Losing Clutter, Gaining Creativity, and Walking the Walk

Putting my money where my mouth is  

When practicing slow stitching, it is sometimes easy to forget that the concept of “slowing down” in a comprehensive, life-affirming, and creative way is more than talking the talk. Stitching slow means more than just occasionally focusing on one or two tenets of The Slow Stitching Movement.

This past week, I put my money where my mouth is. I simply could no longer write my morning process pages, stitch with intention, take my three photos a day, etc. without committing to, or throwing a little action behind, all of the elements of the slow stitching philosophy that is designed to open and flex my creativity. That’s why I have decided to step up and get rid of everything in my studio that will not serve my greater creative purpose.

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I have been collecting fabric, books, notions, threads, needlepoint canvas, linen, wool, ribbons, burlap, patterns, antique irons, and you name it for decades. I can see now that most of the time I was buying compulsively to feed my fantasy of being an inspired creative soul rather than actually stopping to breathe, process, and perfecting my creative and technical pursuits.

Clutter kills creativity. Too much stuff clogs any chance of clear inspired thought. Filling drawers, shelves, and rooms full of tools and supplies doesn’t give you enhanced creativity, better ideas, or more beautiful work; it just gives you full, unmanageable drawers, shelves, and rooms.

I have finally been forced to confront my demons and face the fact that I don’t even want to be in the rooms where my supplies are stored. It is so full of stuff that I will probably never use in my lifetime, that it is not a comfortable or productive working space. What I have created with more stash than I can use, has become the antithesis of what I had desired. A part of my creative space is as cluttered and clogged as parts of my creative vision.

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Making a commitment to significantly reduce my stash and claim my space is not an easy thing to do for me. I can feel my anxiety as I fill boxes full of wonderful books and fabric to get rid of. Nagging questions like, “Will I need this at some point? I spent so much money on this stuff, shouldn’t I keep it?” just hammer at me until I actually tape the box shut, distract the voices (not real voices), and move on, attacking the next box of stuff to vanquish.

I am 57-years-old, no spring chicken, yet during my stash reduction process I have literally had fantasies and a deep hunger to miraculously transform into Samantha Stevens. How much easier this would this all be if I could just wiggle my nose and be done with it – without any discomfort, second guessing myself, or effort (of course, even then, Dr. Bombay would probably have to shoot me up with some kind of sedative).

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What I am learning is that tossing stash for our greater creative good, like slow stitching, is also a process. A slow process. It is the process of seeing and touching and experiencing and remembering how and why these items came into our possession in the first place, and it is also the process of letting them go.

As I began gathering the first few things I wanted to chuck, I thought it might kill me. It was very easy for me to give hundreds of books away to local quilting guilds and friends a few months ago, because these books were given to me by publishers for review and interviewing purposes. I felt it was unethical to do anything other than pass them onto quilting guilds. I tried to donate a huge collection of books– a huge collection – to more than several libraries, who flatly refused them. Donating these review books felt good. Donating my personal stash of fabric and books, honestly, doesn’t feel quite so marvelous, even though I know my stuff has to go.

Taking the first step

To put boxes of my favorite books and fabrics on my front porch for an anonymous FreeCycle pickup didn’t seem right. To sell them felt selfish. Finally, I came up with the idea to package my give-away books and fabrics, into groups and list as an eBay auction. With all but shipping and handling costs going to some of my very favorite local charities, that made it not only palatable for my soul, it made getting rid of my stash fun. Knowing that someone might benefit by my effort to clear my space, my head, and my creative playing field, made getting rid of things a joy for me.

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So, here’s how I saved both my sanity and ultimately my creativity. Every day I pack up a USPS Priority Flat Rate Shipping Box full of stuff, take pictures of it, then list and post it to eBay for a general auction.  Then I just have to wait until I need to ship my treasures out into the universe.

 

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As an example, click the link to see the stuff I have currently posted:

http://ebay.to/1ADz3WQ

 

You didn’t think this blog would end here, did you? I am challenging you to reduce your stash, so that you can reclaim your creativity and space. I am challenging you to give, donate, sell, or bequeath all of the uncared for and space taking supplies you have collected for your own good, the good of those who don’t have the supplies you have and need/want them, and for the good and sustainability of our planet (because you know and I know that if we don’t start dealing with the mountain of stash that we’ve collected, it is all going to end up in some landfill and/or garbage dump, polluting the planet when, sadly, someone else could have used it.)

