Years of apartment living and juggling the needs of a family of six have taught me a few things about clutter. It seems like the cardinal rule is to not make it in the first place, but unfortunately, I am a clutter bug by nature. I am doomed to expand to fill the whatever space I am given. One important lesson that I learned at our last apartment was that creating an organization system that doesn’t work with my style will result in failure every time. Armed with that knowledge, I set up my first studio by creating zones that fit my work style while focusing on keeping the most-used items readily available.
Another important organizing truth I learned is that all the baskets, bins and shelves in the world won’t work if I have too much stuff for my space. Furthermore, it’s important to think about what I need to organize and the space I have for it before buying nifty widgets to hold my stuff. A closet or shelving unit holds a finite amount of matter. Rubbermaid totes can only be stacked four or five high before they hit the ceiling or toppling over. If it reaches that point (ideally before then!), it’s time to downsize. I have promised myself that if I find myself thinking “I need another tote,” I will stop and sort through what I have and donate some of it to charity.
My current studio has four main areas: the closet, the sewing table, the “extra” desk and the computer desk. For the most part, these zones are working well, as long as I make a point to keep on top of things. I’ve come to realize that one of my biggest time wasters is spending an hour cleaning up the mess that I’ve let accumulate for two weeks, instead of spending five minutes a day tidying up.
The closet contains my completed inventory, bins of fabric, scrapbooking supplies, yarn and other random detritus including an old iMac and wrapping paper. It also serves as the hiding place for holiday gifts (and chocolate). Most importantly, there’s an organized area for my shipping supplies. I re-purposed hanging closet shelves from a previous home to contain envelopes, bubble mailers, tissue paper, a postage scale and boxes. Having a designated spot for these items simplifies the shipping process and encourages me to always put the shipping supplies back where they belong.
My top priority is keeping the sewing/cutting table clear. If I allow things to pile up on it, I have no hope of working efficiently, or even of being inspired to sew. The cutting mat is always on the table and I place my sewing machine on top of it. Underneath the table, there’s a conveniently placed bin for scrap fabrics. I recently admitted to myself that I will never be able to use all of the scraps and started donating some of my scraps to collage artists and other crafters (including my children).
We had planned to set up a second computer on the extra desk, but my fabric addiction quickly gobbled up the available space. The desktop is currently being used as a staging area for creating market totes. The fabric is organized in stacks, but my current goal is to clear off the top of the desk so that my children can use it for their creative endeavors. Meeting this goal will require a lot of sewing in the next few weeks or getting rid of some fabric that I am not likely to use. In actuality, I will probably use a combination of the two to tackle it.
My desk is usually a disaster area. It’s covered with the computer, printer and electronic gadgets; to-do lists and love notes from my children; coupons, menu planners and grocery lists; a plastic drawer set for bills, stamps and address labels; a wire bin for random bits of paper I can’t part with; homeschooling materials and assignments; a stack of CDs; hair bobbles and assorted toys that the children leave behind when visiting. I keep a shredder and recycling bin at the end of my desk and I use them every day. I do try to clean the desk every week, but it’s one area that I have decided is mostly hopeless, and that’s okay.
The third, and maybe the most redeeming, lesson I’ve learned while battling the clutter bug is that taking baby steps is acceptable. My studio doesn’t have to be perfect. I didn’t accumulate my stash overnight and it took years for me to realize that my bad habits were holding back my creativity, and it will likely take me years to streamline my space. While I am still tempted to do an extreme makeover, I know that it would be wasted time. In the long run, focusing on one or two areas of my studio and creating systems that truly work will improve my productivity.
Andrea Quenneville blogs at Thoughts from Ms. Q.