Eliminating the paralysis of unlimited choice.

Recently we have been playing with embracing limits in creativity through unusual constraints. I remember from art school the almost exciting nature of forced ingenuity that came from only being allowed to work in gray marker renderings or having an almost impossible time constraint on a design or not being allowed to use an eraser on a pencil drawing in our illustration class. I have treasured memories of constraints in art and working through the challenge of setting interesting limits just to see if it could be done.  Sometimes I offer the challenge to my children too, if they accept it is always an enjoyable experience as they get a buzz out of it too. Not having endless possibilities means that one has a starting point to actually do something creative. There is no writers block or staring at a blank canvas/page. Within the restraint is where the mind begins to tick away. It’s no longer lost.

As an example, seemingly insignificant journaling prompts create images and words within the mind and they get drawn out in literally hundreds of ways by any number of different people because all of their experiences leave a different impression in the minds eye to start that creative spark. Even those who think they are not creative can flourish within the creative constraint environment. It’s fascinating to watch, especially in the kids who start off thinking it’s impossible and end up with something they love.

One of the more pressing question within this idea for me is does it have a place in an unschooling philosophy? First and foremost, I personally see it as a way to embrace scarcity where it exists naturally, as a means to raise the bar and practice thinking creatively with what you do have rather than what you wish you had. This then can be applied to any scarcity that exists in your life (or your childs life) and they/you can then begin to enjoy the challenge it presents.

I also acknowledge that it brings a certain level of discipline in the new format of connecting with your creativity that one may previously not have experienced. This can be terrifying at first but it’s kinda like jumping into cold water for a swim, if you just do it, commit, you’ll get over it 😉 and have fun. This would apply in situations of abundance where you apply the constraint intentionally to force your creativity into action.

Some may know this of me others may not but I’m intrigued by the concept of minimalism, whether that be by force as we don’t have a gigantic income and never have or whether that be by choice as I can not function in a crowded space and crave simplicity. Recognizing a huge difference between need and want and very rarely want for anything physical is also part of that. This concept of self imposed constraints resonates with the minimalist in me because it can be applied as a need or a want.

While asking in the Australian unschool community on-line about this topic another member put me onto the (mainly French) writing group called OULIPO who use creative constraints in writing as a means of idea generation. Its a fascinating system of missing words with particular vowels and segmenting sonnets to be read in a huge quantity of permutations. Poets have used writing constraints since forever as have some of the best songwriters. Even Van Gogh’s vision was a constraint in his latter works that was embraced as is Stephen Hawkins diagnosis of ALS at the age of 21 which was eventually embraced and helped him become one of the greatest scientific minds of 21st century science. It seems that the greatest creative minds in almost all aspects of human civilization are brought about by some sort of hardship whereby it is the initial catalyst for these minds to escape the occasionally overwhelming nature of creative choice.

A very important point to keep in mind is that one must not confuse working within creative constraints with making sacrifices. Working within constraints bears no disappointment, or grudge. You embrace an enforced constraint or you enforce a constraint on yourself to enhance creativity. Sacrifice makes one feel disillusioned and resentful, this isn’t about that. It is freeing ‘inside the box’ thinking not removal of what is vital to creativity.

Anyway, your thoughts on this idea? There is more information here and the TED talk is kinda groovy too. Let me know what you think or if you recall any experiences where creative constraints helped you become more creative. 🙂

Edit: excerpt’s from this article are featured on The Educating Parent, it’s a great page and the go to for information on homeschooling and unschooling within Australia. Very worth a snoop around hehe. Thank you Beverly. 🙂

Edit 2: this idea got some extra attention this week, I was a little scared to share it on a group I’ve just joined called Journal 52 but it was well received and some of my words had enough meaning to inspire an artist by the name of Katie across the globe from here to create this page, I feel very honoured that someone felt like that about these words. People are pretty amazing sometimes. ♡ thanks for letting me share this Katie.



  1. Necessity it is said is the mother of invention and the same could be said when we have creative constraints. It forces you to think outside the box and the result is usually phenomenal.


    1. Find it less overwhelming than a do whatever type approch. It’s easier to come up with ideas if you have a starting point. Big lad can’t focus if it’s do whatever, he has to have a constraint or its too confusing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s