Sunday, March 29, 2015

Creating a Minimalist Sanctuary

My minimalist sanctuary
On the journey to declutter my life, I find that it is easy to get discouraged. After decluttering and decluttering, I only see the need for more decluttering. I haven’t taken much time to really SEE what I have accomplished, to celebrate and appreciate the progress. And there is progress!

According to Courtney Carver, on Be More with Less, “The key to creating a simple life, and to finding simplicity everywhere, is to start by finding it somewhere.” Courtney lists 5 ways to find simplicity somewhere:
  1. Create a minimalist sanctuary,
  2. Go outside,
  3. Be grateful,
  4. Edit your work and your life, and
  5. Just breathe

Of these five ways of finding simplicity, I realized that I have already created a minimalist sanctuary (in my bedroom), and that I can incorporate the other four ways into my life fairly easily.

Special things in my minimalist sanctuary:
a wall-hanging I wove, a meaningful picture, a ceramic piece
made by my daughter, and a favorite bedside clock

My minimalist sanctuary—the one area of my home that I simplified just for me—is what I see first thing in the morning. If I let it, this space can inspire me to simplify more of my home and life. It is a constant reminder of the peace and calm I am seeking and creating.

 For the next few weeks, we will be travelling, so my decluttering project will focus on computer stuff. Since I will take my laptop with me, the plan is to clean off my hard drive and back up important files. I also plan to spend more time outside (see #2 above), so I can focus on the simplicity of nature and gratitude (and "just breathing"). 

That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. ~ Steve Jobs

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Decluttering: Not inherently easy

So hard to let go...

I have said that I want it to be easy. And I have given criteria for making it easy:
  • Find a mentor to show you the ropes, the tricks and best practices.
  • Practice, practice, practice until it becomes so easy you don’t have to think about it—like walking is easy.
  • Make it a habit, so you don’t have to think about it—like brushing your teeth is a habit.
  • Block out specific time for it—a no-brainer schedule (habit). (Think like a pro.)
  • And so on…
But I haven’t been following my own advice, especially the part about making it a habit. Take decluttering, for example.

When I hit a road-block with moving all my excess fabrics out of the house—my insistence on finding good homes for everything; bad weather preventing me from taking the boxes of stuff to specific meetings where I know people would want the kinds of things I had—I froze up and stopped the decluttering process. If I can’t move things out of the house, then I can’t get the boxed up things out of my mind. As long as the filled boxes are still here, I find it hard to move on to the next category to declutter.

Last Saturday, I was finally able to take five more boxes of fabric and patterns to a wearable arts meeting, and many of the things found new homes. And, my quilter friend, who took away 10 or 12 boxes last month, will be picking up some more quilting fabrics and tools this week to share with her guilds. Now that the boxes of excess fabrics are going away, I’m starting to look at the next category of things in my studio to declutter.

It turns out that decluttering isn't inherently easy for me. I can let a rigid mind-set about how it ‘should’ be done get in the way of getting it done!  Maybe it’s time to add one more item to the Making It Easy list: Constant Re-adjustment. If something isn't working, rethink how to do it, and try that! Maybe it’ll be easier that way. Just keep trying.

If you're trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I've had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it. ~ Michael Jordan

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Along the Danube

Today I'm taking a mental vacation along the Danube River. Will return to the decluttering project soon...



The old and the new coexist...

Sailor's Bastion, Buda

The old and new together in Vienna

Peaceful Durenstein

Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ~ Kevin Arnold

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Honoring our foremothers

My special knitted doily
noun - A family possession handed down from generation to generation.

How do we honor our ancestors, especially our foremothers? What value do we place on the work of our hands, or that of our foremothers’? What is the work of our hands? Why do we make things? All these questions keep swirling around in my head as I tackle a bagful of my Grandmother’s hand work that has been hiding on the upper shelf of my studio closed for nearly a decade.

In a frenzy of decluttering, I very nearly just got rid of the whole thing.