5 ways to get you started

Make a Plan. Your plan doesn’t have to be elaborate, calculated on a spreadsheet, or even time-consuming. Your plan needs to be a few simple ideas on how you are going to organize, and ultimately remove, your stash for your benefit.

Will you, like me, declutter a little at a time everyday? How much time each week are you willing to spend on reducing your stash? Will you give, donate, sell, or make arrangements in your will for what you need to get rid of?

Once I decided to set up auctions on eBay, I needed to figure out how to determine an auction price. What I decided to do was to create a formula. For auctioning books, for instance, I would research for the least expensive price one could buy the given books for online. I used the least expensive new/used option on Amazon.com. Next I totaled the lowest cost of all of the books in the group, divided that total in half, added the priority shipping cost ($12.65), threw in any extras like fat quarters or extra books – gratis, taped up the box, and that became my base price. How could a buyer get a better deal than that anywhere, ever? Yes, I could have started my auctions at $.99 but I needed the postage to be covered, and I also had made a commitment to support charitable donations. My plan was in place.

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Gather Your Supplies. I made a visit to my local hardware store to buy several laundry baskets. I wanted to begin my purge using three baskets thinking that I would start with the classic hoarder tool, “save, donate, trash,” approach.

Next, I visited my local post office because the flat rate Priority Mail shipping boxes are provided free by the post office. I only took a few boxes to get a feel for my idea, and then ordered additional boxes online at USPS.com once I had an inkling of how many I might need (don’t ask). I wrapped up my supply gathering at Staples loading my basket with packing tape, glue, labels, and other shipping necessities.

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Make It a Game.   As I had explained earlier, although my heart was in the right place and I had a plan, it was still difficult for me to start getting rid of things in my stash. I had to make a game of it. Here are a few head games I play depending on my mood du jour.

 For every one thing I keep, I make myself get rid of another thing. By the end of the process, in this case a half-hour time allotment, I was able to get rid of as many things as I kept. It was a win/win situation, wasn’t it?

I made a commitment to myself to prepare one box each for auction day. I can load more than one box if I feel like it, but I have to list at least one box a day on my eBay site. I just schedule this into my day. I wake up, grab a cup of coffee, write my 3 morning process pages, fill a box of stuff to auction, post it to eBay, then move on to conquer the world.

Inspired by my friend Kathy Brown’s quilting technique, rulers, books, and die cuts, Take 5, I decided to “take five” myself. I “take five” things to give away, five to donate, and five to trash. I keep repeating this process over and over again for about a half-hour to 45 minutes until a box is full. Playing this game I end up having many items to give away and some to keep. The best part of this game is I get rid of the trash that nobody would want.

Come up with your own game. What would work for you?

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Be Brutal.  Making room for your new creative self can be one of the most daunting tasks known to the creative personality. Because we are creative, we can visualize how we would use the very things we need to get rid of and are tempted to hold onto everything. Be brutal. If you’re feeling ambivalent about letting go of something, toss first and ask questions later. If you have a skein of yarn in your hand that has been sitting around collecting dust, and you are not currently working on a project that will use that yarn now, send it on its way.   If something isn’t supporting your current needs or current project it has to go. Do not worry about what you might be making tomorrow. Don’t plan for what that might be. When you are making way for new and exciting creative adventures in your life, you no longer have the luxury to suddenly become loyal to an a piece of fabric, feel guilty for letting go of a ruler or set of knitting needles, or try to justify a reason to keep anything you are not using (and most likely never will). If you’re serious about wanting your art, creativity, emotional, physical, financial, and spiritual health to elevate, then you will become ruthless in removing the blocks that are preventing you from reaching your creative goals. Your ‘stuff’ is one of those self-sabotaging blocks.

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Easy Does It.   There are times I feel motivated and, like a bat out of hell, I am grabbing and sorting and tossing things left and right and with rapid speed. Other times I am more contemplative and I want to take my time through my weeding out process (a word to the wise, however, is to not take too much time. Set a limit. Trust your gut and toss first/reminisce later, otherwise you’ll be wasting all of your time leafing through old books, fondling fabric and yarns and crafting kits, while playing “I remember when.” Ask me how I know).

