Friday, October 24, 2014

Why I'm not getting rid of my stuff

Look at this mess:

Those are from the "before" pictures of my old office space. I know what you're probably thinking. The unconventional wisdom, by which I mean the counter to the dominant narrative that by now has been stated so often as to become its own kind of convention, is clear: Get rid of it.

Don't buy stuff to store the stuff you're not using: just get the dang stuff out of your house.

Don't organize, declutter.

But I'm not listening. Not in this case anyway.

The thing is, for me -- and I think for a lot of people -- creativity requires excess*. Great artists aren't exactly known for keeping minimalist, neat-as-a-pin studios, right?

To me that excess means supplies for a project that I'm not quite ready to do yet because it's still ripening in my mind. Two unrelated pieces of fabric that happen to be lying next to each other, prompting me to realize that the unlikely pair is actually perfect together. Scraps that I couldn't bring myself to get rid of, eventually getting pieced together into something unexpected and awesome.

(*If pressed, I will also endorse the idea that creativity springs from constraints and limitations. Well hey, I contain multitudes.)

A few years ago, I entered an embroidery contest that another blogger hosted. I won -- with lines of poetry stitched on a piece of vintage tablecloth that had sat in my stash for over a year, waiting for the right use to come along.

See what I mean? Thank goodness I didn't declutter that tablecloth!

Of course, "But I might use it someday!" can become an excuse to keep everything. And a space can become so cluttered that it actually blocks creativity rather than fueling it. (See also: photos above.)

But I'm betting on the idea of a middle ground, here.

I think that taking time and making space to store my creative materials in a nice way may actually help me use them more often.

Partly because I suspect that when projects are easy to set up and easy to put away one is less likely to talk oneself out of working on them because of lack of time.

I wrote in my earlier post that "what I'm aiming for is not just space to put things but space to use things." In that sense, my hypothesis here is that creating space might actually help create time.

I might be wrong about all this. But it at least seems worth doing the experiment.


  1. So much here I can relate to :)

    I too, have a hard time getting rid of crafting/sewing/creative supplies, for exactly the reason you state...not knowing what will *someday* make for a perfect project, or what will come in handy someday. It's somewhat of an ongoing battle over here, because I'm the type of person who finds it very hard to work (creatively or otherwise) while surrounded by stuff. Over the last few years I've tried to reduce fabric and crafting supplies, and have set space limits for myself ("I will keep only what will fit in this bin", for example), but because the prevailing trend out there is to declutter, I often feel like a bit of a failure because I know I'm hanging onto stuff that I really should let go of. Storage is a bit of an issue in our house, and because my fabric/wool/other crafting supplies are stored in our smallish master bedroom closet, I know I would feel relieved if I were able to let more stuff go, and if the closet had more breathing room. But knowing it and doing it are two different things, unfortunately...

    Your embroidery is beautiful, and I like the poem you wrote :). Is there a deeper meaning to "upside down words"? (Asks the once upon a time-wannabe English major who spent 8 years studying science...)

    I used to be an embroiderer myself. I was raised in the Dutch tradition, where hands (female hands, that is) must never be idle, and was taught to embroider/cross-stitch from a very young age. I continually have some project on the go, although I did leave off embroidery a few years ago in favour of knitting...

  2. Thanks for understanding and commiserating, Marian. Yeah, I think the "only keep what fits in the predetermined amount of storage space" is a good strategy. I'm kind of hoping that making a bigger effort to make things, and noticing along the way what kinds of projects I am and am not drawn to, will help me get rid of the excess. The sublimated-Calvinism ;-) of my upbringing makes me cringe to confess this, but I have also been working quite a bit this year on managing/improving my clothing wardrobe, and a similar strategy has been working well there. (That is: if I set out to "clean out my closet" I get easily overwhelmed and fail to weed out things that I should, but if I pay attention to what I'm wearing, what I'm not wearing, and what doesn't quite fit in with the rest of my things, it's much easier to pass on those marginal pieces.)

    Thanks for your kind words about my embroidery and my poem! I was an English/science double major so it's no wonder we get on so well. :-) The lines that I stitched are an excerpt from a poem called Houdini's Sister, whom I imagined as some sort of circus performer/scientist hybrid as a matter of fact. I think the idea behind those lines is something like: who we really are tends to reveal itself, even if we try to keep it under wraps because it's not who society prescribes that we "should" be.

    Oh, knitting! Heaven help us if I ever decide to take up knitting, I can't imagine the stash issues that would quickly develop!

  3. Ah, I think I overdid the analysis of the poem - I imagined the trapeze to be a metaphor for a child kept aloft (or aloof/apart), and the "upside down words" to mean her communication was forever stunted (as in, always coming out wrong), as a result of her upbringing. Poetry is clearly not my strong suit! (As evidenced by the fact that I can't understand a word of the book of poetry I'm trying to read alongside my daughter for her first year university English course). Mentioning my daughter gives me a segue to commiserate with you on the whole wardrobe thing, which is something I'm also working on this fall! This summer my daughter made some brutal (but unfortunately justifiable) comments about my wardrobe, and I have to admit there is an element of ascetic Calvinist-type thinking that colours my shopping habits, and makes it incredibly difficult for me to both get rid of things and to buy things.

  4. I don't think there's one, easy answer to these questions. (Who am I kidding? I rarely think there is one, easy answer to any question!) I think it depends on how actively you're working. When I wasn't doing any sewing and hadn't done any for years, I decluttered my fabric stash ruthlessly. Do I wish I'd been a little gentler now that I'm at it again? Eh, maybe--but not really. I'm in a different era of sewing now. I'm OK with getting new fabrics. I think it depends upon how much space you have. I decluttered the fabrics because I wasn't using them and didn't have the space to store things I wasn't using and likely to use soon. I think it depends on how you feel. I tend to feel good when I get rid of lots of things, but there are some things I'll likely never part with. What those things are for each of us differs. Having been stung by several traditional narratives in my time, I tend to be suspicious of them. I say, put your hands over your ears so that you can hear your own voice and the story it wants to tell for your life. (And embroidered poetry! You have pointed me in a whole new direction I'd like to go!)

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