09 April 2008

Less Stuff?

A box full of silk flowers. Unfinished quilt blocks from a yard sale. Thirty-year old patchwork primers. Six yards of knit fabric in Wedgewood blue. A milk crate full of old quilting magazines. Ten yards of plastic pearls. A Hawaiian lei. Three heaping handfuls of black ribbon cut into 6-inch pieces. Roll after roll of wired ribbon. Two yards of gold pleather. A shopping bag full of curtain remnants. A grocery bag full of costume remnants.


Piles of it. Boxes full of it. Drawers overloaded with it. Floor space heaped with it. Shelves creaking with it.

Simply too much.

I am starting to realize that I don't solely own my things, but that they also own me too. While my things serve functions or provide me options, there are also energy costs associated with each thing I own.

For example, I own a bread machine. It takes up roughly 16" of counter space. It sits next to the stove, so periodically I have to wipe it down to remove spatters and oil. These are the energy costs associated with my bread machine.

But, I use it at least twice a week to make homemade bread, baguettes, coffee bread, and pizza. Eating homemade bread and feeling the satisfaction that comes with that enhances my life. On balance, the costs involved with owning and caring for my bread machine are outweighed by the benefits of eating fresh bread all week.

The same can't be said for everything.

In my large studio I have lots of stuff. It has expanded beyond my existing storage solutions. Working in there is difficult. It's hard to find things. To do anything, I have to move around piles and boxes.

As my aesthetic and artistic vision is changing, I've noticed that my relationship to the material objects I have collected for my work is also changing. My new work, come June, will be simpler, using combinations of fabric and stitch. I don't envision using many found objects or embellishments. Many of the boxes of things I have collected over the past years feel irrelevant to me. And yet, there they sit, cluttering up my work space and distracting me from the materials that are still relevant.

Walking into my studio doesn't leave me inspired. Instead, I just feel tired. The energy costs associated with the stuff I have collected for my creative work are huge.

I've talked about my stuff before, but in an uncritical way. Everything was clumped into one category of stuff whether it was ultimately useful or wasteful. But now, with a clearer vision of both the energy costs of owning things and the future path of my artistic pursuits, I can look at my things critically and assess their usefulness.

Yesterday, I began the difficult task of cleaning up. Four hours of work resulted in three trash bags ready for the garbage and several other bags ready to find new homes. I wasn't ruthless. Decluttering is a bit like pulling off a bandage. Sure, you can yank it off and suffer, but I find it easier and less painful to slowly encourage it off.

As useful as my work yesterday was, in no way do I assume that I am finished. There will be future decluttering sessions, for certain. But I'm going to be gentle about it. I'll live with what I've accomplished and note how my creative energy changes. Next time, after realizing how much better I feel unencumbered by clutter, I bet I'll be willing to part with things that were borderline today.

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