Spring Clean: Combating Creative Clutter

January 21, 2014 | Crafts, Style | 5 Comments

Do you ever get that feeling like you’re about to get swallowed up by an avalanche of craft materials? Do you feel as though your inspiration is being starved by a lack of oxygen caused by, well, just way too much stuff?

This is a problem that is all too real in our home at times.

As a girl who loves all the colours, adores all the prints and is crazy for all the different yarn fibres and weights, even I have to confess that sometimes less is actually more. It’s that whole ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ feeling when you have a few moments in your day and you just want to get on and make something, yet, despite having all the ‘stuff’ you feel at a loss for where to begin.

Working as a designer I have a lot of stuff, a lot more than is probably healthy. Please note that I say that this is because of my job as a designer, not because I am a colossal creative hoarder. I also tell myself that due to my job it is inevitable that there will be more than one or two ‘works in progress’ on the go at any one time. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it you guys, sticking to it.

Yes, there is nothing more frustrating than getting part way through a project only to realise that you don’t have quite the right zip fastening or button to complete it. And, yes, it is great to have a selection of supplies to pick from when inspiration does strike – I’m not for a second saying that you should knit that dream sweater in a less than perfect yarn choice. Yet, at the same time, having too much stuff can also stifle the creativity. Whether you are faced with just to much choice when it comes from picking six fat quarters for a quilt top or (and this is taking it to extremes!) you actually can’t physically get to your sewing machine or knitting needle stash without having to wade through piles and stacks of fabrics, yarns, notions and, well, stuff.

Don’t worry! I’m not about to tell you that we should all hire a skip and toss all our beloved supplies. Not at all. I just wanted to share a few handy hints and tricks that I use for reducing the creative clutter, organising a creative stash and making the most of creative time  – and creative space – no matter how limited they are.

