How to Be Creative: The Importance of Making the Time for a Creative Outlet

As a mom of younger kids, your time is rarely your own. The day starts early, with just enough time to get yourself ready before the kids wake up. Whether you work outside of the home, hold a remote job or you’re an at-home parent, you’re busy all day long. When the house does quiet down at night, you’re tired, and you still have other things to do. Over time, if you don’t make a conscious effort, your own interests are shelved, so high that you almost forget what they even were. By the time your kids are young adults, the empty nest is looming, and you’ll be left with time on your hands, time you can fill with a creative outlet if you give yourself the time you deserve. That’s the time to rediscover what brings you joy, bring those interests back off the shelf, and remember how to be creative.

how to be creative

How to Be Creative: The Importance of Making Time for a Creative Outlet

First: what exactly is “creative”?

The definition of creative is: “relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”

When we’re managing our kids’ schedules, getting everyone to their doctor appointments or school events on time, completing homework, cleaning the house, preparing dinner, etc., our imagination may only go so far as imagining ourselves in a bubble bath with a glass of wine and a good book. It’s natural to not envision creating anything artistic, but we’re doing it on the daily, when we help our child assemble a science project, when we make up bedtime stories, when we think of our son’s crazy hair day style or our daughter’s 100 days of school costume. Those cookies we decorate, the budgeting that helps us save enough money for a trip, the blanket forts we construct — we’re filled with creativity. It doesn’t go anywhere, it just comes out in different ways.

Seriously, parents, give yourselves more credit. You already know how to be creative, but you’re just seeing it differently. You’re seeing it as the means to an end, rather than the process…and that’s where we find the joy.

Once our talents aren’t needed in the same way, it’s easy to give up, but we have choices. Creativity is like a muscle. Our body remembers it, even if we don’t think our brain does. We just have to give ourselves the time, and the permission, to start over.

Second: what is a creative outlet?

The definition of a creative outlet is a way to express your creativity.

how to be creative by painting with watercolors

Easy, right? For some people, it’s a journal, a computer screen in a word processing doc, a website like this one. For others, it’s a charcoal pencil, paints and brushes, or a blank face and makeup. Musical instruments, solos or duets. Singing in the shower. Dancing in the kitchen. Practicing yoga. Lifting weights. Putting together an outfit of the day (OOTD). Sewing. Gardening.

The list of creative outlet options is literally endless. Being in a midlife mom or dad does not mean we have to give up on the things we want to do, so if that means you want to learn how to dance so you can do fun TikTok videos, or so you can dance at your child’s wedding, now is the time to start. And you also don’t need to stop at one outlet.

Why is it so important that we remember how to be creative?

Life’s too short to have regrets about not trying something we’ve dreamed about. It’s also too short to feel like we can’t do something simply because we let our age get in the way. OR, worse yet, we let someone else let our age get in the way.

We need to remember how to be creative so we can rediscover parts of ourselves that go dormant when our lives are focused on caring for others. There’s something so freeing about putting a wet brush to canvas, coloring the flower of your dreams and envisioning what emotions you hope to evoke. Even if no one sees your painting, or hears you sing, or watches you dance, if you find joy in your creative outlet, you need to keep doing it.

Being creative keeps our brains sharp. It can make us feel physically better, by keeping us more fit and healthy, or by relieving a headache brought on by stress. It reminds us that we’re people outside of the demands that society places on us.

how to be creative by writing or journaling

Each of us is a unique individual. We express ourselves differently. Our emotions and our words are ours, and ours alone. A creative outlet expands on those emotions and those words and frees us to be who we truly are. When we’re young, we’re often afraid to display our true selves, but as we reach midlife, which is technically 40+ years old now, we stop caring about what others think of us. We start caring more about what we think of ourselves. We want to be sure we do the things we want to do.

A creative outlet doesn’t need to be something you do all the time. It may be something you do once. I surfed a few years back. I had a blast, it was something I wanted to try, I put my heart and soul and my <painful> body into it. (My arms hadn’t hurt so bad since basic training.) I wasn’t great at it, but I did it. I tried it. I’m good never doing it again, but for a day, I was out there on a board, doing it my way…however right or wrong it was. (I stood up twice, so I’ll call that a win.) Some people surf all the time, it’s their creative outlet.

So what’s the difference between having a creative outlet, and having a hobby? Reading is a hobby of mine. I do it daily, and I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t immerse myself in a story, but the creativity in that belongs to the author and/or the illustrator. My only creativity is picking a genre and maybe trying something new, but that doesn’t mean a hobby is any less important than a creative outlet. I like to garden, but there are rules I have to follow to make plants live, so growing my vegetables is a hobby; where I get creative, what I’d truly call a creative outlet, is in the layout of my flower garden, the mix of colors and placement that I choose. Being creative takes a regular hobby up to the next level. It fills the time, fills a need and allows you to try new things.

