday I mentioned offhand that pizza was an Italian food, and my husband immediately disputed this, positing that it’s actually an American food. Instead of googling the answer, we had a hilarious and probably inaccurate conversation about the merits of Italian ingredients and the relatively short history of American food. We still haven’t looked up the answer. But was our night better for not doing so? Did we have to pull creative “evidence” out of nowhere to win the silly argument? Absolutely.
03. Set a mood.
Think about what you want your home to do for you, and figure out ways to make it happen. For example, I usually beat my husband home from work, and I want our environment to be warm and relaxing upon his arrival, as well as ready for whichever activities we’re planning for the evening. To prepare my mind as well as our home for the evening, I light candles, clear off horizontal surfaces, make sure the home smells amazing (idea: boil apples and spices on the stove, which also adds humidity in the winter months), put on an inviting Spotify playlist (our favorite is “The Great British Breakfast”), and pull out Battleship if I’m feeling like adding to my winning streak (always).
When I’m getting ready to work from home, I can wipe the palette of our living room clean and radically transform it with a few simple steps: the Beatles music becomes classical (Spotify: “Peaceful Piano”), reference books move to the coffee table, lights are turned brighter, and the dogs are sent outside.
04. Stretch your brain.
If you haven’t heard of Lateral Thinking Puzzles, get ready to be fascinated. These types of puzzles consist of vague statements, which generally lead our brains to paint one picture and grab onto it at the exclusion of other, equally possible scenarios. The challenge is to then figure out with “yes” and “no” questions which scenario is meant. For example, my favorite begins with the enigmatic phrase “Gary died when the music stopped.” My friends take turns asking me what happened—Was Gary sick? Was the music live?—eventually finding out that Gary was a fly on a chair when Musical Chairs was being played. These types of games are amazing for your brains, and equally fun and frustrating to play. Here are some of our favorites.
Figure out what you think. British Royal Family commentator Elizabeth Holmes runs a recurring Instagram feature called “So Many Thoughts,” in which she analyzes costume design and royal fashion—contemporary and historical—in the context of our social milieu. It’s a well-taught primer on how fashion influences us, and it’s fascinating. Recently, though, I’ve asked myself to pause and consider what I think about a certain image, dress, or topic before I let someone else—even an expert!—influence my thought patterns. It’s been revealing and brain-stretching, and I highly recommend it.
5. Love your family.
Your family is unique, and so are you. Find special ways to make your life at home fulfilling, and create a one-of-a-kind, nurturing atmosphere for those you love.
For example, in her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes about how she realized that her family, for whatever reason, wasn’t celebrating the holidays in a way that worked for them; it felt like work, and the festivities weren’t particularly memorable. Instead of more typical parties, she began throwing special minor-holiday breakfasts for her husband and two daughters. Easily done before work or school, she would make pink food with valentine placemats in February, for example, and her kids would sparkle for the rest of the day.
The five love languages show us that everyone has different ways of giving and receiving love. It’s worth expending the effort to figure out the ways the people in your life feel most loved and brainstorming fun ways to give in the ways they best receive.
06. Build your home.
No two people have the exact same tastes in decor, the same histories informing their current lives, or the same needs for their current homes. Because of this, we can ask for help and receive creative input from others, but we’re the ones who live in our homes. We’re the ones who can be inspired by a beautiful kitchen, or walk past a cluttered closet every day and cover our eyes.
There are plenty of boxes out there that many of us try to fit in when it comes to decor—minimalism, Art Deco, farmhouse chic, etc. If you’re anything like me, you have a vague notion of your style, and every time you see a throw pillow in Target that sort of meets that general vibe, you pick it up and sort of feel accomplished. We end up with cluttered homes that don’t feel quite right.
The beautiful thing about creativity is that we can throw out our half-hearted sort-ofs. We can choose precisely what we like, and settle for nothing less than what will make our place perfect—for us. One resource I have found particularly helpful is Myquillyn Smith’s Cozy Minimalist Home, which emphasizes that minimalism can be far from austere.
Learning to think creatively helps our brains to grow—literally. A recent study showed that establishing a habit of creative thought forges new and stronger connections between the different parts of our brain, lending new credence to Steve Jobs’ idea that “creativity is just connecting things.” The way that the brain lights up while engaged in creative pursuits is a work of art in and of itself. With simple, creative acts, we can make our lives works of art as well—no trips to the craft store required.