While you want to reduce your overabundance footprint, you also don’t need to do it all in one day. Figure out your style. Are you a little a day person like me, or do you have to control yourself from renting a forklift to rid yourself of big chunks of creativity-robbing clutter fast and furiously?

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When purging your clutter starts feeling bad, like your heart is being ripped out or your head is about to explode, or telling yourself that the ‘junk versus creativity’ link is bogus, use your process pages to vent and allow your feelings to unfold. Unload your struggle onto your pages.  What surfaces there may be a little disturbing, but it can also shed an illuminating light onto the hows and whys of your creative blocks.  I mean it — decluttering feels like crap. Understanding why can be transformative.  Like your slow stitching, be intentional and focused whichever way you free yourself from things that are holding you back and your goals will be met – with amazing benefits to follow.

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Walk

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18 thoughts on “Losing Clutter, Gaining Creativity, and Walking the Walk

  1. Love the idea here. I do have more supplies than can be used in a lifetime. I suggest another local outlet – the women’s prison in my city has craft classes and can always use donated supplies.

  2. Thank you. You are always an inspiration and you say the right thing just when I need it. – Suzanne Stranks Hugs

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  3. I agree this is a vital process to keep fresh. I did a similar purge a few years ago and got rid of fabrics and supplies that I had been carting around for years. I felt lighter immediately and have been more thoughtful about adding things back to my stash. My interests and tastes changed and it is okay to acknowledge that the supplies we have gathered no longer reflect where we are at in our creative journey. Good luck with your continued decluttering.

  4. Amen, brother. I am your older clone. You know me better than I know myself. What a fantastic mind-opening article. I am going to print it an tape it to my mirror to remind and inspire me. Bless you. Marjorie B

  5. Thanks, Mark, for your thought provoking post. Recently, I donated part of my stash to a couple of worthy causes. What a great feeling to know it’s getting used! I’ve also made a more concerted effort to USE my stash of fabric and supplies. I’m currently working on a quilt (in the final binding stage) that’s been made entirely from what I had on hand, including thread, batting, and backing. Makes me feel SO virtuous!

    A few months ago, I reorganized my fabric stash. I highly recommend this exercise. It made me realize how much I have, and makes me think twice when I want to add to it. Hmm, discernment versus impulsivity.

  6. Your words have come at a perfect time for me. I am confronted with the need to downsize, I have been making an effort to use all the wonderful things in my assorted stashes. but i also realized that I have collected so much that I sometimes feel overwhelmed or frozen with the sheer number of possibilities with which I have surrounded myself. Your thoughts have helped me square my shoulders with resolve to methodically free my space …and hopefully my mind to become more creative. heartfelt thanks.

  7. Very timely for me. During 4 months hospitalisation I am
    Engrossed by the concept of slow Stitching; fully committed to the idea of the process writing but there has been an elephant in the room!
    It’s going to be a slow process but I will attack it in small bites. Thank you for the post. It arrived at just the right time!

  8. Loved this, Mark! I am also doing the scale down process, so the information was extremely interesting. I have fabric, books and tools coming out of my ears and I don’t really do much “traditional” quilting anymore. I have recently fallen for wool and love making felted wool projects. I’ve also been knitting. I just purchased a new spinning wheel, so that is taking up a bit of my time. I’m planning to donate most of my fabric stash to my local quilt guild. They have huge humanitarian projects and meet monthly to work on projects for the community. For me… I love the slow stitching movement. I used to be a speed quilter, but I have discovered that the journey of any craft endeavor is as important as the finished project. Keep up the great work!!!

  9. I wish I had read this on Friday. I (wasted) most of Saturday going through totes ( big totes!) Looking for one, small, lone piece of fabric….. Rearranged and organized many, actually managed to empty one…. But… Now I realize, even though yes I did locate that piece of fabric I did not ( declutter) at all, there is so much *stuff* I have no idea why I have it, know for a fact I will Never use it, just had no idea how to get rid of it. Too good to toss, don’t on anyone who might want it, have kept myself (fairly isolated…. Some members of my family say I’ve turned into an “anti- social recluse–but that’s a different story)
    I need to come up with a plan! I will be so much happier, creative, productive …. if I *declutter* . I am very naturally organized, the ( hoarding) is suffocating me!
    So….
    Write my 3 pages, eat some breakfast, and venture into my room to decide…..where do I start???? The bookshelves my brother got after me about, so overloaded they are ( bowing) threatening to collapse. … Those stacked plastic drawers full of stuff I have no use of ( the old junk drawer, where the stuff lands) there are 6 of them….the totes….the fabric closet that is so*crammed* you couldn’t get another fat quarter into???? Guess instead of rambling on here I should… Move, start, accomplish…. Wish me luck

