Last week, I was asked about how to determine which items to keep and how to get rid of craft and sewing supplies. My method is pretty simple, actually, but like the rest of this project, it happens in stages.
1. Identify your crafts
I am multi-craftual, which means LOTS of supplies for diverse hobbies. I spin yarn, knit, crochet, sew, weave, draw, do calligraphy, make jewelry, and embroider. As I went through all my bins and bags of stuff, I separated everything into one of these categories so I could get a really good idea of how much I had. This part took me several hours over the course of a few days, so don’t feel like you have to accomplish everything at once. I actually suggest doing it an hour at a time with breaks in between; it’s exhausting!
Because some crafts use the same tools (such as tape measures or niddy-noddies), I just sorted them into the category in which I use them primarily. For instance, I put all my tape measures together in the sewing category, even though I use them in knitting, spinning, and art.
2. Work on one section at a time
Once you have your categories, move everything out of the way and just focus on one category at a time. In the case of my sewing supplies, after the initial sort, I had several big, jumbled boxes of seemingly random sewing-related items. I set up a few plastic shoeboxes and used them to corral the different items by type: Pins/Needles (including pincushions); Cutting (seam rippers, thread snips, etc.); Marking (chalk, disappearing ink pens, white pencils); Buttons/Closures; Elastic; and Trim/Ribbons. This is tedious work! Don’t give up. Put on some music and pour yourself a beverage and then buckle down. This is not the time to have a “junk” box. Go through everything. When I got to my pincushions, I made sure to take every single needle out of the cushion and put them with the other needles. When I found spare buttons from clothes I’d bought, I took each one out of the tiny plastic bag – which I set aside – and put only the button into the button box. You wouldn’t believe how such small steps made a difference. The required size of my button box went down by almost a third when I got rid of those bags.
3. Pare down
Focusing only on sewing supplies allowed me to work in one spot and to really hone in on what I did and didn’t want to keep. When I found out I owned at least eight thread snips, a thread cutting pendant, and two pairs of embroidery scissors, I knew at once that there was no reason to keep that many items that all did one task. I kept the pendant and the embroidery scissors (both of which were the elegant antique type), then chose two of the thread snips and got rid of the rest. Sure, I could eventually use the other snips. I could even put one in every project bag. But the idea here is to cut back on things I don’t need, and I really don’t need eight thread snips. The six discarded ones, still useful, went to my mom for a charity project being done by her church.
For another example, I owned a huge wall-mounted thread rack that held upwards of 75 spools of thread. I also received a smaller, more decorative one (seen in the previous image) from a friend, and my sewing table has a thread rack mounted right inside one of the doors. Between the pretty rack and the one in my sewing table, I could hold 60 spools of thread. I chose my 60 and got rid of the rest. When my mom heard I kept even that much, she asked, “You kept 60 spools of thread? Did you need that many??” I probably don’t, but at least what I own doesn’t overflow my capacity to store it. As I buy other thread for certain projects, I will probably swap out spools I don’t end up using.
4. Re-categorize things that don’t quite belong
Even as soon as the initial sort when you’re creating your categories, feel free to pull out the things you know you won’t use right away. You can designate a single box or bin to hold all the discarded supplies as you work. If you can’t decide whether something should stay or go, ask yourself if you have used it in the last 6 months or definitely plan to use it within the next 6 months. With rare exception, you should be safe to get rid of things that you use less than once per year. Those exceptions are things like specialized equipment or expensive tools (like a Serger or a special pressing board). However, those things should have a safe and dedicated home where they can stay when you aren’t using them.
5. Give your things a home
Once you are certain you’ve gone through everything in the category, choose a container that fits. I was really startled to find that all my buttons fit into a much smaller box than I thought they would need. I encountered the same thing with my art supplies. Once my pencils and markers had their spot on my desk, the remaining supplies fit into a single shoebox. You probably have less than you imagined, especially once you cull the things you don’t need.
If you have lots of little items, a divided box might be your best bet. However, don’t discount an undivided box if the items can stay reasonably organized. A plastic shoebox is a good starting point. Make sure everything fits, but if you have a little room to grow, that’s okay. If you can’t fit everything into the shoebox, check to see that you aren’t keeping too much stuff or else try a slightly larger container. Then give the box a place to live when it’s not in use. I put all my sewing supplies into my sewing table, while other crafts each got their own spot in the cube wall. Now, when I need to access one, the box is available and I don’t have to dig for it. When I’m done, the box goes back into its spot.
You don’t need a fancy piece of furniture, either. It can be a shelf, a closet, even a spot on the floor against the wall. Just make sure you give the box a home where it won’t be trampled or broken.
One last thing – you might find something in one category that really belongs in another. That’s fine! I found several packs of tapestry needles in my sewing supplies. Even though they were technically hand sewing, I would only use them for cross-stitch and embroidery, so it made no sense to put them with the needles I’d use for mending or sewing on a button. This not only meant that I would find them in the same bin as the rest of my needleworking supplies, but that I also wouldn’t have to hunt around them when looking for a sharp needle for mending. Decluttering isn’t just about getting rid of stuff; it’s also about putting things where they are most useful.
6. Label everything
With my plastic boxes, I like hand-written adhesive labels. You can use tags, labels, or even just write on an index card and stick it into the bin so it shows through the side. However you do it, labels help you focus what should be in which box. Try to be consistent and use one or two methods of labeling. You’ll find things much faster because you won’t have to process many different designs. Choose a method you find attractive – the more you like it, the more you’ll be inclined to follow it.
7. Put things away when you’re done
The last step is to make sure you put your supplies back when you’re finished using them. It seems like a ridiculous step but this is how you prevent yourself from buying multiple items that you don’t need. Avoid the needless expense of time and money. Any crafter knows that it’s hard to delineate when you’re “done” with a project, so get into the habit of cleaning up as much as possible every day. When you get up from the sewing machine for the day, sweep up all the thread scraps, return pins to their pincushion, fold pattern pieces and extra fabric neatly, and hang up the ironing board. If you’re knitting, put the project and yarn into a bin or basket, make sure there are no loose needles in the seat cushions, and make sure your stitch markers are all accounted for.
These are all quick tasks that will help you stay organized, so when you’re ready to start again, your supplies and space will be ready, too.
If you’re trying to figure out what supplies you really need for a particular craft, I’ve created a page here. At this writing, I have sewing and knitting set up, along with a detailed info sheet about choosing knitting needles and crochet hooks. Watch for drawing, calligraphy, embroidery, and other “starter” lists to join them!