Minimalism as a crafter & Simplifying our spaces

When we have fewer possessions, we can make more space in our lives for the things we enjoy. Our minds are less cluttered and we feel energised. A couple of years ago I started to thin out my possessions and truly felt the benefit. The rooms didn’t get as messy so I would spend less time tidying up. My main focus is to simplify. Simplicity is a great mantra to live by and it can be applied to all areas of life. In this blog post I’m going to share part of my journey with you.

The book that set me on this path was Timeless Simplicity: Creative living in a consumer society by John Lane. These links are Amazon affiliate links and I earn a fee for qualifying purchases: buy on amazon.co.uk or amazon.com. It’s a beautiful book that explores simplicity and contentment. It’s not a how-to guide for living a simpler life, but is a thought-provoking entry point to this way of living and was a life changing read for me.

Early this year I felt the urge to take my simplifying a step further; I realised that this was an opportunity to reassess everything in my life. Truthfully, I’ve never really identified with the term minimalism. I prefer the idea of living consciously. I want to be intentional about every aspect of my life and not do something just because I’ve always done it that way.

Why own less stuff?

OK, so let’s narrow things down and talk about crafting. I imagine if you’re reading this blog then you must like making things too? Like me, you probably have various collections that you’ve amassed over the years. I have buttons, beads, ribbons, fabric, you name it. Many of these items have been stored in boxes for over 20 years.

No matter how often I tidy up, there’s just too much clutter in my cupboards. It’s like rearranging a jigsaw puzzle of boxes with no breathing space. Why hang onto all of this stuff year after year if it’s not being used? For me, this is the right time to part with a lot of this heavy baggage from my past.

Are you holding onto old things that no longer serve you?

Are you ready to part with some of these things and free up space?

Photo by Siobhan Watts

Give yourself a pep talk

When I’m sorting through items, these are some of the things that I tell myself to keep going:

  • You’re not obligated to keep anything you don’t want to.
  • You don’t owe anything to anyone: don’t keep something to make someone else happy.
  • You deserve to have a clean and tidy space.
  • You deserve to have easy access to your possessions and not dig your way through boxes or drawers of unwanted items.
  • Look after yourself by taking care of your space.

Parting with things

Many of these boxes have guilt attached to them. I feel guilty that I’ve never used the supplies. And let’s talk about the half-finished projects in boxes: I carry a small feeling of failure for not completing these projects.

I don’t want to carry feelings of guilt and failure in boxes for the rest of my life.

When you sort through your belongings, you might be happy to come across an old project. This could be the perfect moment to pick it up again. If you feel this, then go for it! Perhaps you’d like to honour some of the materials and make a beautiful piece of artwork to hang on your wall? You could sew those special buttons onto some canvas, or weave with fabric and make a wall hanging. If you feel inspired – do this. But don’t force yourself just for the sake of using up the materials. You can give them away to someone else if you’d rather and move on. It’s up to you.

If you experience a sinking feeling when you see those unused materials or old projects, acknowledge these emotions, then give away the items and lose the negative feelings at the same time. We’ll feel lighter as a result and open up space in our lives for doing more of the things that we really want, rather the things we feel we should do.

The keepers

I’ve accumulated so many things over the years but I can’t keep everything “just in case” I need it one day. If we keep everything “just in case”, our collections can quickly escalate and it’s hard to know where to draw the line. So I’m being really strict and only keeping things that I use now or can see myself using in the near future.

The main categories of items that I’m holding onto are:

  • Fabric & yarn dyed with plants: admittedly I have a lot of these, but I’m determined to use my stash in projects this year.
  • Dye pots and spoons: I’m going to sell a few pots so the ones I have keep stacked together to save space.
  • A small selection of dried dye plants: as long as they all fit inside one box. I no longer store plants in the freezer as my collection got out of hand and was costing electiricity to keep!
  • Various tools and needles for sewing, weaving, crafting, different knives, jewellery making tools. All of this mostly fits inside one box.
  • Sewing machine.

I will revisit my boxes in a few months and decide if I can reduce the contents even further.

Here’s a little exercice that I like to do

Imagine that you’re packing your bags for an adventure. You can only take what you can carry on your back. What would you take?

In my case as a botanical dyer, I would take one of my small dye pots and a lid, a steaming insert (for bundle dyeing), a little strainer, a pair of scissors, string, pegs, a little sewing kit, white fabric that’s been pretreated in soya milk and ready to dye, a notebook, paint brush and pencils. Really that’s all I’d need to do some dyeing and sewing wherever I go.