The whole pile of needlework heirlooms
My Grandmother was an avid needlewoman, and the items in this bag represent many hours of her life and work. Included in the bag are the following:
  • Doilies: 17 crocheted; 7 knitted; 1 of unknown technique (bobbin lace?);
  • 4 sets of crocheted blocks, intended to be made into bedspreads;
  • 3 crocheted edgings, apparently cut off of something;
  • 1 crocheted dresser scarf; several crocheted and knit items;
  • Yards and yards and yards of tatted edging (my grandmother, when she was no longer able to see to do other needlework, would sit and tat for hours, because she didn’t have to look at what she was doing. She was keeping her hands busy;
  • 2 table cloths: 1 embroidered, 1 cutwork; 2 embroidered dresser scarves, one with crocheted edging;
  • 30 or so delicate handkerchiefs (that my mother had collected);
  • Several sets of hankie-sized embroidered napkins;
  • 7 batiste embroidered baby dresses, and 5 slips (some of which I probably wore as an infant); and
  • A few things that were beyond redemption.

These lovely items were treasured. Or were they?

Many of the pieces appeared to be in really rough condition. They had been stored in poor conditions in Houston, Texas, where it is muggy, and buggy. There are stains (those mysterious brown stains that show up on ageing fabric, as well as apparent spills) on some of the pieces, and dirt and debris. They were just stuffed in a plastic bag. This could be a bag of old rags.

A few knitted, tatted, and crocheted pieces, cleaned up

After my first impulse to get rid of these things, I decided to wash everything, and see what I actually have. Most of the items, especially the crocheted and knitted things, cleaned up quite nicely. I’m beginning to see the hours of my Grandmother’s life represented here, and appreciate her skill and passion. Just because I am keen to declutter, and remove all the extra things from my home, doesn't mean that these lovely textiles should just be discarded. My daughter, who is a picture framer and an avid genealogist, reminds me that these are her heirlooms, too. She took a number of pieces, and plans to frame them.

Choosing specific pieces to frame strikes me as the perfect way to honor my Grandmother’s life and work. She deserves the recognition. I already have a special knitted doily Grandmother gave to me, framed and hanging on the wall. That is my daily reminder. She was a wonderful person and I miss her.

Tatted lace edging I will use for some special things

Cleaning up all the beautiful textiles that Grandmother made has given me the opportunity to remember and to think about the work of our hands, and why we make artful things, and whether we need to keep it all. I can honor Grandmother by passing the rest of the things on to my daughters who want them, and sharing with my needlework friends who appreciate them. One special piece is enough for me. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sell it, or give it away?

For Sale!   /   Free to a good home!

When decluttering, you’re faced with a choice of what to do with your excess stuff: do you sell it, or give it away? I can see good reasons for doing both.

  • You get to feel that what you've collected over the years is worth something, that you haven’t just wasted your time and money. (I have seen the sale of friends’ needlework stashes bring in some serious money)
  • You get to recover some of what you spent buying it
  • You might make enough money for some particular purpose (say, to help with a move)
  • You get to feel entrepreneurial, smart
  • You NEED the money (survival)
  • You get to feel generous (helping your community)
  • You get to have some control of where your stuff goes (find a good home)
  • You get the stuff out of your house fairly quickly (especially if you’re donating to thrift stores)
Other than necessity, the decision of whether to sell or give your things away is a matter of choice.

I choose to give my stuff away, because, to me, selling is a separate issue from decluttering. It adds a layer of complexity and work that would completely derail my process. My goal here is to remove from my life anything that is no longer serving my needs. And I hope that what I give away will be useful for someone else. 

My choice to give my things away isn't quite bullet proof, though. As I said in my last post, if there’s a specific place or group where I want to give these things, a delay could happen (meeting cancelled due to weather) and I could be stuck with boxes of stuff for far too long. I still haven’t taken the boxes in my car to the intended meetings. It’s hanging over my head. I need to let go of my preconceived notion of where the stuff should go, and just move it on out.

As I said, my goal here is to remove from my life anything that is no longer serving my needs, and to send it out into the world with love, to benefit my community.