Here are my Five Top Tips For Reducing Creative Clutter I like to start at the top of the list and work my way through each of the different steps, but you know what? You can pick them at random, work through them all simultaneously or only focus on one – it’s entirely up to you, but each tip will help you to clear out that clutter and get back to the all important task of being creative!
Spring Clean: Combating Creative Clutter Made Peachy1 Collect together all those UFOs
Let’s be honest here. We probably have a couple [read: lots] of unfinished makes that are laying about the house – or stuffed into the back of a cupboard. Well, newsflash, these projects will remain UFOs until you dig them out and finish them. Now, it might be that you’re waiting to find just the right buttons to complete that gorgeous cabled cardigan, that crochet blanket needs around eleventy billion ends sewing in, or perhaps that quilt top is hanging out waiting for just the right backing fabric to jump up and make itself known. Of course, finishing up these projects will help to reduce the feeling of Creative Clutter, but (and I’m being realistic here) you aren’t going to get them all finished up in an evening, because, let’s face it, if that was the case they’d all be completed by now!
Set out each of your unfinished makes and pin onto each a small note of what you need to do to get this finished – pick out five buttons, find matching zip fastening, sew on binding –  before wrapping up in a clean plastic bag ( I like to call this the To Be Continued bag) and stowing them all together in an easy-to-access place. Why bother with this when they are all tucked out of sight already? Well, by looking back over your half finished projects, identifying what each needs to be finished you might find, when you come to clear out the rest of your supplies, that you have just the right buttons, that perfect quilt backing fabric, in which case you can simply add it in to the ‘To Be Continued…” project bag. Then, when you have that quiet afternoon, with nothing to do, rather than starting yet another new make, you can check out your “To Be Continued…” bundle and pick out something that you can finish then and there – neat huh?
Spring Clean: Combating Creative Clutter Made Peachy2 Scraps or Scrap
There is a really fine line between what is scrap and what should be kept for scraps. I mean, hording away all those off-cuts of fabrics are of course a touch of genius when you are hit with the sudden urge for making a scrappy quilt – but, are you just storing scrap? If you already have a Scraps Collection tip it out and take a look through. Be realistic – what is usable and what is scraping the barrel. If you have tonnes of teeny-weeny cuttings that, in all honesty, aren’t going to find their way to a glorious quilt, then it might be the time to ditch them. Work through fabric off cuts and place them into piles of Small – perfect for scrap quilts – Medium – great for mini makes, accessories and applique – and Large – by sorting them in rough size order, labeling and storing separately means that when you come to find and small accent fabric for a project you will be able to pick out just the right size without the distraction of hundreds of unsuitable pieces of material. This also applies to paper and craft products – are those off cuts of papers actually usable? Will that itty bitty ball of yarn be useful in a project? You can apply this Small, Medium & Large storage principle across a wide range of craft supplies on your stash.
Spring Clean: Combating Creative Clutter Made Peachy3 Sort & Store
I’m certain that I won’t be alone in recalling my grandmother (and mums) button box  – yup, I was that kid that would tip them out onto the carpet and then spend hours ‘sorting’ through all the pretty buttons. This is one of the wisest creative storage techniques of all time. It is simply collecting together all similar supplies and storing them together. All your buttons are stored in one place, zips and fastenings together, threads, notions and tools stashed in separate areas. I love to use large glass jars for storing, these help to keep the supplies clean and dust free, you can see at a glance what is in each one, and you know what, they look pretty on your shelf or bookcase too! While you’re in the process of grouping together all your supplies, you might even find those dream buttons for your gorgeous cabled cardigan – if so, tuck them away in your ‘To Be Continued…” project bag so it is all ready to go when you have a spare few minutes. While all your notions and habby items are strewn about in seemingly wild abandon, you can also see if you have duplicated items – are you really going to use four embroidery hoops that are the exact same size? Do you need two identical pairs of pinking shears? Set these items aside so you can sort through them later. Stow away all your supplies in your chosen storage jars,  boxes or containers – label them if you fancy, to make them even easier to find in the heat of the creative moment! Now, anything else you come across during your de-clutter can be stored quickly and easily or, if it’s not required, can be tossed.
Spring Clean: Combating Creative Clutter Made Peachy4 Gift, Donate & Toss
When having a clear out I like to work with a simple three option system for getting things out the door – which is crucial if you’re trying to reduce the clutter of your creative supplies. Things that I know are too small or scrappy, damaged or unusable are for the Toss Pile. You’ll be amazed at how many items end up in this pile. I mean, I know I’m not the only one who has kept hold of 5cm of pretty binding left over from making a quilt, just because it is pretty. Be realistic, what are you going to use it for? Why have you not already found a use for it? If you don’t have super great answers to these questions, add it to the Toss Pile.
Now, let’s not add to landfill any more than is necessary, let’s recycle where we can for fabrics, papers and cards and whatever else you can think of! Parting with stuff can feel tough, especially when the majority of your supplies you have piled up to get rid of to reduce that creative clutter are pretty, good quality and actually usable. These my friends, will become your Donate Pile. Check out your local charities – is there a knitting group that could benefit from a bag of lovely yarn? You’ll be amazed at how many fundraising groups there are that would be delighted to receive some free materials and supplies to help them raise money for a good cause!
Are you still with me? You’ve identified things that are just plain rubbish, things that you can offer to crafty charities or creative groups but if you’re anything like me, there will be one skein of yarn, one fat quarter of pretty print cotton, one Jelly Roll that you keep picking up again, feel like you can’t be parted from it. Somethings just feel too special to get rid of right? Well, not quite. If it really has to go,  add it to a Gift Pile! Why not pick out one of your many surplus pairs of 5mm needles and team it with that beloved-but-don’t-have-a-real-use-for yarn and gift it to a friend that is always cooing over your hand knits and suggest that you teach her to knit? Do you have a friend that is an avid quilter? Why not gift them with the can’t-be-parted-from Jelly Roll – if you know you aren’t going to use it then pass it to someone who will – the best part about passing these over to friends is that you get to see the finished make, so you can still enjoy the materials further down the line, even if you couldn’t use them. Soon enough you’ll have found new homes for all the materials that you no longer have space or use for.
Spring Clean: Combating Creative Clutter Made Peachy5 Finishing Touches
This is my all time favourite part of having a creative clear out – its a time when everything is cleared out, all the junk is gone and you can actually see what you have. Time to restock your shelves or storage units, arrange all your tools so there are where you need them. Move around the furniture, if the mood takes you, to get the perfect creative space – because, let’s face it, you’ve got a whole lot more space to move about in now! This is the time to give the sewing machine a once over, decide if it is due a service. Find the spare blade for your rotary cutter and refresh them, ready to use. Hunt out that crochet hook that you’ve lost so you can work on that granny square blanket you’ve been dreaming of for a while. Before long, you’ll find that all your tools and supplies are right where you need them. All in all this final step of getting your supplies, tools and projects right where you want them gives you the most amazing feeling of falling in love with all your makes all over again. You might not have thought about tapestry projects in ages, but I bet that the second you come across your tapestry frame and a bundles of colourful skeins of tapestry wools, you’ll want to get stitching right away!

We all get into a creative slump every now and again, and a cluttered or disorganised space can sometimes be part of the problem. Taking a couple of hours (or days, if your stash is really super out of control!) is a great way to get back on track, remind you of things you forgot you had, makes that are oh-so-nearly done and don’t be surprised in you plan 100 new projects while you’re doing it!

Now that I feel I have room to move again, I had better start making a dent in my Must Finish Pile, rapidly followed by to Must Make pile! DO you take time out to re-organize your craft supplies or your creative space? What are your tips for a successful – and stress-free – de-clutter?