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Dear Ann,

Good news! I’ve invented a whole new category of self-improvement. I’m calling it knitting as tidying.

A highlight of my childhood Octobers was Most Moisturized Mom violently tearing up our house in an epic rager of fall cleaning. The air would be thick with the smell of paste wax and wax remover (not in that order), plus Mr. Clean (with whom MMM honestly was on first-name terms), Clorox, ammonia—all the chemicals of cleanliness.  The kitchen furniture would get dragged into the living room, everything in the bedrooms would move into the hallways, and each room would be scrubbed from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, light fixtures dis-and re-assembled, screens popped out and back in, and on and on. Hands, knees, ladders—whatever it took. MMM did most of this labor without help from anybody, but we all felt pride in a fresh-as-heck house, and in the force of nature that we called mom. Pastor Danitschek, if you were ever going to drop by unannounced, that would have been the time!

Needless to say, I am not my mom and I don’t have anything near the right stuff to emulate her seasonal show of strength. Although I do get the urge to tear the place apart, wipe it down, and put it back together, I can satisfy it by cleaning out one spot, a corner, even a drawer—a homeopathic approach to the ancestral ailment.

This tidying impulse struck recently when an artist told me that yes, she could actually use a bunch of yarn for a project she was doing at the local high school. I started going through my shaggy, slumping craft room, harvesting yarn and getting the urge to really set the place to rights. My friend was willing to accept yarn in the form of unfinished knitting, so I took the opportunity to cull out projects I knew I would never finish, extracting the needles (with a thrilling “zipppp”) and tossing the UFOs in the bag(s) with the yarn.

And then, on the sagging disused ping pong table, I found:

The yarn: Tov DK. The colors: a random mix of single skeins and leftovers I had on hand. (Tidying!)

My Cuatro Wrap! I started it last October on the drive home from our adventures at Wool & Folk and Rhinebeck. I raced through it and then, halfway through the fourth of four triangles—I ceased knitting on it entirely. How could I have left something so lovely, and so nearly done, undone?

So, I made the sacrifice of stopping all cleaning and organizing, and sat down immediately to finish it. It will be done a full year after I started it, but just in time for a friend’s significant October birthday.

And that, my friend, is my fall cleaning tip. Clean if you must, but the minute you encounter an unfinished knit, sit down and finish it. It’s the tidy thing to do.



P.S. I did manage to get the yarn delivered to my artist friend.


  • Marie Kondo step aside – tidying up by knitting is definitely joyful!

  • Best “cleaning” advice ever! ;^)

  • I went through that a couple of years ago – I faced myself honestly and admitted that some of those UFOs were never going to get finished and that I was tired of the guilt of them staring at me longingly from the shelf. I ripped them out and started finishing the ones I knew I still wanted! I felt so much lighter! I also finished a couple – still a few to go, but at least they’re projects I still like, not ones I’m avoiding.

  • Please have your MMM come to my house!

    • Alas those days are over, MMM expects others to move the stove and fridge for her….

    • Hoping my house is on the way to yours!

  • Oh you lucky knitters who have a craft room!! What a joy that must be…in any condition. Frumpy, slumpy or bursting!!! I don’t have a craft room but I do have cute tote bags in most every room with a UFO in each bag. They are the Bain of my days as I work on fall socks!!
    I love your tidying advice and am going to search through those projects and send them on their way to a new craft room!!! Happy knitting.

    • It has to be said that I’m the only one who thinks it’s my craft room lol! If you put enough craft stuff in a room, it’s a craft room.

      • Gosh that means my house is one big craft room. What a great way to think of it. I like my stuff to be accessible. I do keep it in order though. No messy piles anywhere. Just neat and pretty bags or baskets. I love baskets.

    • I’m so with you. Tote bags of all manner everywhere!

      • The tote bags are a moveable feast!

        • Kay, I love this tribute to MMM, and will bookmark it with I made my Dad a sweater! You warm my heart!

  • I love remembering the small of wax – from my childhood, and not from my current life! #cleanifyoumust – there is always delicious knitting. x

    • As someone who grew up in a family with a furniture business, I have strong views on wax, but I shall keep them to myself! Enjoy the memories.

      • MMM ruined so much furniture with Lemon Pledge that it doesn’t bear thinking about. But the wax was for the old-school linoleum tile floor of the kitchen. She’d build it up and then strip it down, over and over.