    • I DO wish you luck. I, too, feel like most of my stuff is “too good to toss, don’t know anyone who might want it.” But begin with a plan and know that so many of us are in the same boat. Mark has such good ideas about the whole process…”baby steps, baby steps,” ya know?

  10. Mark
    I think you may have saved my life. I have been purging supplies from my “sewing room” and it has been very painful. The first step was when I found that a large quantity of yarn (pretty expensive sock yarn that I adored but never used) ((SOUND FAMILAR) had been invaded by some Mickey Mouse like creatures….It was tossed out (made me very sad) and I have been cleaning since. I also have a huge library of books, I am going to go thru them over the Thanksgiving weekend and donate them to Savers (easiest out for me) and not regift them to anyone who might take them as they really need to go and I don’t need to pass them on. I will try your 5/5/5 method, I know there are some that I just cannot give away, but just as many that I will never open again. Will keep following your journey and try the journaling bit next…one day at a time you know. PS – – we share an age, and I really wish that Samantha Stevens could help me too.
    Sharon

  11. Mark, I needed this post! I’m at a standstill with my creativity because I’m overwhelmed by stuff and projects. Plus, I keep taking on more! Can you do a post on how to stop yourself from signing up and volunteering for everything? It leaves me so drained I can’t do anything.

    By the way, how does one get rid of magazines?

  12. Mark, I’ve been on this journey for a while. One thing I have done is adopt a new quilter. I have passed along a cutting mat, rotary cutter, ruler, quilt kits, patterns and thread to get her started. I was very thoughtful and intentional about what I was giving her and gave her my best! I didn’t want a new quilter’s first experience in the quilting world to be castoff, out-of-style, un-inspiring fabrics. So far she has finished three quilts and I’m packing up a fourth kit for her.

    I’m looking to adopt another quilter (or ten!)

  13. Hey Mark, Long time no see! I’m enjoying you blogs and am glad to see that you are well. I miss the “Kindred Quilts” crew. Am happily settled in Madison county, Virginia, the foot hills of the Blue Ridge. We have a nice little guest apartment, come visit if you are ever in the area. Stay well! Elizabeth

  14. Thank you for your very timely post 🙂 I had begun sorting different areas which I like to neglect or where I had spread out too much, but then I started a new blog beginning of November which took up a lot more time than I had originally intended. Everything else was pushed aside – literally, that is material in space, but also time-wise.

    I made a date with myself to give myself some space and time back (today is Day One, in which I hope to clear the rough stuff). My game: I call the process “converging”, as to me it’s not clutter – no matter what someone else might think… 😉

    The “Adopt a Quilter” idea by nolongeraboutme reminded me of my last year’s Christmas present to my niece: a craft kit for making a multimedia art journal that contained a bit of anything she might need except for paints and pens I knew she’d have. Plus I spent several hours on making (that is partially preparing) a small journal for her to give her ideas, plus put sticky notes on material where I wasn’t sure whether she had used them before. She loved it so much that she started using it right on Christmas Day!

    This kit didn’t cut a large hole in my stash, so I wouldn’t call it “decluttering”, but I’m sure schools and kindergartens and perhaps some children’s hospitals appreciate such donations – when in doubt, you can always ask.

  15. Reblogged this on Janice Paine Dawes , The Distoriated Quilter and commented:
    This de cluttering is a slow process. I’ve started it but seem to loose focus when there is a path in the stuff , both real and psychological. That allows a narrow window to create something small. Then it starts all over again. I need to make this a priority in my creative life. It will be life and soul changing.

  16. I like to say my creative force evolved into putting together kits. By the time I have chosen the fabric and buttons,
    or paint and frames, beads and baubles, recipes and harstshorn ammonia, I am ready for the next “dream”. You are doing the kit thing,making it mobile,giving these things life and creating space! Ahhhh…the benefits of negative space….Thanks Mark

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