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.

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.

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.

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.

CLEANING THE ATTIC #7: Get People to Come to You!

I think the hardest thing about doing a major attic/house/studio purge is hauling the stuff away.

It’s hard enough making the millions of choices: “You, you can stay. We still need each other. But you, you and you–you all have to go. I know. I loved you, and a part of me still does. But I’ve changed. We’ve both changed. We both have different needs now. It’s time to acknowledge that and move on.”

Yes, it’s like a break-up thing. Except that, once you’ve broken up, the stuff just sits there til you do something about it.

So you thought about breaking up, and then you had to go through the break up, and now you have to pack them up and drive them to the train station. Ow!

Oh, wait–that’s getting your adult kids to move out.

To date, we’ve managed to find relatively easy ways to move stuff on (Freecyle, curbside donations, and Planet Aid.)

Yesterday, I found another way to make the process a little easier. I called the owner of a local used bookstore to come and take a peek at the twenty-five remaining boxes of books.

(Yes, we managed to fill not one, but two county jail libraries with our previous donations.)

She came that very same evening, and we went through the books together. It was pleasant (she was funny and nice) and it went quickly (she knows what she wants for her store.) She was also collecting children’s books for a friend who ships them to school libraries on reservations out West. So I got to donate to yet another worthy cause. (And someone else will be doing the packing and shipping, to boot.)

We could have gotten a nice check, or store credit, out of the deal. Maybe I still will. I told her I really didn’t care–which encouraged her to take more books than she would have otherwise. Hey, if I make enough to buy just a few really nice books from her store, I figure I still come out ahead.

It helps that the owner lives fairly close to us, and could easily stop by. So this option isn’t for everyone. But you’d be surprised how many people might be willing to come to your house, evaluate your stuff and take it away with them. Some charities do it–call your favorite one and ask.

Sometimes they’ll even pay you! They’re called “pickers” and they will resell your stuff at auctions, flea markets and their booths at group dealer antique stores. Some even turn around and sell it at consignment shops. Maybe you’ve seen their ads in the classified section of your local newspaper: “Wanted–old furniture, old jewelry. Call for an appointment today!” They show up with a big van or a truck or trailer. They are ready to deal!

Obviously, if you are trying to sell items of value, then you’d want to consider the picker’s reputation. And maybe even take action yourself–go the route of consignment or auction. Mostly they want to buy cheap and fast and move on. Be ready.

But if nothing is too precious, and your time and energy are precious commodities, and you just want the stuff G*O*N*E, then why not let someone else do the grunt work? And let them make a little money in the process.

CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #6: Help Someone Else

I’ve made a little more progress today, letting go of some really sticky stuff. Every day, I find a new way to think about each item, deciding if it stays or goes.

Books were the hardest. We love to read and reread our books, and we have eclectic tastes. Books had taken over our house.

Yet to date, we have packed up over fifty boxes of books. Yes, you read that right! (Fear not, we still have plenty of books left….)

Now, I’ve tried for several years to part with some of those books. How was I able to suddenly cull out 75% of my titles?

And what made me finally let go of a knitting machine, a camera stand with lights, a slide projector and screen? (I can just hear the little hectoring voice in the back saying, “Besides the fact that they’re all so outdated?” Hey, it’s still good stuff!)

Here’s what: I donated them to groups that would benefit hugely.

A friend works in program services at a county jail. When I first mentioned getting rid of some books, he said, “I’ll take ’em! I’ve been wanting to beef up our library at the jail.”

It’s odd, but somehow the thought of my books being read by someone down on their luck, someone who’s taken a few too many wrong turns in life, someone who was so bored they’d read anything, someone who might think, “Hey…that was a good story!”…was compelling. And liberating. We quickly filled seven boxes of books and gave them to John. (It helps that he came to pick them up, too.)

He was impressed with our selection. “Not a single *$#!# romance, either!” he said admiringly. (Apparently people tend to donate romance novels to jails. Go figure.)

He said he’d name the library after us. Well! If that’s the case, we’d better give ’em even more books! So we filled seven more boxes. “The Udell Memorial Library?” I suggested. “Nah, that would mean you’re dead,” replied John. Oh.

We packed up another ten boxes. Then a dozen. Finally, John said “uncle!” But he gave us the name of another program manager at another jail–who was also delighted to have our books. He even came to get them, too. We gave him fifteen boxes. Another twenty-four sit in our garage waiting for him. Hmmm…I guess that’s more than fifty boxes.

