Monthly Archives: September 2008

CLEANING THE ATTIC #15: Paper Chase

Someone told me years ago that 90% of the clutter in our homes is reading material.

After working on my studio purge, I believe it.

I am a readaholic. Too bad there’s no 12-step program for me. But I’m beginning to see the light.

Being a readaholic is connected to having packat-itis. Whatever mode we use to collect information, that’s a cue to what we hoard. Whatever gives us inspiration, that’s another cue.

Great insights, all. But the simple fact is….

I simply have way, way, way too much reading material in here!

First there’s paperwork. Experts claim we only use 20% of the papers we think we need to keep “just in case”. So we can safely ditch the other 80%. But how to decide??

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but whenever you read expert advice about organizing your paperwork, the first thing they tell is to keep seven years’ worth of records in case you’re ever audited by the IRS.

That…is a lot of paperwork.

And that’s exactly the kind of boring paperwork I’d love to chuck. If I have to keep stuff, I’d rather it were stuff I like to look at…

Can you say “internet banking”? Or “Quickbooks?” Okay, you still have to keep paper records or be absolutely sure you always back up your computer files. I have a sad story to tell about that, and no, it wasn’t my fault. Another time.

I have one solution that works really well, especially if you have to clean a pile in a hurry. You put all your important papers in big grocery bags or boxes. Set them aside (preferably out of sight, like in a closet or under a desk) for oh, six months to a year.

Then, when you have a few hours to spare, pull them out and sort through them. (Tip: This works even better if you leave it long enough to totally forget you even have it.)

I guarantee you’ll throw most of them away. (This wonderful cleaning tip comes from my mother. Blame her.)

Okay, you might find a few papers that will make you slap your forehead and go, “Ohmigod, that’s where that form went!!” So maybe you should pull out the bills, show applications, etc., the papers you know you need to deal with–and put all the “maybe’s”, “we’ll see’s” and “oh geez” ones in those aforementioned bags.

It’s amazing how those “maybe” things just don’t seem so compelling six months later.

Next are the catalogs. I am a catalog queen. I love catalogs. But I realized there are really only half a dozen or so I need to refer to regularly. And with so many companies now offering online ordering, I only need to keep the ones that are really informative and fun to read. I threw out all the others.

Another professional insight: Years ago, I considered sending buyers my catalog on a CD. I hesitated, because I wasn’t sure how easy it would be for them to actually use it. In my purge, I found one company had sent me a CD of their catalog. I looked at the date. Sure enough, I hadn’t looked at it once in three years. So substituting a CD doesn’t work as an alternative to a really good paper catalog.

Then there are the magazines….where do I start? I have given away hundreds of magazines in the last few weeks. I quickly skimmed many of the trade publications to see if there was anything that begged to be kept. There were a few. But the rest got passed on to other artists. (My home and lifestyle magazines were donated to various waiting rooms across town, including the emergency room at our local hospital, and to Freecycle. Thank you, gentle readers and fellow Freecylers, for the great suggestions!)

Books. Ahhhh….books.

If you’ve been reading this series all along, you know we’ve already purged well over a thousand books from our attics, hallways, bookshelves and living room. I’ve even managed to move on a few cookbooks.

It got harder in my studio. Hey, they’re all such great books! How-to (make jewelry, dye wool, solder silver, succeed in business) books. Books about art. Books about how to make art. Books about what to do when you hit a rut and you aren’t making art anymore. Clip-art books so you can use someone else’s art. Books about African, Japanese, Native American and prehistoric art. Books about bugs, sea shells, rocks, textiles, dolls and beads. Books that I intend to alter. Books for cutting up to decorate the books I intend to alter. And books that teach techniques for doing this. Even books that feature projects I wrote for making….books.

I have to pull the box-and-stuff-it-in-the-attic thing for a lot of these. It’s just too hard to ask “stay-or-go”.

But it’s actually getting easier as I go along. I have quite a pile of really cool art books that just aren’t for me anymore. Hopefully, some lucky visitor to my Open Studio will go home with one (or several!) instead.

The short story is this: I looked at everything and asked myself:

Do I LOVE this book/magazine/catalog? Does it continue to excite me and inspire me?

Or are those designs and projects now ho-hum?

Does it inform me?

Or can I get the same information quickly and easily on the internet?

Is it still useful to me? Am I really going to make that project, use that image, try that recipe, read that again to get that one little insight again?

Or is that moment over for good?

It’s surprising how quick and simple the answer usually is. And if it’s not, well, I just set the item aside to go upstairs for awhile. Maybe when I check again, the answer will be more clear.

It’s easier to let go of a title these days. Even if I find I have to own that book again, I can always buy another copy. It used to be really hard, and sometimes expensive, to find a specific book. But with today’s powerful search engines, and great resources like BookFinder, you need never go bookless again.

