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Can You Find Your Art Supplies?


I have been in a “cleaning out” mode lately.

We have talked about downsizing in the next year or so. I always joke that I am on a five-year plan for decluttering, and the time just keeps getting shorter.

Looking around at my studio, I realized that it could use a healthy cleaning. So I started sorting through books, fabrics, and art supplies.

Gosh, we quilters, sewists and artists certainly do accumulate a lot. I know I will appreciate the open space in which to create.

Here are some tips if you are facing that increasing pile, or piles, of stuff:

Start With a Plan

Start with a plan. As I started thinking about the decluttering process, I realized I was really curating my space — selecting, organizing, and presenting.

The first questions you could ask is what do you want your space to say and how do you want it to function for you.

If you are a fan of Marie Kondo and her Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you can use that as a guide.

She suggests taking everything out of the shelves and closets by type and then going through it. For example, you will take out all the magazines or all the books or all the art supplies.

Then ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?”

Sparking joy may not be your thing yet. Joy may not be sparked until you finish your project.

Better questions might be: “Do I want to keep this?” “Will I really use this?” “Would I buy this again?” You probably have some questions that will work for you.

As you go through the process, try to work the emotion out of it. You have little dreams attached to much of your craft clutter. It is hard to let it go.

I know all about that. I found skeins of lovely wool that I got back in my 20s to knit a sweater. Yes, I can picture how pretty that sweater would be. I found a half-finished woven rattan stool from my 30s. I found small wooden boxes left from tole painting days.

I will never live long enough or be interested enough to finish or use these supplies I have been hoarding. Yet, I continued to let my head rule the day, saying someday I might get to them.

As long as I am talking about emotion, I might as well throw guilt into the mix.

Yes, guilt over money spent.

Maybe guilt because you rescued the items from family members, and now don’t want to get rid of them. I guess you took on their guilt!

Going Through The Stash

Your studio is likely filled with a variety of materials that you’ve collected for decades. It is time to be ruthless as you sort through your materials. Remember why it is that you are actually doing this. Here are some tips:

Do you really need all those back issue of your favorite quilt or art magazine?

I have gotten better over the years, but the stack can get out of control. Now I try to decide when they arrive if I want to keep all of the magazine. In most cases, it is an article I want to read or a technique I want to try. I will tear out the article and then file it in a manila folder by topic.

If you are highly techie, you could even scan the articles and toss the originals.

I also have a master list in a notebook of “someday” ideas and projects. I will note the existence of the article and how I filed it.

Periodically I go through the files. Something that sparked an interest a few years back may have lost its luster, and it is easy to toss now. After all, you will never live long enough to try every project.

What about the books you have on the shelf?
I have lots of books I received to review. And, I purchase a fair share. I also inherited a healthy collection of painting books from my mom. Again, some that I found valuable in the past do not hold the same weight today.
While it almost seems disrespectful to tear up a book, you could remove projects you want to keep and recycle the rest of the book. After all, you may donate your book only to have it sold for paper.
Look for places to donate books you no longer use. It could be your local guild or library. If you want to manage the shipping, you could sell them on ebay. My books find a welcome home at the Virginia Quilt Museum. I know the museum adds some books to its library and sells others to cover museum expenses.
Is your fabric or paint collection in need of paring down?
Of course you need a “palette” as artists. Do you need that large of a palette? And doesn’t your palette need refreshing every now and then? If you are like me, you will never live long enough to use all the fabric you own. You have seen the saying, “The one who dies with the most fabric wins!” I have decided I do not need to be in the competition. I regularly donate fabric for charity quilts hoping to make a dent in the stash.
And what about your paints? I realize that some can have a “long shelf life,” but you have to store them and maintain them properly. Generally oil paints will last forever. Not so with watercolor, gouache, or acrylic. Check with the manufacturer on shelf life and optimal storage. Of course, you can always try the whiff test. You may find that some have a sour smell.
And, how about those other supplies — buttons, beads, brushes, oh my?
A year ago a friend donated all her mother’s sewing notions to me after she died. Wonderful, I originally thought. Then I looked at the collection. Spools of thread that cost 25 cents. I think that thread is so old it will shred in any quilt I choose to make. So that was easy to toss. It did cause me to look at all the notions I had that probably went back to high school. Yes, I collected and tossed what was not useable and donated the rest.
Look at your bead and embellishment collection? Do they still seem like they are still your style? Or maybe you no longer include them in your art. Often people start collections and find their tastes change.
Take a look at your brushes. Have you maintained them over the years? You might also have changed your style of painting, and the brush you used before is no longer being used. It is taking up space — mental and physical.
What about your art papers? Has your art progressed to the stage where you are using better quality paper and still hanging on to the cheaper paper you started with? Better to share that with someone who will use it rather than let it take up space and potentially absorb unwanted moisture.

Getting Rid of What You Don’t Keep

I know it is hard to get rid of “stuff.” And it can be overwhelming to do it all at once. If you can’t set aside a full day, block several hours in consecutive days just to clear out what you don’t want.

Sort it into three piles – items to keep, items to donate, and items to trash. I know many people say add a fourth pile for stuff that needs to be fixed. I used to go by that theory, until I realized I did not want to fix the stuff. It is your choice here.

If you did a good job of curating, you have lots that you no longer want. Deciding you don’t want it and having it leave your studio or house are different. It is easy to toss the items that are broken or no longer useable. Here are some ideas for the rest:

  • Donate to your local art or sewing guild. They may have “yard sales” annually.
  • Sell the items on ebay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or other online sources. You could even set up your own sales page.
  • Donate books to the public library.
  • Host your own studio sale and advertise to your network and online.
  • Donate supplies to local nursing homes. They often have craft days and need supplies
  • Find a young person interested in art and help get them started.

Once you have done this, you will be happy with the cleaner space. You will have more time to create and enjoy what you create. And as one of my friends says, you’ve made space for your muse to show up!

It’s your turn!

What is your favorite tip or two for how you get your stash under control and where do you donate your unwanted supplies?

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3 Responses to “Can You Find Your Art Supplies?”

  1. Lorraine Giannetto-Glach said:

    Really enjoyed your approach to de-cluttering and organizing! Thanks SEW much for sharing!

  2. Morna said:

    Lorraine, you’re welcome. Good luck on your de-cluttering!

  3. Marian Bressel said:

    My quilt guild alternates a quilt show year with a yard sale. This year is yard-sale year, so anything that is in reasonable shape that I no longer want goes to the yard sale. It’s a great reason to clean out and fund the guild at the same time. This year I am being more ruthless, after I realized that I have some fabric for over 20 years.

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