Generosity is nothing else than a craze to possess. All which I abandon, all which I give, I enjoy in a higher manner through the fact that I give it away. ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Keeping the declutter momentum

Finally, the boxes are on their way out

The problem with getting rid of some very nice things is that they can be hard to part with. The last tidy up day in my studio was almost two weeks ago. I went through my fabrics (for clothing, handbags) again, making a second pass at discarding while putting the remaining fabrics away. First pass: no-brainer, easy-to-get-rid-of fabrics. Second pass: asking the crucial questions of the things I thought I wanted to keep on the first pass—does this spark joy, do I really want to commit the time to this, is this for me or for my fantasy self—while putting the fabrics away in their new Home. The second pass deals with the nicer, harder-to-part-with fabrics. Second pass resulted in more boxes of fabrics to share with friends and other fiber artists.

The full boxes were queued up in the dining room, ready to be moved to the car so I could take them to the next Fiber Arts meeting. And, there they sat (and sat), waiting for the meeting day. I kept eyeing those boxes and thinking I should look through to be sure I didn't want to keep anything. So tempting, the seed of doubt was sown. Then our guests from out of town arrived, and I moved the boxes into my car to clear the dining room. I had to miss the meeting. The seed of doubt was growing; I need to look through those boxes again before I take them away.

OK, time for a new rule: Once you have decided to get rid of something, get it out of the house right away because:
  • Keeping the full “donate” boxes (queued up in the dining room) adds visual clutter;
  • Keeping the full boxes around tempts you to look in there and reconsider some items;
  • Keeping the full boxes for too long makes it harder to remove them from the house;
  • Keeping the boxes makes you feel stuck or stalled, the job uncompleted; whereas
  • Removing the boxes right away erases them from your mind (mental clutter);
  • Removing them right away makes your progress visible;
  • Removing them right away gives you a nudge to declutter some more.

My declutter project has been stalled for almost two weeks. I'm not sure whether to call this Resistance, or Self-Sabotage, but it's time to face up to it and get started again. 

“Clutter is almost always a symptom of delayed decisions.” – Brooks Duncan 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Writing sanctuary

Toward the light...

This was one of those weeks when I had something scheduled for every day of the week—Monday through Saturday, including some all-day classes—plus guests from out of town staying at our house.  This is one of those weeks when staying flexible and fluid is the only way to manage: shift one appointment to another time, skip one meeting, spend time with our friends, and just don’t sweat possible flub ups.

While staying flexible, I also kept to my 6 a.m. arise and write routine. This is one habit that never fails to make my day go so much better. It helps me focus, it lets me achieve at least one thing for the day, and it feels bad when I don’t do it. Even with company visiting and many things scheduled for the rest of the day, my morning writing time is an oasis that keeps me going.

I may not write anything worthwhile on a given day—I might even spend some time doing “research” or getting “inspiration” on some of my favorite minimalist blogs—but I try to write anyway. This single habit is helping me stay focused; it’s my #1 MIT (Most Important Task).

This particular MIT is relatively new for me. For the last nine years (from when I retired) I've been sleeping in later and later. Not having a job or early morning classes to attend, I didn't have a reason to rise and shine every day. Even though I had joined several fiber-related guilds, with meetings several times per week, I still didn't have to get up early: the meetings all started no earlier than 10 a.m., and most of them started after noon. This schedule seemed ideal, but I had really begun to feel slovenly and unproductive. I was getting up early enough to make it to meetings on time, but had no time to myself for introspection or creating anything. Besides, I really am a morning person at heart.

So now, no matter how busy I am, I've begun to honor myself again by carving out an early morning space for thinking and writing. This is my time; this is my Most Important Task; this is the one thing I do every day no matter what. This is home; this is sanctuary.  

“Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” ― Gautama Buddha

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Do the Most Important Thing

Mysti, doing her Most Important Thing

What is your Most Important Thing? What is it you want to do, but never seem to get around to? What is it that always seems to get bumped in favor of the urgent, the necessary? THAT is the thing that should be first on your list of things to do, that Most Important Thing (MIT). On your to-do list, the MIT is your Most Important Task. Do your MIT first every day, and the rest of the day is gravy.
Some of us seem to take a long time to learn this crucial lesson. We wonder why we are so busy and rushed yet never manage to write that novel, paint that painting, finish those quilts, declutter the house. These MITs can seem like selfish pleasures that must take a back seat to the daily necessities of living a life, taking care of a family, and running a home. It turns out that by scheduling and working on your MITs first thing every single day, you now have the time to focus more clearly on your home, family, and life. At least I’m discovering that to be true for me.
Since starting this blog about my One Goal of decluttering my house, I have been able to accomplish two things that have eluded me for decades: writing (and sharing my writing with others), and getting rid of the excess things clogging up my life and home. Both of these activities support and reinforce each other, and by starting my day—every day—with writing I've been able to accomplish more decluttering in the last two months than I ever thought possible. And because I take the first two hours of my day—every day—to write, I can really focus on the other things and people in my life during the rest of the day.
When I’m doing my MITs, I’m really focusing on them instead of worrying that I should be spending time with someone; when I’m spending time with someone, I’m really focusing on them instead of worrying that I never get time to work on my MITs. This one new habit, to schedule and work on my MITs first thing every day, is changing my life. 
" the most important thing first. Every single damn day.  When you make this habitual, it will change your life...  What you prioritize [is] what gets done. Don’t leave things up to chance or when you “have time for it”... Start your day with the most important thing. The rest will take care of itself."  ~ Thanh Pham,

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Snowy interlude

Silent, white, beautiful, the snow this week gave us a reprieve from our usual busyness. In our neck of the woods, everything shuts down when it snows, at least for the day, and we have a quiet interlude. In this part of the country, when we get a snow storm we get icy conditions and many businesses close; classes and meetings are cancelled; we get a holiday!

My holiday from busyness (most of two weeks) afforded me the opportunity to make progress on decluttering my studio, and to reflect on my schedule. Do I really want to continue with all the things I've committed to? When there’s a meeting, or class, or activity scheduled for almost every day of the week, there’s no time to reflect and no time to create anything, no time to savor. Slowing down for a couple of weeks because of the weather has allowed me to enjoy some quiet time. And I've made progress on decluttering my studio... and decluttering the driveway (hey, I like shoveling snow!)

Everybody needs to take some time, in some way, to quiet themselves and really listen to their heart. ~ Jack Kornfield

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tidy-Up (Saturday): studio closet

A Tidy-Up day starts when I empty everything from the designated closet or given category and pile it all into the middle of the floor. This time it was the closet in my studio that housed clothing fabrics, patterns, fabrics for making purses, silk ties, a collection of new (empty) sketch books and journals, and several roll-around drawers of embroidery floss and other things. The closet was stuffed to the gills.
Studio closet, stuffed to the gills

As I pulled all the fabrics (and projects) from my studio closet, I kept saying “I should finish this.” Of course, the red-flag word is “should.” Right. Back to the all-important questions:

Does this spark joy? Do I really want to commit time to this? Is this something I want to do, or is my “fantasy self” speaking?

So, all this stuff came out of my closet and ended up on the studio floor; it took up half the room about knee- or thigh-high. (I must admit that all the stuff from the closet joined the needlework project bags already piled up on the floor.) Oh, my. Overwhelming. It’s time to divide and conquer.

Contents from my studio closet

Clothing fabrics in one pile; handbag fabrics in a pile; muslins and light-weight cottons; uh oh, more quilting cottons (I thought I had finished with those); ah, there’s that yardage and a wall hanging I wove back in the day when I was being a hand-weaver. There was my large collection of silk ties for making into something wonderful. And that was just the fabrics.

Silk ties awaiting to be made into something wonderful

I decided to concentrate on just the fabrics for this day. While making separate piles I was able to put some fabrics into donation boxes (no-brainer, quick-decision fabrics). Later, when I start to put the remaining fabrics away, I’ll ask the important questions about each piece, and maybe give away some more.

Fortunately, I live in an area of the country where the concentration of craft people is very high. This means that there are a number of people who would appreciate some good fabrics to work with. A friend of mine who is in several guilds—quilt, sewing, fiber arts, embroidery—has said she would take any fabrics and share them with her groups. I contacted her to offer the fabrics.

My friend came over and took away boxes and boxes (I forgot to count, probably 8 or 10) of fabrics and what was left of the magazines from my previous magazine clear out. Said friend will take all those boxes to her quilters’ and sewing guilds. I hope those fabrics will find their way into some wonderful projects. I feel lighter already!