It helps, too, when I think about writing my next book. This is all in service to that worthy goal.

I’ve recycled most of this paper stuff. It’s either getting passed on, sold or put in the recycling bin.

A new book is still a delicious treat, a new magazine is a cheap and quick fix. Nothing like it. Some women buy a new lipstick, I buy a new magazine.

And when I am researching an idea, I love to immerse myself in all the possibilities. It works for me.

But I think I’m going reacquaint myself with our local library, too.

Um….you’ll forget everything I said about cutting down on books when it’s time for you to buy mine, right?

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #14: Focus on One Area

I’ve been sick all week. I have very little energy for cleaning.

But open studios wait for no woman, sick or not. And so I come in here and I keep plugging away.

What helps?

Focusing on one small area at a time.

Clearing just one shelf, or one drawer, or one pile, keeps me from getting overwhelmed. I still accomplish something. And one more little empty space opens up.

Of course, I need about 150 more of those little spaces to open up. And soon.

But I’m trying not to think about that til the fever abates.

P.S. Someone from my Freecycle group emailed, offering to take everything I’ve posted off my hands for another fund-raising yard sale. I gathered up all the items that people never responded to or never showed up for, boxed them up and stowed them in the garage. They should be picked up by end-of-day–yay! The person said they could continue to pick up more stuff for another week or so. Hallelujah!

I’m especially grateful because my local consignment shop said they are not booking “appointments” for accepting small stuff til mid-January (can you believe it??), and the thrift shops are all full of other people’s leftover yard sale stuff…

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #13: It’s Okay to Keep Stuff

I almost gave away half my collection of vintage suitcases this week. I even offered my six vintage Samsonite overnight cases to my daughter, to use for storage. She said no.

And I was secretly relieved.

I’m glad I kept them.

Remember when I described my altered art/paper collage projects as “vacations” from my regular artwork in the last essay?

Well, I’ve stowed all the materials in my suitcases. I stacked them on one of my
rolling steel shelving units
from Sam’s Club. (Thanks again for the great tip on these, Bonnie Blandford!)

I can grab a suitcase, make a funny pink drink with a little umbrella in it, and enjoy myself thoroughly. Just like a real vacation!

They look really, really, cool, too.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #12: Love Your Inner Pack Rat

Last week, I was at a point in clearing out my studio I thought I’d never be again.

I simply could not decide what to do with certain stuff.

I know I’m not going to make a name for myself with altered art or paper collage. I know I’m never going to make pillows for my living room ever again. I could ditch all those funky old books that are such incredible candidates for altering, the old dictionaries and paper ephemera I’ve accumulated for paper collage, and the lovely home decorating fabrics I’ve collected.

But it’s hard. Really, really hard! Why??

The purging process slowed down to not-moving-at-all again, and I was frantic. Fortunately, we were social butterflies this weekend. We had so many social engagements, I didn’t have time to do more than think about cleaning the studio.

And that’s when I got my next three insights:

Vacations are important.

Those “not-part-of-my-vision” pursuits are still enjoyable. They’re totally fun, with not much riding on the outcome–a sort of artistic vacation from my major work.

Like a vacation, they don’t take up a lot of my time. I really only indulge once or twice a year.

And also like a vacation, they they get me thinking outside the box. Some of my best ideas have come from playing with new processes.

When I’m stuck on a more “arty” project, these little sidetracks often get my creative process jump-started again. Many times, coming up with a totally unrelated project for a craft book editor solves a technical problem I’m having with fiber, or jewelry.

I’d hate to kick this to the curb when it’s still working for me.

So….stay or go?

I can decide not to decide.

Neither.

That’s when I realized that it’s easier to make decisions about stuff in the attic, or stuff that’s been out of sight, out of mind for awhile. It’s harder when you’ve looked at it every day and just can’t see it anymore. (Or worse, can’t see what you’re supposed to be looking at…)

In this case, I will use the attic for what it’s supposed to do: Storage for items I want to keep but don’t use every day.

The next stage is simply boxing up most of these treasures, and putting them in an accessible storage spot upstairs.

Next spring, when my open studios are over, my book proposal is in and the weather warms again, I’ll be able to look at the stuff with a sterner eye than I can today.

I can accept my inner pack rat.

I will always be a pack rat. It’s part of who I am, and how I create art.

But I don’t have to be a passive bystander to pack rat-itis.

I can understand this part of my nature. Even embrace it. But also one I will monitor more closely from now on.

I think this is working for me.

I’ve been out junk shopping since I came to this conclusion. I’m finding it easy to resist buying the stuff I normally buy: funky books, old sewing patterns, etc. I’ve seen what I have on hand already, and now I know–I have enough of these things. (At one booth, I actually said out loud, “Luann, step away from the button jar….”