There are plants all around us to explore, so I just need some basic equipment to sample the colours.

Playing this little game really helps me assess what I truly need. If I’m honest with myself, I can see that I don’t need very much at all.

What craft supplies would you take on your adventure?

So what do we give away?

OK, so back to our organising. Once I’ve set aside my definite keepers, there’s usually a big jumble of other things. Some items are easy to categorise into the ‘keep’, ‘donate’, ‘recycle’ and ‘sell’ piles, but with other things it can be harder to decide. These are a couple of questions I ask myself when I clear things out:

  1. Is this part of who you are right now?
  2. Do you want this to be part of your life in the (near) future? Try to be realistic here.

If I answer ‘yes’ to either of these, then I most likely keep the items – for now, anyway.

Then we can ask ourselves:

  1. How does the item make you feel?

I trust my instinct here. When I come across something that I no longer want to keep, I can feel a heaviness in my stomach. Perhaps this is a feeling of guilt; I feel guilty that I wasn’t able to fulfil the potential of the item. Or the item brings back some negative emotions from the past. I don’t want to carry any of this negativity with me anymore, so I will part with it.

As crafters, we can see potential in everything. It’s what we do best: we can take a few materials and turn them into something new and incredible. That’s why it’s can be hard to part with things – everything has a potential use.

If you’re still feeling guilty about giving away some items, think about it this way: the potential in that special fabric can be realised by someone else. You’re doing the supplies a favour by giving them away: they now have the chance to live a happy life with someone else.

Of course there are exceptions: special gifts that are irreplaceable and have meaning to us. You could put those items in a box and revisit them in a few months’ time. You may feel that these special items really aren’t so important to you after all. Or you may dig into one of those boxes to retrieve the item much sooner, in which case you know it’s a keeper. Only you will know what is important or special enough to keep. An alternative is to take photos of these items and make a special memory book.

What do we do with these items we no longer want?

I sort the unwanted items into these groups:

  1. Donate
  2. Recycle
  3. Sell

The ‘donate’ pile is always the largest. I simply put items in bags and take them to my local charity shop. They are happy to receive large pieces of fabric, bags of buttons and beads. But anything that is beyond use (like old stained cushion covers – yes, I had some of those in my fabric stash!) I take those to the local fabric recycling bank.

You could also donate craft supplies and other odds and ends to local schools, childminders, nurseries or families who have young children.

If you have any items that you think might have any value, then of course try to sell them. Don’t feel guilty for trying to make some money from your items. The only risk here is to keep bags of items that you will “one day” sell and never get round to it. I try to give myself a time limit for selling things and if I don’t manage it within that time, I then donate them to the charity shop.

You’re worth it

My decluttering is still in progress and I feel that it will be a continual process over the next year or so. It will be worth it. Now that my mind is clear, it’s easy to decide what to part with. Every drawer I clear out, my mind feels a little less cluttered. This releases energy and gives me the opportunity to spend my life doing what I really want to do.

I hope my journey will help you prioritise some of your belongings too. Enjoy the process!

3 Comments

  1. This advice was incredibly helpful to me. As a “maker” i struggle the most parting with items that have potential value to make something with; the “just in case” items. These same items look like junk through another person’s eyes. Of course i get onto other things and then it does feel like i am storing guilt and failure when there are not enough hours in the day to get to everything that I want/need to do and who needs that? Thanks for allowing me to be part of your journey.

  2. Love this and thank you. I had stalled in the process and I’m hoping this will kick start me again. I have loads of bits for youth club and kids groups “just in case” but like you say it mainly sits there. As I read your post I remembered that when we lived in a library van for 18 months. I rarely had to go to my stored boxes for craft materials, usually there was something suitable to hand. The guilt is real but so is the freedom when it’s gone. Thank you

  3. There is a network of Scrapstores, which receive spare materials from businesses and individuals and share them across the country. They usually have a small membership fee and then anyone (including schools and youth groups) can access the materials for a very low price. Great for crafters, for example for leather scraps, fabric, tapes. Ours, in Cambridge, links with children and young people’s services doing junk modelling etc at groups and events. Good place to take ‘stashes’ and also to look for materials, which you can take back 3 months later when you realise you won’t ever use them. They can also be good for ideas of things to make with odd bits and pieces.

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