Remaining clothing fabrics, bottom shelf

Remaining fabrics

As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, you should keep it.  If you were to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that unsatisfied want would make trouble for you.  Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction for you, or when it seems to interfere with that which is more greatly desired.  Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Declutter before organizing: doing it in the right order

Old Faithful, awaiting the sewing diva
“You can’t organize clutter, you can only get rid of it,” according to FlyLady. Marie Kondo (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up), and Andrew Mellen (Unstuff Your Life) say the same thing. All the decluttering gurus take the same approach: don’t even think about organizing your stuff until you’ve gotten rid of the excess. They may have somewhat different approaches to decluttering, different questions to ask yourself, but all are in agreement that the decluttering must be done first.

It has taken me a long time to learn this.

Several years ago I tried to organize without first getting rid of things. I hired a professional organizer and we spent two whole days organizing my studio. She made it clear at the start that her mission was to organize the stuff I had, rather than going through and getting rid of things. She was quite willing to help me sell anything on Craig’s List if I liked, but it was not her job to declutter; I was to have done that before she came to help me. There was a very short lead time (a couple of days) between when I first called her and when she arrived. I had no time to declutter, and, besides, I was still in the mind-set that I needed everything I had in my studio, so decluttering did not happen. The organizer did tell me that I had “plenty of product” and that I didn’t need to buy any more. Good advice, but ultimately not very helpful.

Without first making some tough decisions and decluttering, I doomed myself to several more years of being overwhelmed whenever I walked into my studio; several more years of adding new projects and potential projects to the pile; several more years of shifting things around from one place to another because—even though it was all “organized”—there was too much stuff to really fit comfortably in the closets and shelves and cupboards. It didn't take long for my beautifully “organized” studio to devolve into chaos once more. It was a hard (and expensive) lesson to learn.

You cannot organize your clutter; you have to get rid of it!

One of the most important things to declutter early on is your “fantasy self.” According to Francine Jay, Miss Minimalist, our fantasy selves lug around piles of things that never get used, and in the end, keep us from really living the lives we want. Of her list of possible fantasy selves, one hit home with me:
“A knitter/sewer/scrapbooker/woodworker extraordinaire with enough supplies to fill a craft store…
when you rarely ever complete a project?”
Before finding this description, I was already starting to realize that I would never be some of the selves I've been fantasizing for most of my life; I would need several lifetimes for that. So, it’s time to say goodbye to those possible selves that will never be, and move joyfully into the me I really am. This is a big step, a good early step in the decluttering process.

p.s., it's surprisingly hard to let go of my fantasy self as fine seamstress, pattern maker, sewist! 

"Storing our fantasy selves’ stuff isn't fair to our real selves—not only does it make us feel like failures, it takes away the space and time we could devote to uncovering our true passions and potential.
So as you’re decluttering, give the boot to your fantasy self and all its accessories—it’s not giving up on your dreams, it’s making way for real ones!"   - Francine Jay

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mindful progress

I make progress every day with something in my life, though some days I just want to sleep in and do nothing. Do I always have to make progress? Or can I just be? 

Well, I do want to make progress toward my One Goal of decluttering my house. I know that once it’s done, it isn't “done” once and for all. It will require maintaining the number of items in my house; it will require maintaining the Homes for the things I have kept; it will require decisions about what is really important to me. It will require mindful living.

Mindful living is not something I do well. I can be quite oblivious to my surroundings, and that includes unconsciously bringing home more tools, supplies, and materials for projects that look interesting. It includes putting those things into my studio on any handy surface (on top of other piles of things, if necessary), and then, in the busy-ness of my life, forgetting that I put them there.

I recently unearthed a pile of furnishing fabrics and samples that I originally intended to make into bags or purses. I sort of knew they were there, but had forgotten the detail and depth of the collection. It turned out to be quite a large pile, and most of the fabrics I don’t even like any more. Have I ever made anything from these types of fabrics? No. Do I really want to commit the time to make anything from these fabrics? No. I’m keeping a couple of them for specific projects, but the rest can go to my friends who do use such fabrics very creatively. I admire what my friends have made, and look forward to seeing what they come up with. That’s progress of another kind.