  • “a homeopathic approach to the ancestral ailment..” PRICELESS! This letter is a gem, Kay. I’m in the middle of a stash/UFO reckoning and this now gives me a name for the knitting I’m doing…tidying…something I’ve never been accused of

    • Ditto! I never realized my cleaning style was grounded in a medical model- homeopathy!

  • How I love reading your posts! Love your writing style and outlook on life although, for purposes of transparency, I am a bit like you MMM. My Kids once visited dear neighbors on Christmas morning after a huge breakfast and announced that Mom was vacuuming the shower. Now that I am at the stage of life where (almost) not much that once mattered, matters, I can follow my heart and not worry abo9ut the dust in the shower. Warm Regards from Haverford, PA. Happy Tidying!

    • I follow a few cleaning accounts on Instagram just for the vicarious vacuuming of all the things! I’m sure you’ve given your kids fantastic memories. One of the funny memories from my husband’s shiva (of course it’s possible to have funny moments in a super sad time, we know this from Steel Magnolias) is all the New Yorkers who were in amazement and mildly horrified by the Nebraskans swiffering in the kitchen as they mourned. Cleaning = love in our family culture. New baby? Go clean their house. Death in the family? Go clean their house.

      • That is some solid advice for Big Life Events, Kay! I can only add to your beautiful brief list, when someone has surgery, go clean their house; if someone’s getting chemo, put a mask on and go clean their house; & last but not least, if someone’s struggling with mental health issues & hasn’t been able to take care of themselves or their home, offer to do some laundry & (everybody all together now) go clean their house! Feel the swiffin love

      • Quick memory-I was the opposite of your MMM-too busy with more pressing things (the park with my kids, creativity, college courses) so I cleaned as necessary. As I wiped up the spilled matter on the floor, I’d relieve the tension by saying, ‘now you’ve done it, you’ve made a clean spot on the floor!’ Life is too short to stress about the inevitable. And I also love the phrase ‘homeopathic…..ancestral ailment.’ Clever beyond words! And so true!

  • This brings back so many memories of my mom doing her fall cleaning, especially the smell of paste wax and wax remover!! And the hurricane pace of it all. I am with you, though, with the WIPS!

  • Seriously, our mothers were twin sisters of different mothers! (And now I’ll be queueing up that Fogelberg/Weisberg album on the Spotify.)

    • It’s fun to remember their glory days, isn’t it? FORCE OF NATURE

  • “Dull women have immaculate homes” That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

    • You’ve got that one right!

  • One better – I have yarn for that project. It’s in a bag. Not on needles.

    Yours is lovely.

    I think my brain froze on thoughts of how to make it ‘petite.’ Went from mindless knitting to the kind one often needs to ‘have to think.’

    So, finishing UFOs and knitting gifts.
    Le Sigh.

  • Great essay! Loved MMM, because I was her for many years, and I have the urge now. Also loved the “noise” of pulling out needle from unfinished project!
    Have fun at Rhinebeck! Diane

  • My LYS hosts a “Finishing Frenzy” twice a year and the next one is scheduled to being on Oct 15th, so I’m currently going through my bins and deciding which WIPs will be finished this time around. The idea is that you sign up to finish a specified number of projects that are already on hooks or needles by the start of the Frenzy — it might be something you began on Oct 14th or a project that has been in a bag for 20 years … maybe it only needs a button sewed on or a few ends woven in or maybe it’s the entire body of a sweater … whatever … you decide. You have 6 weeks to finish the projects you’ve signed up to complete, monitored through weekly check-ins and Leaderboards that are sent to everyone who signed up. It can be as competitive as you want to make it or laid-back and gentle, but it sure is satisfying to look back at all the finished bits that help with “tidying up.” I love the Fall Finishing Frenzy best because it’s a great way to get holiday gifts finished up (and stash reduced, so I know what to put on my own wish list) before the real holiday craziness begins!

  • Ah! What worthy advice. All those chemicals and cleaning are not good for us. Knitting is soothing and meditative….so much better for us. Thanks for this wisdom.

  • The mothers in my childhood neighborhood seemed to compete as to how much furniture could be hauled outside on the lawn as the houses were Spring/Fall cleaned. This happened twice a year in my memories.
    I’ve never done that. But I also won’t finish a project until it’s done. I’m a hybrid.

  • What is Mr. Clean’s first name?

    • She’s not telling.

  • It must be the season, I did this very thing this weekend and it was so satisfying but I never could’ve summed it up in words or justified it as well as you did!