I don’t feel sad about passing over them. I’m leaving them for someone else to find and enjoy.

Until, that is, I find something so totally awesome, I just have to have it! I did buy a beautiful piece of vintage willow green velvet fabric for a new wall hanging. And a green sap bucket for a wastebasket. I’m still a pack rat by nature, after all.

The cycle will start again. And that’s okay.

Because now I know this is a cycle. It’s part of my artistic process. One that I will recognize, respect and accommodate. I just need to make sure I purge my work spaces and storage areas more regularly.

And find more friends with pick-up trucks.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #11: Remember What YOU’VE Been Given

A reader posted a good comment to one of my essays in this series, remarking that different purge strategies work for different people. She pointed out that she makes good money from regular yard sales, and that the motivation of making a chunk of change works really well for her.

The same day, I met up with old acquaintance through Freecycle. She told me I had quite a reputation in our local chapter for “giving away great stuff”.

Uh-oh. It got me thinking….

Was I being an idiot, giving all this “great stuff” away?

I got caught up again about how much money I’d spent of this stuff. I wondered if I should be consigning this stuff, or selling it. It affected my ability to make quick decisions about each item.

And the purge process slowed down. Way, way down.

This weekend, I showed someone my newly-organized attic, with all my booth stuff stored neatly away to one side. There against a wall was my big insight.

I myself have been given so much.

I saw a set of panel walls (sort of old versions of MD Propanels, sort of like these. And a big set of Abstracta. A set of black puzzle floor mats; a shipping container; and a number of other items….

Things other artists had given to me.

It came about this way:

One year, I opted to do a sales/demo booth at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. It was a huge undertaking in so many ways, not the least of which was designing a gallery-like setting and a demonstration station in a 600 square foot tent space.

Yes, you read that right. I had to equip the equivalent of six standard-sized booth spaces.

I needed six times the walls I normally used. Six times the display structures. Six times the lighting. I needed a way to cover the floor, create signage, create traffic flow that made sense. Additional sales staff and inventory.

It was almost insurmountable. But I turned to my community–and my friends–and asked for help.

I posted on a few forums asking for ideas and suggestions.

Several artists responded not only with advice, but with stuff.

Thank you to Jill O’Reilly, who invited me down to her studio in Massachusets, and gave me her old wall set-up, flooring, and a ton of Abstracta parts.

And thank you to Amy Peters for giving me a ton of flooring and a shipping case to store it in.

I could not have created such an incredible presence at that show without their incredible generosity and support. What they gave me was worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. And neither of them asked for a penny, unless I “felt like” giving them a piece of my jewelry or something.

So when I start to fret about giving away a $25 object, or a $50 object, or a $100, I stop and think….

So much has been given to me. It’s my turn to give back.

For me, for right now, it would feel small-in-spirit to stop that flow, to hoard what I can’t or don’t want to use, until someone pays me for it.

That’s just where I am in my karmic cycle right now.

So as my reader said, if selling your discards works for you, go for it! If you need that money to finance your next step in your dream, do it! There have been times in my life where I needed the dough, and I truly understand.

But if you find it hinders instead of helps, know this:

You could be helping someone else take that big step forward, if you can simply let it go.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #10: What’s the Point?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, one of the hard things about letting go of something is remembering how much I paid for it.

And every time I mention that, someone suggests I sell the item on Ebay. Or take it to a consignment shop. Or have a yard sale.

I decided not to do those things. In the long run, it really isn’t worth it to me, for several reasons:

1. The time involved.

Learning to do Ebay effectively takes time. And brain energy.

Silly as it seems, I’m still not that comfortable with a digital camera. I have no idea how to upload images. I know those are skills I have to learn eventually. But stopping to learn them right now feels distracting to my de-junking mission.

Someone ran me through the process of selling on Ebay, and it’s a lot to come to grips with. I completed one auction. I couldn’t believe how much time it took up.

It takes time to decide what’s really worth selling. Time to describe each item, time to come up with my terms, time to package each item for shipping, time to run it to the post office. Time for the auction to run its course. Time to respond to customer questions.

If the item doesn’t sell, I have to decide once again whether to relist it, hold onto it again for another auction, or give it away.

I end up making lots of decisions about each individual item.

Same with a consignment shop. Time to figure out what they’ll take and what they won’t. Time to haul it to the store (usually by appointment.) Time spent determining a price. Time to haul the unwanted stuff back home, and to decide what to do with it again.

When an item sells, usually you can expect to get about 25% of the retail price (depending on its condition and desirability). If it sells. And if the store doesn’t have to further reduce the price to move it.

Whatever doesn’t sell, guess what? You have to take it back (unless you give them permission to dump it or give it to charity.)

Same with a yard sale. It takes time, time, time, to gather, tag, store, set out and sell each item. And then dispose of each unsold item.