So, getting back to the point, where do we start in our search for how to be creative again? Look to your roots. What did you like to do before you had kids? Or back it up further. How did you spend your spare time before you got married, got a job, graduated high school?

For me, it was art and music. I used to draw for hours on end, and I’d paint flowers and still life whenever I had the space to make a mess with my art supplies. I’d belt songs out in the car, where no one could hear me, after years of singing in the school choir and playing clarinet in the marching and performance bands. I found real excitement in a clean canvas. As a working mom, I didn’t have time to set up an easel of any size and make a mess, losing myself in staring at the painting as it morphed into what I pictured in my head. Like most moms, there was no sadness in not having the time; I was entirely happy with my role as mom. I appreciated others’ art from a distance, figuring I’d try again. “Someday!”

Today is that someday. It’s your someday too. What do you miss doing? What have you never done but want to try? I’m planning on learning to play the cello. A wise person told me “Why do you say it like you are too old? You’re not dead, go get a darn cello!” I also recently purchased a new palette of watercolors, new pencils, and two spiral sketchbooks. I have zero excuses. I can’t wait to put on some music, stare at the canvas and let the visions come.

We all need to give ourselves the space to be who we are, to experiment, to be creative enough to do something we’ve never done, or to do something that we have done, but in a different way. It can be small things. It can be coloring your hair to an unnatural shade that makes you smile. It can be changing up your outfit into something you may not see in a magazine but that makes you feel comfortable and confident. (I can’t style an OOTD to save my life, but I have found a freedom this last year or so in trying new things. Flowy cotton pants, bolder colors, mixing it up…and breaking out of my rut with mostly black pieces. You can be your own canvas!)

painting ceramics to be creative

Letting ourselves be who we are, instead of suppressing it, is critical. We only have so much time to be ANYthing, so why not be ourselves? Buy the paints. Take the singing class..or don’t, and just start singing. Audition for the community play. Write a poem, a book, song.

I used to make cards and jewelry. I loved giving someone something I’d made. Homemade gifts isn’t necessarily about saving money; it’s about creating something very personal and unique for someone, using their favorite colors, their size, the things you noticed about them that they don’t think you see, and sharing it in a tangible expression of your appreciation. And it’s a cathartic type of artistry, challenging your creativity and inspiring you to keep going.

One last reason why it’s important to have a creative outlet? You get to stop denying yourself the time you deserve. I know some moms who haven’t listened to their inner voice in so long, they don’t have a clue what it is they like to do. They have to do that deep dive into their old interests, or think about what they see around them in the world that looks interesting. A colleague of mine took up pottery; she’d been hunting down a specific set of mugs for months and finally decided she stood a better shot of making something similar than finding them in the store. That turned a need into a positive experience and then into a creative outlet; she now sells sets of mugs online, and she’s doing something that’s different every day. She’s so happy. Who isn’t slightly envious of turning your creative interests into a moneymaking venture that gives you the freedom to create what you want? (She doesn’t do custom orders; she avoids the stress because people choose from what she has and she can continue to create as she wants to.)

I know a woman who dabbled in photography in high school, but got married before finishing college and put the camera down until just a few years ago when she and her husband took a dream trip to the safari. She came back with a renewed interest and now has a budding career as a late-blooming photojournalist in the wildlife field. She’s still learning but she’s selling pieces sporadically while working on her unique photographic style. Her work, to me, is stunning, and I keep telling her that her first photo of a giraffe is mine. (She swears she’s doing a safari tour, and if anyone does, it’s her!)

A creative outlet can get people through down periods of life, periods of loss or sadness or rebuilding after a divorce. It can fill the hole left when the kids move out and your home is too quiet and your most challenging thing is trying to learn to cut meals down to feed just two of you. It can provide peace when you want to escape the world, and inspire you when you’re not feeling your best and lack motivation to get out of bed. It can also work wonders with your physical health, provided you’re realistic with your limitations.

Consider finding a way to bring back your creative side. Everyone has one. It’s there, I promise you. You just need to find the proper outlet, and it may take a few tries. Go easy on yourself. My painting skills are going to need some practice. I may find the cello is harder than I thought, but that’s okay, I’m going to be happy I’m trying it something I’ve dreamed of forever. You need to work on those dreams too.

Age is a number. Midlife isn’t old, and retirement will only give you more time, so in this in-between phase, where you’re still working or only working part-time, you’ve got the ability to start without feeling the need to fill entire days. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.

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