  • ❤️

  • Brilliant – just my kind of good advice!

  • Yeah, that’s my problem. I consider knitting to be very slowly tidying up my yarn. Which, of course, leaves me with nothing else done!!

  • Great cleaning tips! That wrap is going to be gorgeous.

  • Oh what a wonderful memory stimulator! My mom had a vacuuming rule …everyday we’d vac the living room rug so it would look great when dad came home from work. But, she never dusted the wood floor around the edges. Dust bunnies abounded. LOL.
    I’ve been ruled by that unfinishedness ever since. I’m 85 now and have stashes of multiple textile projects waiting, waiting… hummm.
    Thanks for your inciteful message! It may be time for me to do an overdue cleaning….

  • If only I could even find the Cuatro Wrap kit I purchased from MDK. The field guide is right here in my knitting bookshelf but that yarn is stuffed away…in the armoire shelves? Under any of the beds? In one of the closets? Maybe it is time for Spring Cleaning of 2017. Sigh.

    • It will pop up just when you really need it!

  • OMG just hit a major score in my Pile Of Things Yet To Finish: my Rhinebeck sweater! The one that I intended to finish for last year’s Rhinebeck needs only a ribbed hem and I will be golden. I can’t really understand what happened that I was exactly two inches from glory yet did not arrive at glory last year. Not gonna worry about it now, just feeling chuffed to have a new sweater in one night . . .

  • Please note that Kay is talking about only the UFOs in her craft room. She carefully avoids mentioning any UFOs tucked under the beds, behind the sofa, in the bathroom vanity, in the freezer, etc.

    • In the freezer? Heehee!

  • Just love this! I don’t remember the smell of wax paste so much (I’m sure there was some), but I do remember the ammonia. And I love your definition of tidying, Kay – let’s just say I have a LOT of tidying to do, and I can’t wait to get started!

    • Pine Sol is the smell of clean to me, courtesy of Mom.

  • This. Is GREAT advise!

  • a homeopathic approach to the ancestral ailment.
    that makes my day – and i shall apply that approach, which is obviously rather scientific

  • Quotation from the late great Ann Richards:
    “I did not want my tombstone to read, ‘She kept a really clean house.'”

  • I love this article and the wrap that Kay finished. I love the colors of the yarn. I was recently going through my knitting library and came over several books that I hadn’t read recently, that is over 10-15 years ago. It was refreshing to reread The Zen and the Art of Knitting. I love the knitting patterns at the beginning of each chapter and I love the chapter on the Waldorf Schools, that teach knitting to children through the grades. My mother started me and my siblings on how to do crafts at an early age, crocheting, sewing, painting, working with clay, etc. Of course, we read a lot and went to the library a lot. Today, so many people seem to be at a loss as to how to create things if it isn’t on a screen or a cell phone.

  • My dad works in IT and one of the things he’s always talking about is how “too many open loops”–ie, too many WIPs!–is a drain on your energy and productivity. So in my goals for this month I have finishing some knits on that list! My Sei cowl will FINALLY get blocked as will a bunch of other items!

    • I was on a campaign to finish WIPs this fall and was making great progress… until my husband asked me to make him a watch cap in the colors of his favorite NFL team. On of my finished objects was a Musselburgh hat and it gave him the idea.

      On the plus side, I had yarn in stash (polish the halo!) and it will likely take me about a week to make. He rarely asks for knit stuff, so I’m happy to drop everything, including housework, to get right on it. 🙂

  • What an awesome concept! I am going to go through my WorksInProgress and ask myself if I still love it?! And if the answer is no or not so much I am going to abandon unwind and otherwise get rid of it!! Thank you! I just needed permission and You gave it to me! Yay!

  • When visiting my daughter recently, we went through all of her hand knits (by me). Soaked everything she still loves and wears, and we laid them out to dry (and ran a dryer full of towels!). I brought home the no longer worn ones and need to decide what to do with the unloved. I may reclaim some of the yarn and will probably donate a few items.

  • On the topic of craft rooms .. a fellow Guild member gifted me with a plaque that says “Told my husband all my yarn fits nicely into one box and he said to stop calling our house a box.” If the ball of yarn fits …..

    • I am definitely passing this on to my daughter. Not that her husband would complain, he sews. And my granddaughter is the lucky recipient.

    • Where’s the lie?!

  • Love your cleaning method. I can’t imagine your MMM’s cleaning.