Time, time, time. Time I’m not spending directly on my art.

Which brings me to the second reason:

2. What is my focus?

We hear over and over, what you pay attention to, will flourish. Well, I want to pay attention to my art, not my stuff.

Is all this extra time spent relocating my stuff for money really moving my business and art forward effectively?

I would rather move this stuff on and get back to making–and selling–my art.

Nicole Caulfield, the artist who walked me through an Ebay auction, sells small works of art there called ACEO. The time spent using Ebay directly helps her art business. It might be worthwhile exploring Ebay if I intend to sell my work there. But I don’t, for now.

The last reason is more subtle. But it helped me the most.

3. Giving helps me emotionally and spiritually.

The donations I made to the Sharon Arts Center “yart sale” helped them raise funds for new programs. It helped other artists who could really use those supplies. And it helped me. I got a tax deduction, equal perhaps to what I would have made at a consignment shop or yard sale.

Giving books to our public library’s book sale helps them raise money for new books. And other people get to read my books. I get to make space for new books! (Ohmigod, I can’t believe I said that!!!)

Donating to Planet Aid helps others around the world, donating to Project Share helps local kids have a good Christmas, donating to Freecyle creates good karma.

Many of these items I’ve been holding on to represent dreams I used to have. But I have new dreams now.

Letting go of your old dreams may help someone else’s dreams come true.

A friend once told me, “Sometimes when we pray, we may feel our prayers aren’t being answered. It’s because we haven’t made room for them. We have stuff blocking the way. The answer can’t get through.”

I think about that a lot. Lots of things can get in the way.

Junk. Hanging on to old dreams. Getting caught up in recouping money from our past mistakes.

Need one more reason to move it all on quickly?

Making room for your prayers to be answered may help be the answer to someone else’s prayers.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #9: Call For Backup!

Sometimes, no matter how much progress you’ve made or how strong your intentions are, you get stuck.

That’s happened many, many times throughout this process. Sometimes one thing worked, sometimes another.

This time, I simply needed another set of eyes.

Not just anybody, though. I wanted Carol. Or somebody like Carol.

Carol is an artist, too. She is kind, yet insightful and strong. She understands that some items aren’t really junk (though they might look like it to non-artist types.) She’s a good listener. She’s willing to work, if that’s what is needed.

I told her how far I’d gotten, what my goals were, and where I was stuck. She identified three key areas I could think about and act on.

1) I need work space.

I tend to fill up work space with stuff that isn’t work. Sounds stupid, but that’s what I do.

For example, my desk has all my supply catalogs on it. That makes for easy access. But it also means I can’t use my desk for writing. Was there somewhere else to put those catalogs where they’ll be accessible, but not taking up work space? Yes! I’m going to rearrange some shelves (and yes, move more books upstairs) to find a new spot for them.

Then I talked about other work spaces I’d inadvertently invaded with “stuff”. I set up nice display areas for last year’s open studios. But then I never dismantled them. Some display is desirable–I love it, and it makes the studio interesting. But if that has taken over, then no work can get done.

And I never even put stuff away from last year’s big retail show before I had to start preparing for this year’s show.

To be fair, that was the year o’ surgeries. I couldn’t put all that stuff away. Berating myself for it was unfair, and unhelpful. I was beating myself up emotionally for being messy. For buying art supplies I ended up not using. For giving so much stuff away without trying to recoup my investment.

Which brings me to Carol’s next insight:

2) I need to forgive myself.

Carol’s mantra was simple: “That was then. This is now.”

That’s who I was then. This is who I am now. That’s what I thought would work then. This is what I need to do now. I was doing okay, and now I could do better.

The actual organization of the studio was good. The layers were okay. It was piling on top of the layers that was getting me into trouble.

Guilt wasn’t working. So I set the guilt aside.

It helped. Immensely.

3) Group stuff together.

As I empty storage containers, set them aside in one corner. As I come across items that can go upstairs, group them in a spot for easy transport.

This was so simplistic, I nearly sneered. But it worked.

At first glance, we’d made little progress in our barn attic. (This space is where all my booth stuff is stored, and it’s the final repository for our house stuff, too.)

Actually we’d made huge progress. But all the clear boxes I’d bought/gathered for organizing were scattered throughout the space, making it look as if everything was still strewn around.

Once I’d grouped those in a single pile off to one side, the floor space really opened up. And I could tell I’d made a huge difference up there.

I’m using this same principle on my studio, starting today. Already I feel upbeat and hopeful that this really will get done.

So if you get really stuck, enlist the aid of someone who can get your over the hump. Someone who will not judge, someone with sensitivity and strength. Someone who really wants to see you get to that next step.

Or someone with a truck.

Tomorrow’s post will address why I’ve decided over and over not to sell most of this stuff. It’s a good decision for me, and maybe it will work for you, too.

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