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 #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.