Making Space and Decluttering- part 1

Like most sewers, I do a self-deprecating routine about the terrifying extent of my fabric stash on a regular basis. But, much as I joke, the clutter of fabric, trims, habdash, books and the rest, really does cause me quite a bit of anxiety and frustration. Here’s why:

  • I feel guilty that there is stuff there that I *know* I will never use – why did I buy it? I am such an idiot and so wasteful… blah blah blah (I am specialist at negative self-talk – something else I am working on this year…)
  • I don’t have the space to store loads of stuff I will never get round to using
  • It’s always messy and unmanageable – I am not great at working in untidy surroundings – I find it distracting
  • I can’t find the lovely inspirational fabrics, haberdashery and trims that are definitely there, in amongst all the rest

All of this clutter-related negativity really gets me down. So, working towards my goal of moving forward in the positive, unapologetic pursuit of creativity this year, I’ve given myself permission to spend some money on storage, and I’ve started a big declutter.

Here are some of my larger fabric scraps – mostly sorted by colour, although the top box here is for larger pieces of linen prints. I was delighted to discover that 2 9L Really Useful Boxes fit nicely on my IKEA Kallax shelving.

I started yesterday, working through the contents of one of my big storage baskets. At first I hummed and hawed, dithering about how to sort things in a way that made most sense, and, in a weak moment, almost decided to put it all away again. But, spurred on by spotting lovely fabrics amongst the clutter, rendered unusable by my inability to find them, I reminded myself that done is better good (no, it really is), and got started.

Low volume scraps stored with linen prints, and blues and greens sorted together. I may need to get a few more boxes…!

As I worked through the fabrics, I started to develop a system. I haven’t read Marie Kondō’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but I have friends who are very deeply enthusiastic about it, so I know all about her idea of only keeping the things that bring you joy. Although I wouldn’t necessarily choose to apply this idea to the contents of my garage (the car would definitely have to go, and that could be a problem), I really see the value when it comes to sorting through the materials I use for my creative work.

I have been building up a stash of magazines, fabrics, haberdashery, notions and books relating to sewing, crochet and textiles for over ten years now, and a fair proportion of what I have relates to other enthusiasms and interests. They feel irrelevant to me as I move forward, so I am putting them to one side, enthusiastically, choosing to give them away to people who will be inspired by them anew. Hopefully they will bring joy to other people, even though they don’t do it for me any more.

As I was working, I thought more about creativity and how it works for me. The more I read and research, the more I am coming to see that creativity is born out of curiosity – a spirit of ‘what if?’. I have thought of this, with typical negativity, as my butterfly mind, but actually, it’s about me pursuing ideas with interested enthusiasm – and sometimes these ideas (which often involve acquiring materials to work with) go somewhere, sometimes they don’t. There are many failures along the way, and that’s ok, I’m learning all the time.

Tiny scraps that I am going to sort into low volume and high volume for starters. I might sub-divide by colour too at some stage, but done REALLY IS better than good.

So some of the stashed away materials are reminders of those old ideas that didn’t work out and it’s good to get rid of them and just move on. But sometimes, as I work through the boxes and baskets, I find stuff that reminds me of ideas that I wanted to pursue, but didn’t because I didn’t have time. Or I find materials that could be re-purposed, or half-made pieces that could be used in other ways. I find it is really important to have a notebook to hand, to record the ideas as I work.

So I’m going back into the studio tomorrow to do some more sorting. Although I’m not exactly enjoying the process, I am beginning to feel a sense of freedom and clarity that will hopefully increase as I get closer to the top (bottom?) of the fabric mountain. Keep checking back because I’m hopefully going to sort out some fabrics to give away over the next few weeks, in the hopes that dispersing my collection can bring some inspiration elsewhere.


25 thoughts on “Making Space and Decluttering- part 1

  1. I love reading your blog which I found a few weeks before Christmas. Maybe we’re waiting for Spring and some natural impetus to get things done/sorted, feeling sluggish seems to be my default feeling towards the end of winter. Good luck with the re-organising – I’m finding it inspirational that many others feel the same, giving me some determination to sort out fabrics, clothes that need altering, half made items and the rest.