  • I just moved from Denver to Eugene,Oregon and I hired the worst movers on the planet and you can’t believe what I have found and yarn mixed with cables of all kinds is a joy to toss out when your patience left you weeks ago. Now I know why some people stay in the same place forever

  • Laughed out loud at “homeopathic approach!”

  • I was going through a tote of yarn to donate last month. At the bottom I found two crosstitch projects, a mini quilt and a felt Christmas stocking! All almost done. In two weeks I completed three of the four. I have no idea why I put them aside and never finished at the time! One was a cross-stitch sampler commemorating our 20th wedding anniversary! In 2004!

  • I SO agree with you. Dirt will always be with us, but the urge to finish a WIP is a fleeting thing and not to be ignored. Your MMM and my 60-plus grandma were the same. She would climb ladders to wash second floor windows, a three-step process using a squirt bottle, a squeegee, and a chamois, with one or the other of her grandchildren in attendance holding the tools and steadying the ladder. To this day I happily gaze through vaguely besmirched windows gleefully sitting with my knitting on my lap. No window guilt at all.

    • Window guiltless! I love it, and I feel it.

  • Cleaning and organizing segues beautifully into knitting and”unknitting.” I love it! Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Good for you to finish your project.

  • Love your philosophy, Kay. I just finished my brioche Honeycomb scarf and am finishing tonight a pair of brioche wrist warmers… wearing the first completed one now as I type this, and just finished binding off the second one. Both projects were half done a year ago last June when I was in a car accident, the result of another driver falling asleep on the road. My SIL rescued my knitting bags of WIPs from my poor totaled pickup truck, and I couldn’t bring myself to open the bags until more than a year passed. But I finally got to work on them and now wear the honeycomb scarf and one mitt (two mitts by tomorrow) with great pleasure. Newer UFOs will be next on my list. Tidying up never felt so good!

  • Thanks, Kay! It’s time for me to finish the Hadley Pullover from Field Guide No. 2.

  • Yes.

    You definitely have your priorities right.

  • “ homeopathic approach to the ancestral ailment..” was my laugh-out-loud over tea moment this morning. I had a private lesson yesterday with a woman who was knitting-as-tidying but we didn’t know what to call it. My role was identify where she was on a project and lay out the next steps. Mary Maxim intarsia Christmas stocking, anyone??

  • terrific writing! and funny!

  • This was right on target for me! On Thursday, I decided to clean out my knitting bag. I am frogging 1 UFO and finishing 3 more projects. One item needed only a button. The other projects are fingerless mitts and I only need to finish the thumbs!

    Feels so good!

  • I like where your head is at. When my family complains that I’m always knitting. My response will be “I’m cleaning.”

  • Great idea. Keep them coming.

  • Thank you, Kay! Now I have new language to justify knitting instead of cleaning! Even newly purchased yarn, so fetchingly sitting on my project table, would qualify as “tidying by knitting.” The Treeline Cowl bundle, perhaps?

    As well, I really should find some yarn to gift to creative reuse recipients.

  • This year I chose to focus on my WIP pile – I decided the double digits was a bit out of hand! And some of that was due to dragging my feet on frogging things. I’m happy to say that I’ve been hovering around 5 or less WIP’s the last few months and am slowly making progress on the WIP’s that I have left.
    On the yarn stash side, I had a need to downsize my stash to fit in a smaller space. I bagged the yarn by projects queued (thanks Ravelry!) and chose to donate most of the rest to a LYS with a free yarn library out front. I did keep a handful of skeins that weren’t queued but I loved too much to donate. And amazingly made my stash fit where it needed to! Bonus, having the yarn bagged by project will make it so much. easier to cast something on when I have the whim to! No more searching for “that one skein” Hand in hand with this downsizing is the not buying new yarn…. That’s only been moderately successful!

  • A woman after my own heart! Thank you for taking some of the guilt away lol

  • We look forward to seeing the finished object!

  • As I have gotten older I have begun to forgive myself for loving yarn and buying too much of it! I admit that I can’t keep up with my stash.
    I am trying not to let guilt about all of this rule my life. I have trouble resisting beautiful yarn! And so I find joy in the process of finishing my wips as best I can. I have lightened up on myself ! It does feel so good to finish projects and clear them out of the q. And I am thankful and blessed to be able to do something that I love!

  • Loved reading about your solution for “cleaning,” I’ll let you know as I ponder through my knitting projects using you as an example!

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