Tip: For each book, we decided if we could easily find it at the library, or if we could easily find the information on the internet, it left the building. Ditto if we didn’t want to reread it, or if we had multiple copies.

The big-ticket items were set free soon after. A dear friend mentioned that the non-profit arts center she works for was having a fund-raising yard sale soon. Would I consider giving them some stuff? I could give to a good cause, and get a tax deduction to boot. She even offered to pick up whatever I was willing to donate.

Turns out some of the items are coveted by the center itself. So maybe my donations will end up helping many budding artists and craftspeople. I found myself adding to the pile throughout the day.

There’s something compelling about knowing our donations might change someone’s life for the better.

Suddenly, it’s clear that hoarding something I know in my heart I will never use again, feels wrong. Letting it go to a good cause simply feels right.

So think of a group or cause that would benefit from your old stuff. Somehow it makes it easier to let go.

Maybe it’s part of that legacy thing I was talking about yesterday.

CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip#4: Magazine Drop

I’m a magazine fanatic–can’t get enough of them. I love getting stuff in the mail. Especially a pristine issue of a magazine that promises to help you change your life in seven easy steps.

I love them all: Home magazines. Art magazines. Craft magazines. Business magazines. Craft business magazines. News magazines. Essay magazines. Environmental magazines. Lifestyle magazines. Women’s magazines. I love O and W, and MSL. My secret guilty pleasure is People magazine at my dentist’s office. (“I’m not ready for my cleaning, I have to find out what Britney did next!”) (And why can’t she spell her name right??)

I pore over the articles and dog-ear the ones that especially speak to me. I drool over the photo layouts, dreaming that someday my hair/body/home/wardrobe/closet could look just like theirs.

I save magazines, going back to read and reread those same articles. If they are “how-to” or craft magazines, I keep them until the projects and styles are so outdated, they’re retro.

Consequently, I’m always drowning in magazines. As I clean my attic, I find boxes, laundry baskets and suitcases filled with magazines. Yes, suitcases. You know those stacks of vintage suitcases you see in home style magazines? The stacks that make great end tables? You’re supposed to get “extra storage” outta them by stuffing your magazines inside the suitcases? Well, do they ever say what you’re supposed to do when those suitcases are full??

Now it’s time to move those wonderful issues on to some other unsuspecting…er…deserving…person.

Sometimes I find homes for them on Freecycle. Sometimes they get stashed out in the garage til I figure out what to do with them. Then, after they’ve been dripped on, tripped over and ripped up, I haul them out to the recycling bin. (The cardboard boxes won’t hold up under those conditions, hence the laundry baskets….)

But there’s one way to move magazines on that feels a little Robin Hood-ish, a little outlaw-ish….

I sneak them into public waiting rooms.

This idea came to me after spending eons of time in our local clinic last winter. I went through an endless period of testing, follow-up testing, surgeries, surgical follow-ups and check-ups. I felt like I was spending 90% of my time in waiting rooms.

And there was never anything interesting to read.

The worst was the pediatrician’s office. Okay, that wasn’t for me, that was for one of my kids. But I couldn’t get into the baby mags (my youngest is 16) and I couldn’t even bear to look at the pregnancy mags. (And oddly, the best magazine selection was in the orthopedics department’s waiting room….. What’s up with that?!)

It was then the connection was made in my brain. Hmmmm…..dearth of magazines….plethora of magazines…yessss!

So on my next visit, I brought an armload of my own magazines. And surreptitiously left them behind.

I even snuck in a few issues of the now-defunct CraftsBusiness magazine, the on I wrote a regular column for. Self-promotion! AmericanStyle, if your subscription rate suddenly spikes, you have me to thank for it.

I know they must be appreciated, because the last time I had to wait for a doctor’s appointment, I was surprised to see they had some good magazines to read.

Then I realized they were the ones I’d left the last time I was there.

I happily settled in to reread those great articles until the nurse came for me.

Now I carry a small bag of magazines in my car, ready to leave a few behind wherever I go. I’m taking some today to my appointment for new tires.

I will bet you a silk pajama they won’t have More or Country Living in their waiting room….

But there will be after I leave.

P.S. If you worry about possible repercussions, remove your subscription label from each copy before you leave them. Although why letting bad people know I subscribe to Mare Englebreit’s Home Companion would leave me more vulnerable to a potential home invasion, I have no idea.

P.S.S. Dube’s Tire loved the magazine donation!