14 Strategies for Creating a Workspace that Kicks Ass and Keeps You Creative

14 Strategies for Creating a Workspace that Kicks Ass and Keeps You Creative

I obsess over my workspace. It’s my sanctuary, my cave, my castle. It’s my personal laboratory for creating impactful, world-shifting work. Thus, I believe if you want to do kickass work, your workspace itself must kickass. Sure, you can create great things in a laundry room or a closet (I wrote my first ebook on a couch and in a grey cubicle), but it’s not ideal.

If you haven’t thought about creating a personal headquarters for great work, now’s a good time. And if you have, there are probably a few tips below you can use.

Here’s a personal checklist for creating a workspace that keeps you inspired, creative and prolific.

  1. Color = energy. My last workspace was filled with color; a cool mint green, to be exact. The energy it gave to the room was inspiring and uplifting. Since I recently moved to Portland, I’m diggin’ my clean white walls, but I know it won’t be long before they’re splattered with color again. What colors inspire you, and how can you incorporate them in your space?
  2. A daily fire library. I’ve gotten into the habit of starting my day with inspirational, fire-lighting reading. Sometimes it’s cheesy self development (like The Magic of Thinking Big) and sometimes it’s a read to get my creative juices flowing (like Do More Great Work). I have a special area of my desk reserved for quick-access to inspiring reading that keeps my inner fire strong. What books never fail to inspire you?
  3. Music that keeps you creative or helps you kick ass. My favorite music for creative work: Manu Delago & Stan Richardson (both instrumental and calm). For work that requires less thinking I like Broken Social Scene, Air and Radiohead.
  4. Let the light shine in. If at all possible, choose a room with a great east facing window. The bigger the better. When I’m looking for a place, this is one of my first considerations. I also make sure there aren’t too many trees hogging all the sun. Lots of natural light brings energy into your space and also makes the best lighting for videos.
  5. Keep it clean. I can’t work with disorder; it fragments my attention. Though I know some people that thrive on a messy space, I’m not one of them.
  6. Map your flow. Have you mapped out your best workflow? This will vary dramatically from writing to design to coaching, so having a map of the different types of work you do regularly is helpful. Not incredibly sexy, but essential for staying organized.
  7. Keep your reasons why where you can see them. For myself this is a list of bright, bold and audacious intentions that keep me pointed in the direction I want to go. This could also be a vision board, your personal manifesto or a simple list of your most important goals. Whatever keeps you focused on what matters, keep it where you can see it.
  8. Get a good chair. Most of us sit for 8+ hours a day. Don’t skimp on the health of the vehicle that helps you do great work (that would be your back). Invest now instead of paying a chiropractor later.
  9. Do the basic ergonomics. Yes, this stuff bores me to tears and it’s probably incredibly overcomplicated, but the basics do make a difference. If nothing else, at least make sure your line of sight is relatively in line with your monitor, and that your wrists make a straight line to your elbows.
  10. Create a space for scheming. I have a nice chaise lounge in my office where I regularly meditate, reflect and devise my epic plans. It’s a nice place to relax on calls with clients and at other times when you don’t need the computer in front of you.
  11. Get the tools you need. If you’re doing recording, invest in a good mic or headset. If you do a lot of video, have your setup always ready so you have the resources on hand that you need. Invest in the tools you need to operate like a professional.
  12. Rock the Feng Shui. You don’t need to bring in a consultant (though you certainly can), just incorporate the basic elements: fire, earth, air, and water. That means candles, plants, fresh air, and a nice (small) fountain.
  13. Notebooks. I track all of my notes, client calls and projects with good old fashioned notebooks. I like Cambridge notebooks. I have one for coaching, and for projects and planning, and I keep them within easy reach at all times. If you don’t use notebooks, what do you use to keep track of things?
  14. Vision statement. This is something I’m working on for my headquarters as a kind of self-created stamp that represents my work. It makes my space more personal because it’s a direct expression of the ethos of Illuminated Mind. It’s a work in progress, but you can see a preview here. I also have the painting my sister did for the cover of Reclaim Your Dreams on my bookshelf. Can you do something like this to make your space more meaningful?