By allowing myself to just appreciate others’ creativity, and not have to make everything myself, do every kind of art project imaginable, I can be mindful of what’s special and important to me. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tidy-Up Fridays

My current magazine collection, Tidied Up, Yea!
Fridays in this household have gained a new theme: Tidy-Up Fridays. For the last two weeks, I started my Friday mornings by reading an article or blog(s) on the minimalism theme. This reading really helps me get to that place where I can actually make decisions about what I want to keep in my life. Then I choose a cluttered room or category that is weighing heavy on my mind, and find that if I devote my day to that one category, I can make good decisions. By spending that day (with appropriate breaks, of course) concentrating on one thing, I make visible, palpable progress. This progress, by the end of the day, leaves me feeling lighter and clearer, and that sparks joy.

Fat quarters all in a row (I really like blue)
Fridays gained this new theme by default: it’s the one day of the week that I don’t have meetings or classes or obligations to others. There is one Friday per month that I meet with knitting friends to knit, but we don’t meet ‘til afternoon so that gives me the mornings to devote to my tidy-up theme. Fridays are also at the end of the week when I look back at what I've done this week and discover that tidying up or decluttering got postponed or ignored for whatever reason. Tidying Up is my One Goal for this year, and I mean to meet that goal, and Tidy-Up Fridays will give me a time structure to make that happen.

Fat quarters and magazines in their new Home.
What's all that in between? Hmmmmm
Last week, I tidied up my clothing; this week’s Tidy-Up Friday focused on my studio, the clutter monster in my home. There are mounds of projects or potential projects on every horizontal surface. There are piles of materials and tools and other things, as well, but the projects and potential projects have become the biggest monster. I have begun to realize that I will not work on most of these projects. I have also learned that, while “Does this spark joy” is a great question for eliminating some things (my clothing, in particular), it doesn't work so well for others. The projects category falls into the latter camp.

Fabrics ready to be donated
The studio and the projects category were monsters too large to tackle all at once, though. So this week I focused on the quilting fabric. I haven’t really done any quilting in several years, almost a decade, yet the fabric sits there patiently waiting to be made into something wonderful. Do any of these fabrics spark joy? Yes, some of them are quite wonderful. Do I really want to commit the time to making something with this? Ah, now there is the question for potential projects:
 “Do I really want to commit the time to this?”
And my answer to many of the quilting fabrics was, “No,” so they went into the donate box. I pulled out some of my clothing fabrics, and found that I didn't want to commit time to some of them, either; now they're in the donate pile. These fabrics will find good homes with quilting and sewing friends. I wish them joy in their new homes. 

I've made a good start on the Tidy-Up Fridays, and I feel lighter and freer. There’s still a long way to go to Tidy Up, or declutter, my studio. Then there’s the rest of the house, but that doesn't seem so daunting now that my clothing and quilting fabrics are culled to a reasonable level, one Friday at a time.

“No wonder so many adults long to return to university, to all those deadlines--ahhh, that structure! Scaffolding to which we may cling! Even if it is arbitrary, without it, we're lost, wholly incapable of separating the Romantic from the Victorian in our sad, bewildering lives...” ― Marisha PesslSpecial Topics in Calamity Physics

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How do you choose?

Image courtesy of
Rasmus Thomsen at

“Her eyes were too big for her stomach,” my Momma used to say about someone who took on more than she could handle. That’s me, see. I want to do it all. Not only do it all, but also do it well—like a pro. I buy tools and supplies and books and instructions and materials for whatever new project catches my fancy. Then all these wonderful things go into my studio and, if they’re lucky, get put into a project bag where they wait (and wait, and wait) until I get around to working on the project. If these wonderful things don’t make it into a project bag, they get lost and may never see the light of day again. I call my studio “The Black Hole.”

My studio is also known as the dumping ground: when I need to clean up a bit, various things that are left out somewhere else in the house—things that don’t have a Home—are brought into the studio and dumped. Most of these things actually belong in the studio; they just don’t have a Home. One reason most of these things don’t have a Home is because there are too many things and not enough Homes. This is all a result of my eyes being too big for my stomach.

