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. 

Magazines: love them enough to let them go!

Maintaining order in dining room /kitchen
The kitchen/dining room decluttering project has been finished since the middle of January, and we’re maintaining order in those areas. That doesn't mean that nothing is happening on the decluttering front. I’m now working on the unglamorous end-of-task left over from December: cleaning out my magazines. For some reason, I have quite an emotional attachment to magazines. Magazines present colorful, wonderful views into worlds of orderly, lovely, even glamorous homes. Magazines present amazing vistas of exotic places. Magazines offer instruction on any number of subjects along with projects to make from those instructions. Magazines offer appealing images to cut out and use in art projects. Magazines represent a whole world of knowledge and entertainment. I love magazines.
Most of my magazine stash

I have a stack of various home dec. and regional interest magazines to cut up. And I have collections of magazines that I can’t bear to cut up: Art Quilt, American Quilter, Quilting Arts, Bead and Button, Beadwork, Sew Stylish, Fiber Arts, Interweave Knitting, Interweave Crochet, Needle Arts, Needle Pointers, and of course, my biggest collection, Threads magazine. Even though I have the electronic version of Threads, I can’t seem to part with my collection of the paper version going back to the initial issue. Even though the electronic version is searchable and I can access the information quickly, I still like looking through the paper versions and finding articles that I want to hold in my hand, re-read, and learn from.

Magazines represent possibilities. I could possibly make some of the wonderful projects in those magazines; I could possibly use the images as inspiration for my own designs. I could, but the reality is that I haven’t. Some of these magazines have been sitting neglected in my hall closet and other places in my home for years. Some of them I forgot I had until starting this process of decluttering. Some of them I do periodically look at and use (specifically Threads and Needle Arts), but that’s a small exception. 

This pattern of collecting magazines for all the possibilities they offer is long-standing. My mother did the same to the point that magazines and newspapers took over her home: she made paths through her stacks of magazines and newspapers in every room so she could move through. She knew that there were story ideas in there just waiting for her to get them and use them. She never did.

It’s time I got real. Though I love my magazines and the possibilities they represent, I can let go of most of them. I can decide to let go of living in day-dreams and in the future. I can Choose what I really want to do with my life now.
One large stack of magazines reduced to a few clippings!

Fortunately, I belong to several groups where I can share the magazines that I have let go. Someone else will be able to find just the right project in one of these magazines. It makes me happy to know that others will take some of these magazines and use them and enjoy them and pass them on. Theses lovely treasures will now be shared not hoarded. I feel lighter already!