Every few months I take some time to look at my space see if it’s still a reflection of my vision and supports the work that I’m doing. Style and design is powerful, and it should always be functional.

If you haven’t done this yet, I recommend taking out a full day to get your space groovin’.

So I’m curious: what kind of workspace helps you stay creative, productive and inspired?

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Eric Grey February 24, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Great article, man. The music is KEY for me and I’ve been neglecting it. I hadn’t heard about Stan Richardson, but listening to a sample, it sounds like the kind of music I use during treatments! Bonus!

One thing that I’ve found pretty critical is to avoid giving myself full view of compelling outdoor and indoor areas (like my bed, interesting Hawthorne Blvd shops/people and so on) when I’m working on tough projects. I need to keep a little bit cut off in those situations – similar to not listening to music with words.

The one thing I hadn’t considered is the vision statement. I’m really going to have to think about doing something like this because with two businesses undergoing growth and development, keeping symbols of that trajectory could be a HUGE booster.

Thanks again! Stumbled.

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Garrett February 24, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Eric – when you say Hawthorne Blvd., do you mean in southern california?

Jonathan February 25, 2011 at 9:18 am

Thanks for stopping by Eric. Music is something I neglect sometimes when I get really caught up in work. But I always find it more interesting when a project I’m working on has a soundtrack.

Tessa February 24, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Cool my fav are lots of light and kick ass music!

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Anu February 24, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Hi Friends,

Something that keeps me focused and on track is a Personal Brand Statement – something that represents me or something that I aspire to represent.

Mine is “Infinite Possibilities” and it really helps when I am stuck at work (or any other place for that matter) with a situation which seems daunting.

I have also spoken about this with my peers and while each has a varied Statement, apparently it really helps to bring out THEIR best in any given situation – work or otherwise.

Regards,
Anu

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Jonathan February 25, 2011 at 9:20 am

I like that Anu. Possibility is a nice thing to wake up to. Especially when those possibilities become realized through the day.

Amy Tirion February 24, 2011 at 6:46 pm

What a great checklist! Especially the chair . . .which is sooo basic, but has been a silent nuisance for so long.
I let my wireless lead me to the sun through out the day. And my daily fire is a deck of personal “oracle” cards I’ve create to help me quickly tap into the inner wisdom we all have. The deck is filled with quotes or gems of wisdom that I love that help set the tone for the day.

Thank you!
Amy Tirion
delightforthesoul.com

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Anne Samoilov February 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Great, timely article. Since moving to a new place…which has been several months, I have yet to establish my space. I feel so out of sorts sometimes because I feel like I’m trying to find the spot in the house that makes me feel the creative energy flow.

Today – I realized that this a crucial step I need to take and really own my space.

Thanks for reminding & inspiring me.
:) Anne

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Dike Drummond February 24, 2011 at 7:14 pm

I really like the music on the iTunes radio channel under the “Ambient” heading called ASTRAL.

It is perfect for reading, writing, journaling and most excellent for anything creative.

Dike

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Jonathan February 25, 2011 at 9:22 am

Sometimes I forget about iTunes radio, thanks for the recommendation.

Charley Forness February 24, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Thanks for the tip on Manu Delago music. I’d been listening to Stan Richardson for several months while doing work but I prefer percussive sounds like Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum. Delago with the Hang Drum is beautiful. Made In Silence is a fine musical addition for my sanctuary.

= Charley

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Jonathan February 25, 2011 at 9:22 am

Yeah, Manu is the man. I had a chance to see him play live at a small show in Eagle Rock. If you ever get a chance it’s an incredible experience.

marianney | A Life Set Free February 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm

This really is a great list. Unfortunately I am still in a plain ole cube most of the day, but I can use these suggestions at home, which one day will be my full time spot! I do at least have tons of pictures of places I’ve been, want to go so that keeps me motivated :)

I’m not positive I understand #6. Could you elaborate?

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Adam King February 25, 2011 at 9:16 am

I used to struggle with that too. “What’s a work flow?” But, (and maybe Johnathan will back me up) knowing the system you use to get certain types of work done and mapping it out for you to reference.

Say you’re a print designer. Your process for design, layout, and publishing of posters will be different for magazines. So you make a list or map of the different steps to get you there efficiently.