  2. I’m going through the same here in Southern California. I got through my fabrics last summer but now an trying to set up a dedicated sewing space (my family needed to have the dining room table back). “Thing that bring you joy” is hard for a person who is unfortunately too capable and practical. Thank you for this post. 🙂

    1. Yes, I was thinking that today Joann – I can’t say the bits of cream calico exactly bring me joy, but I know they are going to be very useful, so I don’t throw them away! Perhaps we need an interpretation of joy that includes useful! Good luck with your sewing space creation.

  3. Well done Ali! Proud of you!
    I got one of my boxes of small scraps out yesterday and youngest grand daughter Imogen had a great time sourcing fabrics for a seaside collage. I must admit to being unable to actually throw fabrics away, I have them squirrelled away in all sorts of odd places.

    1. Thank you – sounds like you were having fun with Imogen. One of my reasons for the great declutter is because I feel so guilty about all the fabric stashed away in the boys’ rooms… they need the space for their own clutter now!

  4. Thank you for that. I need to do exactly the same. I’ve only got a small space and I need to use it more effectively. Keeping things is just not practicable anymore. I agree creativity for me comes from curiosity and renewed enthusiasm. 😊

  5. I wish I could come over and help you! Organizing is one of my favorite things to do as long as it isn’t my own! Ha! Ha! You’ll feel so good when that task is done. 😊

  6. Hi Ali this is a very pertinent post for me as I am desperately trying to sort out my things, mainly related to sewing and knitting in the vague hope of moving next year. I recently moved my things out of a tiny bedroom into a slightly bigger room, rejoicing in the fact that I would be able to actually work in that new room. It was short lived as I quickly realised that I need a much bigger space to fit everything in. I lose so much because I can’t find things and like you, when I am searching for something I find other things I had forgotten about leading me down a complies path…………not sure what the answer is other than to find a barn. It helps to know I am not alone.
    Great post Ali thank you and have a wonderful week.
    Dorothy xxxx

  7. The organizing is always hard but so worth it. I have several of those boxes in different sizes, they are wonderful. The smaller ones make great project boxes.

  8. As a terrible hoarder myself, I commend your dedication to organising !
    For me, it is also a question of seeing that just because I will probably never get round to eg using my cracker-making paraphernalia again, doesn’t mean someone else would not love it. So I am Freecycling boxes of useable but unwanted crafty things, so at least they are not wasted. And it’s nice to give pleasure to the recipients as well.

  9. You are so very NOT alone in this! I have been going through large piles myself, putting them in order because I also don’t like the mess but have trouble getting started on it. Taking what seems like AGES. Helps to have a friend round, just for the company. Keep at it and you’ll get through in the end! 😉

    1. I don’t think there’d be room for a friend along with the boxes and the mountain of fabric 😉 Listening to podcasts is quite a good way to pass the time as I work though. Thanks for the encouragement Elita.

  10. I identify with so much of what you say Ali, I am struggling to get going and get ahead with my makes.A nice little stash and it’s quite neat but it’s the cutting out and measuring and in particular actually using the fabrics that I love, it’s quite mad!

    I have a decent sewing space with my machine up and ready, I can’t work in a mess and yet I make such a mess! I seem to be wasting time and procrastinating.Perhaps I should sort the fabrics that I want to use and then decide what to make rather than the other way round.?

    I like the storage boxes you used, they look neat and seem to stack nicely as well as being able to see what’s in them.

    Mind you I still have some small amounts of Liberty lawn, wonder whether to get cracking and use this, I occasionally take it out of the special tin, re fold it and put it back!! LOL.x

    1. Oh Carole that sounds tough… I like your idea of taking inspiration from your fabrics, that sounds like fun. I read a really good book recently called Creative Strength Training – it’s a bit arty, but on the other hand has some fab ideas to get you going when you are procrastinating about getting going with your makes.

  11. I am trying to use up all my large dressmaking scraps. When I make an item of clothing there always seems to be half a metre or so left over which is too small for even my smallest granddaughter but not really suitable for quilting or home deco as it is dress fabric and jersey material usually. These messy pieces take up space and don’t look neat and that makes me uncomfortable. I have control of my quilting fabrics – the large pieces are in a chest of drawers and I have a couple of shoe boxes packed tightly with fq’s sorted by colour. I have several self made storage baskets, like yours, in which I store my little scraps and they ‘bring me joy’ but I am not quilting at the moment so they might get a little dusty. Like you I hate to work in a mess and prefer to see exactly what I have got.

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