I want to do it all, and that includes many different types of arts—mostly related to fibers: Sewing (clothing, bags, quilts); embroidery (cross stitch, canvas work, Hardanger, surface embroidery); beading; knitting and crochet; and drawing and painting. All of these types of art-making require their own set of tools, supplies, and materials (with some overlap, of course). And I have a lot of tools, supplies, and materials for each. My stash runneth over; it would probably take me several life-times to do all the projects residing in my studio. I am lucky to have such abundance.

My abundance is both a blessing and a curse, however: A blessing because I have so many choices from such a big stash (or resource center); and a curse because there is so much in here that I can’t choose any one thing to work on. And choosing one thing to work on is the key to getting things done. “Focus” is the name of the game, and when there’s so much visual noise it’s extremely difficult to focus.

I’d like to home in on what’s important to me, so I can focus on getting something done. It’s time to find the specific projects to work on that will allow me accomplish some work for a change. Perhaps asking, “Does this spark joy,” will help me find my focus; it helped me clear out my closet. Clearing out the clothes closet is easier, though, because I could try things on and discover that an item really doesn't fit and, besides, I haven’t worn it in years. That kind of thing is easier to let go of. What’s hard is giving up the creative potential of art-projects-in-waiting.

It’s also hard to give up the idea that I can do it all. As many people already know, and research has shown, multi-tasking is a myth; a person can really only do one thing at a time. And, as I said above, having too many possibilities makes it hard to choose the one thing you want to do, and so nothing gets the attention it deserves. So I struggle on, trying to understand what my biggest passion is so I can do that. Making decisions is not my strong suit, but maybe, just maybe, it all comes down to just making a decision and sticking with it. Maybe it’s that simple, that and asking, “Does this spark joy?” I only want joy on my plate!

 Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach. - Tony Robbins

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A most important question

My closet before

“Does this spark joy?” 

After the Big Why, this is my most important question. This is the question that leads to quicker, better decisions about what to keep when you’re in the throes of decluttering. Does this spark joy? Marie Kondo, in her breathtakingly simple book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, instructs us to ask this question of each item we own. If the item does not spark joy, we are to thank it respectfully for its service, and let it go. This process is not about denigrating our things and calling them “junk,” but rather about appreciating what we have and liberating those things that we no longer need (respectfully). Kondo has a true Japanese reverence for objects.

I Googled the question “Does this spark joy?” There are a number of articles out there written by people who have taken this book to heart and Tidied Up using this central question as a guide. The first article I found inspired me to take this day and Tidy Up my whole wardrobe: all my clothing, potential clothing, and needing-to-be-altered clothing, whether they were currently living in my closet or not. I needed this inspiration because I had gotten bogged down in decluttering. So, after reading the article and…
My pile of clothing
After breakfast at Dixie Diner, I went home and pulled out all my clothing, potential clothing, and project clothing and, by 10:00, had piled everything on my bed and bedroom floor; I was absolutely astounded by the pile. Now, I have purged a couple times before (but not by gathering every piece of clothing I have in the whole house and putting it all in one pile), so the size of the pile seemed huge. It’s important to make one big pile, or you might miss some things. One big pile allows you to look at your abundance and appreciate what you have. One big pile allows you to realize the enormity of the task of “stewardship” of this one category (clothing) you have taken on. One big pile shows you how “heavy” the burden is (truth be told, I had not even worn many of the garments!). When you free all those clothes, they can go and faithfully serve someone else. That feels liberating.

The next step is to take each item in hand, one at a time, and lovingly ask the all-important question: “Does this spark joy?” Sometimes I would find myself answering: “but it’s a good color for me” (even though it doesn’t fit, and I haven’t worn it in how many years?); or “I won’t have any (or enough) turtlenecks to get me thorough this cold winter” (some are so threadbare that I’m embarrassed to wear them anyway); and “not sure, I’d better try this on” (sometimes the try-on showed that the piece did indeed spark joy when I had it on, a delightful surprise).

By 11:45 I have a much bigger pile of things to let go of than of things to keep, and I can’t make any more decisions. It’s time for a break.

Wow. The process is going much more quickly and easily than I had anticipated. Apparently, “Does this spark joy?” is the right question.