Hope that helps.

Jonathan February 25, 2011 at 9:26 am

Basically it’s a way to structure your thinking around work that is core to what you do. For me, two of those things are coaching and writing. With writing my flow is to have a space where I cultivate ideas (like a content vault spreadsheet), then those ideas often get turned into a mindmap, then a draft, then edited, and then proofed and published by my wife.

For coaching I also have a flow for preparing, getting in the right mindset, and logging notes after our session in a CRM.

This is pretty simplified version, but it’s nice to know what the basic flow is for your work to get more perspective around it and make it more efficient / effective.

Maybe this is something I should write about. :)

Mel February 24, 2011 at 9:09 pm

I love music and it really drives and inspires me, but I don’t invest in discovering the right music… so thank you for the list!

As for notebooks… I have several, and I use them, lose them, forget them when I need them. I recently shelled out the dollars to purchase “Things” by Cultured Code for my MacBook Pro and my iPhone. Boy, has it changed my life. I always have my phone, so I always have my list. At 8am my phone chirps, reminding me of my list for the day. It’s a beautiful thing. And if I need to take a lot of notes, I do so on paper and then transcribe appropriately into Things. If it’s not digital, it may not be with me.

I’m newish here, enjoying your blog very much. Oh, and I totally second the “buy a good chair” tip. Love my Leap.

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Jen McGahan February 24, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Ouch, right in my Achilles’s heel! Been so busy, I can’t even bear to go into my office these days. The bad energy, bad ergonomics, bad feng shui, etc. palpably chased me into the dining room; I’m degenerating in here now.

I wanna be like you. So I’m saving these tips…right here on top of this pile. Thanks!

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Chris Ginsburg February 24, 2011 at 10:46 pm

I’m liking the suggestions. You don’t really notice how effective changing your surroundings can be until you go through with it. I like to think of it as an endless loop. We perceive our surroundings based on our beliefs and our surroundings in turn influence our beliefs. By changing whats around you, you can alter what thoughts, feelings and urges bubble to your consciousness. Do it in the right way and bam, increased motivation, well-being and productivity.

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Heather Dakota February 25, 2011 at 5:16 am

Oh, I so needed to hear this. My work space is a mess, with a capital M! There’s stuff on the floor, my desk, and shelves. Sadly, there is very little ME! I had already designated this weekend as “clean the studio” time. So, thanks for the hints and tips. They’ll certainly come in handy!!

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Adam King February 25, 2011 at 5:58 am

Great tips. A lot of folks don’t think to engineer a space to create the results they desire, but success is anchored in the mind, and without the proper physical reinforcements within your space, you risk losing that vision.

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Randy Johnson February 25, 2011 at 6:20 am

Great read man! First time on your site and I like it already. Mars Dorian forwarded me here and I’m glad I checked it out.

I totally agree with instrumental music. Just a couple days ago I wrote a post about music. I neglected to include anything about the type of music I listen to when I’m being productive. Usually it’s none but I do love instrumentals. Hearing words gets me too sidetracked.

And you just helped me decide on an office chair. I’ve been wanting this real comfortable one for a few hundred but my wallet always says find one for $50. I know a nice one is going to be better for me and last a long time. It’s time to invest!

I like having my pool table in the basement and my custom truck out in the garage. When I need inspiration or a creative release, I go to those places. Cheers!

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Andrew Rogers February 25, 2011 at 9:11 am

It’s kind of prosaic, but the fact that I work out of a dedicated space in my house and can claim the home-office tax deduction makes it easier to justify the cost of things like a good chair or the tech tools I need.

Like Dike above, I listen to an iTunes stream a lot, but in my case it’s Frequences Relaxation, also under Ambient.

Finally, when you’re thinking color, don’t forget rugs. They can add a splash while also keeping your feet warm if you don’t have wall-to-wall.

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Laurie February 25, 2011 at 10:52 am

Thanks for the very cool list, Jonathan! My writing “workspace” changes all the time; have laptop, will travel. As long as I have some great tunes and something beautiful to look at, I’m good to go. I find I write better when the scenery changes.

