Category Archives: recycling tip

CLEANING THE STUDIO Redux

Lord, I hope “redux” means “revisited”…. Just checked Wiki–yes!!

It all started when we cleaned out our daughter’s old room. She came home to help. I had visions of the two of us cutting a swatch through the piles o’ stuff, filling bag after bag of stuff to be tossed, given, moved or….or….what else do you do with a 1942 manual on identifying enemy planes?

Instead, we spent a leisurely afternoon of Robin browsing through old journals, school notebooks and yearbooks. We tried on the hats we bought on family trips to Boston. (We once defused a family spat by stopping in a little shop on Newbury Street called TOPPERS. We all bought hats. Now it’s a family tradition.) Finally, after hours of delicate sorting, Robin announced she’d salvaged everything she wanted. I was free to take care of the rest. (My professional writer voice is calm and dignified. My mother voice is about to scream.)

From there, I’ve managed to keep up with my goal of removing one bag o’ stuff a day from her room, the attic and my studio. It feels like truly sisyphean task. I comfort myself by doing the math. If I keep it up, in a year I will have removed 365 bags. Not too shabby, hey?

This has all happened before. It will all happen again. (Who says you can’t learn something important from Battlestar Galactica reruns?

Sometimes it helps to know how you did it before. Other times, knowing what’s in store can add to the overwhelming nature of the task. (The first words out of my mouth when I tore my ACL the send time were, “Oh, NO, NO, NO, NOT AGAIN!!!” I knew I was in for another surgery, I knew I was in for at least six months of recovery, I knew it would be at least a year before I felt back to normal.

I couldn’t face it. But….

I did it anyway.

So today as I dig in once again, I share with you three thoughts and resources that are helping:

1) “Leave it for someone else.” Too many of my clutter–er, collecting–impulses are fueled by the thought that I’ve discovered something wonderful, and I need to save it from oblivion in the thrift shop.

But now I ask if I truly love it or have a use for it. If not, I know it will be found and cherished by someone else. So….I leave it for someone else.

2) “Would I buy this again today?” I can’t believe how much this helps me decide what will stay and what should go.

3) This website, Clutter Buster, by Brooks Palmer.

I can’t remember where the first two questions came from, but will credit them when I track the source down.

In the meantime, I need to go fill another bag.

What strategies help YOU clean out?

Happy spring cleaning!

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #19: Take Out the Empties

As I enter into the last 24 hours of cleaning frenzy (assuming I don’t stay up til 2 a.m. for the next two nights, which I’m not saying I won’t, mind you, but at my age, it’s hard) there’s one cleaning tip I come back to again and again. It’s ridiculously simple, but perhaps the most single most helpful tip I’ve found.

When I enlisted the help of my good friend Carol Laughner, the second thing she advised me to do seemed kinda silly at the time. (I can’t remember the other two right now. If I do, I’ll share those, too.)

As I empty storage containers or organizers, she said I should gather them up and set them aside, in one big pile, in an out-of-the-way area.

I nodded my head obligingly when she told me this. After all, she was helping me. I wasn’t going to argue with her. But I couldn’t see why this was one of her “big three” organizing tips.

Well, guess what? It works.

It turns out that keeping them in your line of sight as you work creates a visual distraction. I’d find my eye roving around the room, thinking of what I had to do next. I would see an empty rolling drawer cart, or a magazine file, or a box, or a jar. Then I’d have to think, “Oh, it’s empty, I don’t have to do anything with that.” Except, of course, step over it, move it out of the way, push it aside or stack it on something else.

Also, when I’d get ready to reorganize a space, I’d think of a perfect “thing” to use–but then I couldn’t remember where it was. I’d spend several precious moments looking for it. And sometimes I’d realize I’d already commandeered it for another spot.

About the eleventh time I stepped over an empty plastic tub, or searched for a basket the right size, I realized Carol was right.

I set the “empties” in a pile near the door to my barn attic. Several times a day, I took them upstairs to the “master pile”.

I instantly had more walking-around space. And fewer distractions to boot.

I could then judiciously add some of the containers back in as I needed them.

I don’t know why this works so well, but it does. So listen to Carol and move those empties to a staging area while you work on your mega-mess.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #18: Find Someone More Worthy

The end is almost in sight. I’ve achieved a few clear surfaces in here. And this time, it’s not because everything that was on them is stuffed in boxes underneath. The stuff is either neatly organized and stored in the attic, or G-O-N-E.

The process is easier some days, harder on others.

One consolation: There’s very little that’s pure-D trash. Most of it is saleable, salvageable, worthy of donation or recyclable.

Of course, if it’s good enough to sell/salvage/donate, it’s also good enough to keep. And therein lies the heart of the problem.

It’s easy to talk ourselves into keeping something that’s still “good enough”. Hey, maybe we really will have another baby (or somebody will), redecorate our home (in the same color scheme/style we left behind fifteen years ago), or take up weaving again (even though I hate threading the loom.)

One trick around this is to find someone more worthy.

I’ve done this by donating to good causes: Our public library’s book sale, which raises money for buying more books. (Better them than me, right?) An art center’s fund raising “yart” sale, and also direct donations to their art programs (photography equipment, art supplies.) An after-school art program. A family that makes jewelry and donates the money from sales to worthy causes.

When it comes to fabric, there’s one place that always gets the culls from my stash.

It’s a sewing program at a state prison facility for women.

I read about this group years ago. They make clothing and quilts for children in homeless shelters and babies with AIDS.

It really moved me that these women, who have made some disastrous decisions in their lives, were trying to comfort someone else–a little person–even worse off.

It’s been awhile since I’ve had enough fabric to donate, so I had to make quite a few phone calls to track down a contact. But the program manager is delighted I thought of them again. We’ve arranged a drop-off point.

Inspired again by this group, I found myself pulling even more fabric off my shelves.

Pay it forward. Find someone who could really put your unused stuff to good purpose.

And watch the world grow a little richer, a little brighter, a little more loving.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #17: Persistence of Utility

One of the biggest obstacles to de-junking is worrying you’ll get rid of something you’ll really regret later.

All of us have a story like that. One week, you throw away all your red widgets. The next, you realize you desperately need more red widgets. And they cost three times as much as what you paid for them last time.

Or you give away a wodget you didn’t use for ten years. And a week later, you think of some usage that wodget would be perfect for.

A friend once explained that phenomenon to me. It needs a good name. Like “rue-membering”.

The reality is, you’d already forgotten you had that wodget. if you hadn’t cleaned out your attic and come across that wodget, you still would not have thought of it a week later.

Or if you did find the perfect use for it, and remembered you had it, you wouldn’t have been able to find it anyway.

You remembered it only because you touched it recently.

It’s like that “persistence of vision” thing when you look at a bright light, then look away. You don’t really still see the light–you see an image of the light that’s temporarily “burned” on your retina.

Similarly, you are having a “persistence of utility” for that object.

And it creates just enough regret to slow down your purging process.

Remember that when you’re making your stay/go decisions and your supports-my-vision/distracts-me-from-my-vision decisions.

And if you find yourself still full of second-guessing, here’s a good statistic to keep in mind:

Out of the thousands of items I’ve given away in the past month, I regret giving away oh, maybe one or two of them.

And I can’t even remember what those are right now.

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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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