Clothes I intend to keep
Clothes I intend to donate
After lunch and running errands, at 2:45, I started back on sorting clothes. I found some sweaters that I had been looking for—they were in the plastic tubs where I stored some winter clothes last spring and then forgot about. There were some things in my “to be mended or altered” pile that I will keep, though I won’t keep them all. The mound of donations is growing, and DH said, “You won’t have any clothes left.” That’s a scary thought until I realize that most of the things in the donate pile have not seen the light of day for a number of years, so I was not wearing them anyway. By 4:00 I have finished asking the question of all my clothing; it’s time for another break.

At 5:20 I started folding all the clothes I want to keep and putting them away in the closet. As a bonus, my closet is big enough—with enough drawers—that I won’t need to keep the old dresser that does not spark joy!

Clothes ready to donate
Finally, time to pack up all the clothing to donate. While packing them, I would start to question my previous decisions. I would say, “This is a really nice shirt…” which begs the question: If it’s so nice, why has it been hanging, unworn, in the back of the closet for several years? There were a couple of items that I removed from the discard pile and returned to my closet, but only a couple.

By 7:30 the job was finished and I took 6 kitchen-size garbage bags out. Wow (approximately 5 ½ hours elapsed time of working on my clothes)!

My closet - after
Not only did I let go of clothes that were not serving me, but I've started to let go of some notions of who I thought I wanted to be, for example, as a creative upcycler. I had brought home thrift store finds to make into something else; I never did. That’s one “possible self” I can let go of. I’m ready to make changes. My closet is now ready to accept changes. I have let go of more than just clothing.

“When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.” Marie Kondo

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Getting inspired

Abandoned or postponed projects on the floor

What happens when you walk into a space that is piled with so many things on every surface (including the floor)? The space is so cluttered with possibilities and abandoned attempts—the ghost of who you thought you wanted to be—that there’s no room for current projects. The piles of things do not represent junk, but abandoned aspirations.

More stalled projects on other surfaces

What happens when you start to clear out some of the things in that space, a little at a time? The space begins to feel more open, more ready to house creative activity again.

As I've continued with clearing out my beloved magazines, I have spent more time in my studio than in the past several years. As I've gone through magazines and cut out images that speak to me, or just held some of the magazines that I don’t want to cut up, I start to feel the pull of wanting to create. I have even gone beyond magazines in the clearing out process.

It’s still early yet, in the clearing out process, but it seems to have the effect of making me feel lighter, freer to create. I've decided that in addition to my One Goal of decluttering my house, I will do one thing daily that is creative, one small thing toward creating something in fiber that is useful and beautiful, just one little thing…

Fat quarters overflowing the shelves

The first little thing is to make a tool roll for my stitching tools. I started by looking at the fat quarters of fabric in my hall closet (the closet where the magazines live). Next, I looked for a purse pattern that had some good tips and tricks in it, which led to my culling out a lot of sewing patterns to be donated. After finding the purse pattern and a couple of fabrics to try for the first attempt at a tool roll, I realized that the fabrics could use a bit of organizing (not culling, yet). So, as a meditative practice, I started ironing and folding the fat quarters so they could fit more neatly in the shelves.

sewing patterns to donate

This last thing, the ironing and folding, may seem like a distraction, but I’m not sure. It gets me into the studio; it gets me in touch with the fabrics, and lets me see if any of them will work for the project at hand; helps me think through the next step in making the tool roll; and it’s part of my creative process.

The process of decluttering my house is starting to help me feel freer to get back to the studio and create something new. I’m starting to get inspired!

Fill the Form: There is always one action you can take for your creativity daily. This daily action commitment fills the form. Find the many small changes we could make at this very moment. - Sorry, I don't remember the source.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Magazines: Letting them go...

My fond farewell to Threads:

After gathering the whole collection of Threads (thirty year's worth!), I shed a tear...  

30 year's of Threads

...said a word of thanks for serving me all these years, and toasted my beloved magazines with a glass of wine.

Packed the magazines up...

Wrapped them up...


And made a footstool out of them (a good way to repurpose magazines, right?)...

Just kidding! I will take my beloved Threads to a new home this week and hope that someone else will love them as much as I have. Fare thee well.