My current favorite music is the Canadian band Great Lake Swimmers…people keep telling me they have a Radiohead vibe, only more mellow and Americana-esque. They’ve really been inspiring me for the past few months.

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Benito Ponce February 25, 2011 at 11:06 am

Awesome tips. Simple and effective. I need to do something about my basic ergonomics. My laptop is so low that I have to scrunch down, and my back is paying for it. No bueno.

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Sean February 25, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Great list Jonathan! Music, light, books, and organization all a must for me!

My favorite music to get me in production mode is Muse and Streetlight Manifesto. “The Science of Getting Rich” always gets me going and staying focused.

I like that you mentioned notebooks. I’ve had a conflict lately thinking I should leave the ‘ol paper behind and just go digital. But I think more creative juices flow if I actually use a pen and paper though. It’s nice to know someone else does it too!

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The Dame February 25, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Thanks for this post! Its so important to enjoy where you work. Ive recently moved into a larger room with a couch in it and been able to decorate it in a pleasing colour scheme and now that its tulip and daffodil season, I have gorgeous flowers to uplift me! I also burn incense now and then.

Just need to get a large corkboard so I can start pinning my vision board!

I’ll be adding a link to this article to my weekly links post on Friday :)

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Tenis Oakley February 28, 2011 at 8:34 am

NICE TIPS! And I like most first. Never thought about paint my wall’s workspace, but defitinily love this and some day will do.

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Caroline Galway March 1, 2011 at 2:59 am

Great tips, The biggest one for me is natural light. As a photographer I need it but more importantly even when Im doing admin work the light helps my mood.

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Enrico Bertini March 2, 2011 at 3:14 am

Thanks for letting me discover Manu Delago … I cannot remember when was the last time I was so excited by a new artist. I love it.

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Dustin March 2, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Jonathan,

I have an eastern facing window out here in Vancouver, Washington that looks out on a park. There is nothing better than working in the morning with a cup of coffee and some sunlight shining in the window. It makes me feel good about my work without feeling like I’m missing out on everything happening outside my office.

Reading is also huge for me. Over the years I’ve accumulated a massive collection of inspirational and creative books. Many of them I read over and over again. Coming back to these books helps me to remember what is important and what my vision is.

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Hani March 3, 2011 at 11:13 am

I know what you mean about the notebook and light! I love notebooks and can’t think if I’m not scribbling in them at the same time.

And am moving my desk to a spot in front of a big window that gets the awesome Spanish morning sun (currently it’s in a corner and I was wondering why I was a lil glum lol)

I have a little picture holder (which is a clip attached to a wooden penguin) that I use to clip on my daily MITs and keep that in front of me so I can always keep track of my to-dos.

I work on video, so I also have arranged my hard drives so that it’s easy to access them. I hate having to worry where to plug in / pull out / attach HDs and other stuff when I’m in the flow.

Great list Jonathan!

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Adrienne March 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Hey Jonathan,

I enjoyed reading your take on a great work area. Unfortunately for me, I have a small one bedroom condo and my office is in my bedroom. BUT, I’m annoyingly organized and I have no clutter anywhere. I like the bright clean white walls so I’m not a big color person. But I do have a plant on my desk as well and I make my own candles so it’s a pleasant space. I also have big windows and mostly work by natural light. I like it quiet when I work and it’s just so peaceful here for me. But someday I do plan on buying a bigger place and having my very own office.

Thanks for your tips and I’m going to be downloading your ebook. Sounds like a great read!

Have an awesome afternoon.

Adrienne

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Gemma March 4, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I love the idea of the daily library. I should work on that habit. There’s never too much inspiration.

My space is light green. Green’s my favourite color to surround myself with, it’s calming and inspiring at the same time.

Great list of tips!

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Eugene March 4, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Comfortable, quiet, and clean. That’s it!

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Air Jordan 2 (II) March 7, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Sometimes I forget about iTunes radio, thanks for the recommendation.

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Marco Lee March 8, 2011 at 2:29 am

This is nice! My personal favorites are “Get a good chair” (for back pains. lol)and “Get the tools you need.”

What kind of workspace helps you stay creative, productive and inspired?

In my case, I sometimes like to vary my work place. Sometimes it would be in my room and sometimes outdoors or sometimes I get out and share it with people.

