This post was written by Mary Elizabeth O’Toole

Every artist that I have ever met has a stash of materials that exceeds what they could use in a lifetime.  It is hard to resist the lure of new material to turn into a work of art. We all see the potential, the future possibilities. What crafter or artisan has not acquired source material because it called to them, or felt good in the hands, or was a gift, or was a really good deal – or was just too beautiful to resist?

Sometimes, however, it is necessary to tame the beast that is your materials stash to make space to other things – perhaps including some actual creative work area. If nothing else, it will give you room to store more newer stash materials.

To inspire you, here are tips for taming your stash – and keeping it in check.

Take Inventory

You don’t need to take a formal count or measure every piece of material – though by all means, do this if it suits you. Even a quick review of all your piles, containers or closet spaces will help you get a better sense of what you have actually acquired. Take a picture. It will help remind you what you have that you might not see any more AND the before and after will give you a sense of accomplishment. While you are at it, pull out pieces that you no longer love. Design or choose some way to keep track, one that you will follow and update. Start a notebook, a picture file, a database, or a color-coded file system, whatever works for you. If you don’t know where to start, try this

Start with the Easy Stuff

Some things are hard to let go so start with those pieces that no longer speak to you. Discard things from crafts you no longer do, fabric that is dated or no longer inspires you, stuff you have been saving for a project that you might get to it some day (but probably won’t). Let it go. You don’t need to feel a responsibility to finish things or use every piece. Pass on materials or partially finished projects to someone who will love them and be able to muster the enthusiasm you once had but have lost.

  • Donate to community organizations, schools, women’s shelters, humane societies, rec centres, or children’s hospitals, to name a few.  Remember to call first to ask about needs or uses.  Want to find local organizations in need?  Try searching online for your community or specific craft obsession. For example, donating fabric in Nova Scotia.  Here is an article about donating fabric that has tips applicable to many other materials.
  • Sell at a yard sale, a community bazaar, or online store.  Don’t expect to get what you paid; the goal is to get rid of the materials and get them to someone who will appreciate them.  Remember that you want space not stuff.

Decide Your Lower Limits

Determine the smallest size of material that you will keep.  Making scrap quilts or toys from off-cut wood are great projects and a wonderful way to use small pieces.  However, if this is not the type of work that you will happily complete, there is no point of holding on to every small piece just in case you might need it.   Set a limit on the smallest size you are likely to use regularly and discard anything smaller.   Recycle them, or sell / donate them to someone who works smaller.

Be Realistic about Your Time

Assess how much time you really have to devote to your craft and decide what types of projects will motivate you AND get done.  Use  your limited time to do what you will love doing.   Interests evolve.  It might be time to discard projects that you had the best intentions and have kept for months or years.   Let go of the guilt for unfinished projects.   Use your time on work that you will enjoy.  Still undecided about what should be a priority?  Think about what projects you have completed in the past three months. What are you doing that motivates and inspires you now?  Those are the types of projects that should get your time, energy – and material storage space.

Try Single-Tasking

Fight the urge to always multi-task.  Finishing one project before moving to the next can be a good way to use materials on hand, especially ones already designated for a project.   Complete a work-in-progress (WIP) before starting something new.  Choose something small or close to completion and get some momentum from checking it off your list.  Pat yourself on the back for finishing then move to the next work.   Alternating between new and ongoing projects allows you to feed the creative juices while minimizing accumulated ‘to dos’ and material requirements.

Set an Expiry Date

Manage your newly reduced and organized stash with a  regular review and purge of your materials collection.  Set an expiry date either for projects or batches of materials.  How long will you keep something if you don’t use it?  Date items and do a regular clearing. Set a schedule that works for you – monthly? Quarterly? Semi-annually?  Annually?   Write it in your calendar.     Keep your own deadlines.

Resist the Urge to Rebuild

Before you add something to your stash, ask yourself:

  • How will I use it?
  • Do I really need it or do I already have something similar?
  • Where will I store it?
  • Do I need it to finish a WIP?
  • Will it complement something I already have – or require me to buy more material?
  • Is it good quality and a style that will stand the test of time?
  • Can I use/repurpose something that I already have?
  • Have I applied one-in-one-out (for example used or donated a metre of fabric for every meter you buy)

Last words

How have you brought your stash under control?  What are your strategies for using what you have?  Share your tips for managing the stash, whatever size it is.

Take time today to clear your stash and to identify ways to manage it.   It might take some experimentation to get it right but it can be very rewarding.  Make room for new inspiration and more creativity.