On the east coast, and New York in particular, August is more than a month; it’s a state of mind. Many people head for the nearest body of water, but even in the city, August has a looser, easy feeling. I wasn’t raised here, though, so I’m conflicted: I love all the August things, especially the thing where you sit for many hours on a rusty beach chair that is so low to the ground that you require assistance to get up, munching potato chips and reading waterlogged New Yorkers. But in the midwestern parts of my brain, August is Back-To-School, time to straighten up and fly right.
So I do both. The first half-weekend of August, I got stuck in a beach chair for a whole afternoon, but only after I’d cleared out Kay’s Arts and Crafts Hidey-Hole.
As you know, I do these crafty clear-outs periodically—they cleanse the soul, and the process goes faster with each repeat. Over the past 18 months, things had gotten bad enough that all craftable surfaces were stacked with random knitting, sewing, needlepoint, and potholder-weaving materials. I wanted to make pajama bottoms using Sonya Philip’s trouser pattern in The Act of Sewing, and the only way to get the elbow room to do that was to clear up the whole mess.
I do not have a before picture; I am always too demoralized by All Of This [makes sweeping gesture of helplessness] to take a before picture.
This is the after picture.
It makes me so happy to be able to use the ping pong table to assemble pajama parts, as the Good Lord intended!
Here are my top tips on how to clear out a craft space with minimum angst and overwhelm.
Set a time limit
Give yourself a limited window of time, ideally two or three hours. That is all the concentrated sorting-and-stewing a mortal can bear. A time limit will make you work faster, and the task will seem less enormous. You don’t need to get it all done in one go, and you will be pleasantly surprised by how much improvement can come from a well-aimed blast of organizational energy.
Phone a friend
Don’t go it alone. Ideally, have a buddy with you, in person or on the phone. I had my niece. She couldn’t help me with decisions like “keep or donate?”—it was all random stuff to her—but her cheerful presence kept negativity at bay, and an extra pair of hands is helpful for tasks like collecting tote bags in the Tote Bag de Tutti Tote Bags, returning needles to mason jars, books to shelves, etc.
Start by clearing a bit of storage space
Instead of tackling the piles right at the start, I spent a few minutes going through storage cabinets and bins, in search of space for the stuff I would keep. I was surprised to find that there was some space there already because I had used up some of those stored materials. I also found that it was easy to decide to donate some of the things that had been stored for a long time without me ever wanting them.
It’s not about getting rid of stuff
You can keep every single thing if you want to. The goal here is just to get it off your work surfaces, and into some kind of rough order that will make your life easier. For me, that sometimes means letting something go, but just as often it simply needs to go back where it belongs.
Easy decisions only
You will make huge improvements in your space just by making the easy decisions, so make all the easy decisions you can.
An example of a decision that is easy for me: yarn left over from finished projects. I didn’t keep it intentionally—I didn’t think about it at all—so it’s very easy to put it on the donate pile.
Another easy decision: tried and true favorites. (See, e.g., Lopi, Felted Tweed.) I’ve used them so often over the years that I know I’ll want to use them again, so it’s an easy decision to keep them. I try to find homes for the “keeps” as quickly as I can, so that they’re not in the way.
Don’t force yourself to make hard decisions—that stops forward progress. If you can’t decide whether to hold onto a bag of yarn for a project you’re no longer sure you want to make, don’t decide right now. Put that project in the pile I call “living on borrowed time.” Here’s my borrowed time collection:
I’m going to keep seeing that stuff every time I’m in the room. Eventually I’ll know what I want to do with each item. Chances are, I’ll either pick it up and start working on it, or I’ll be ready to let it go at the next clear-out.
No complicated cataloguing
Is it nice to have your yarn sorted by fiber and weight and even color? Yes, but it’s also a way to get bogged down. Keep your eyes on the prize: clearing surfaces, eliminating the truly excess, keeping like with like—and doing it quickly. Sort things in large broad categories: yarn, fabric, rug-hooking stuff. If you’ve already got a box for souvenir sock yarn, by all means use it, but don’t sit down on the floor and start looking at labels. Stay upright! Keep moving!
Be prepared for fun surprises
I think many of us are stressed out by our stashes, but there is gold in them hills. A few of the nice surprises I found were: an Alabama Chanin top cut out and ready to stitch up, two pillow forms that exactly fit two patchwork cushion covers I made years ago, and 111 (!) Noro Silk Garden squares that I don’t remember knitting but apparently want to be a blanket.
If anybody remembers what my plan was, please let me know. Olive is no help.
The next morning, I stuck the pillows in the covers, applied Wonder Clips (using them is a reward in itself, so satisfying), and sewed them shut.
Thanks for the instant cushions, Kay of the past!
Let go of perfectionism
Your craft space is a work and play space. You are not going to be having a judgmental person over for tea in it, and Architectural Digest is not sending over a photographer.
The goal is to have some clear space to work in peace on the projects you want to make, which improves your life more than any Pinterest-worthy color-coding could ever do. A crinkly pile of fat quarters you washed in 2012 but still need to iron—as a purely hypothetical example—is a welcome part of the studio ambiance.
It’s worth it
There are big gains to be had from spending a couple of hours doing a clear out, even if you do not complete the job. I now have renewed clarity about the materials I’ve got, and I’m having fun thinking about my “borrowed time” projects, with no pressure to decide right away. I’ve resolved to iron a few of those hypothetical fat quarters to use up the water in my steam iron every time I iron a shirt. And I’m excited about finishing the surprises that just need an hour or two of attention, which are now neatly stacked so I can find them. (Round cushion inserts, your Wonder Clips moment is coming.)
Best of all: I’m making pajama bottoms out of stashed yardage that I bought with the intention of backing quilts with it. A huge win!