Sometimes people tend to get tired with their surroundings and a variations would help.

I also like to take with me my tools such as pen, paper or notebooks and my calendar/reminders.

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Discomint March 9, 2011 at 12:55 am

Is it weird that I listen to rock and rap when I’m working? Not a fan of quiet places.

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Nea | Self Improvement Saga March 10, 2011 at 10:14 pm

This is right on time for me. I just relocated and I’ve been having an issue with getting my work done in the new environment. Some of your tips will do me good.

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arina nikitina March 15, 2011 at 4:10 am

WOW! Thanks for reminding me I need to get my work station remodeled, re-structured and re-furnished NOW! I’ve worked with the tan cube and dark brown lines for a few years, lived with the two small windows and love the same chair design. But with the recent changes and more work load, a new taller building blocking my volume of sun and light, plus, I don’t wanna grow tired of my work place before I change it, the need for an overhaul is in order. Excited for the BIG window and two work chairs! Gotta go, Jonathan. But before that, I hope you won’t need to remind me to travel where people from back home would get their minds blown. :)

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Radman March 16, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Great piece. Made me think about my environment. No fountain though – it will just make me want to pee.

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amyputkonen July 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Hello Jonathan,

This list is great and inspiring and I can’t share what my workspace looks like because there isn’t really one that I claim as such and that needs to change! You are right. I hope you are enjoying Portland! Sounds like a cool spot.

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amyputkonen July 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Hello Jonathan,

This list is great and inspiring and I can’t share what my workspace looks like because there isn’t really one that I claim as such and that needs to change! You are right. I hope you are enjoying Portland! Sounds like a cool spot.

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anna.o November 1, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Great ideas. I want to know how to ‘map my workflow’ – sounds great, but I have no idea how to go about doing it.

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dollygarland April 1, 2012 at 3:56 am

I would love to hear more about your “map my workflow”. The idea seems appealing, but not sure how you do it. 
 
I don’t currently have an office, so I have just stolen the living room :-) It looks more like a library with piles of books everywhere, which I don’t mind. But I would like bit more order. With lack of storage space it’s not entirely possible in this room, but surrounded by books is my inspiration. 

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teresacapaldo April 1, 2012 at 7:35 am

This is wonderful Jonathan and your Vision Statement board is impressive.  It seems to reflect your company beautifully and truthfully.  Thank you for this thoughtful post.  I am inspired by each line.

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MitchMahoney May 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Jonathan, the communication of keys in this post is ultra smooth. Keeping reasons “why” in your view at all times is very powerful to keep your energy flow in the direction you desire. I have experienced some amazing things by using my Visionboard, also known as a Dreamboard.

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sophie rocher September 10, 2012 at 7:37 am

Nice one! Yeah it’s essential for anyone to have a beloved workspace. To me:
*Good tools
*Comfy
*Quiet

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Lakesha October 9, 2012 at 4:02 am

Hello, its pleasant piece of writing concerning media print, we all know media
is a impressive source of information.

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Ian Plumlee February 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Great article! I recently took a day out of my schedule to reassess my office both at home and at work. There were SOOO many things that, upon close scrutiny, were more detrimental to my workspace than anything, and most of these items I thought were necessary to have around while I was working. After a few hours of rearranging and organizing, I feel much more focused and I can tell that my workflow is far more streamlined than before. Its truly the little things that make all the difference.

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Mike July 16, 2013 at 11:35 am

Absolutely in love with this site. From design to typography to content and excitement/learning. Another great article! I am currently in an awesome coffee shop i’ve never been before, in a new city, in a different country. #CHANGE Environment is EVERYTHING for me.

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Viktor November 10, 2013 at 7:24 pm

I like this article. Some of it doesn’t really help me since I love disorganization but the natural light thing really helped me. I listen to Skid Row’s first album for hours and hours on repeat while I work. It helps a LOT.

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Eric Grey February 24, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Garrett,

Nope – Portland!

Eric

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marianney | A Life Set Free February 25, 2011 at 9:40 am

Thank you for elaborating for me Adam and Jonathan. I think I know what you’re saying, but would love to see more about it if you get around to writing about it! :)

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