Whether you’re passionate about sewing, scrapbooking, or sculpting, creativity is often messy. The fabric bundles, paper piles, and assorted bric-a-brac aren’t everyday clutter—they’re potential works of art. (At least that’s what you’ve been telling yourself and your family for years.)
In order to keep your supplies, tools, and in-progress projects from taking over your home, set boundaries and decide how much space you’re willing to give to a craft or hobby. “Don’t let your supplies drive your decision,” professional organizer Kathy Jenkins says. “Your space must come first.” Although this initial decision can be tough, shared spaces (a dining area that moonlights as a sewing room) or portable solutions (wheeled caddies, project bags) can let you flex some creative muscles even if your home doesn’t accommodate a dedicated room.
Get It Together
After defining your creative space, gather your tools, materials, and references together. If you stash creative gear in multiple spots, you likely don’t know your true storage needs. Sort like items into piles, but don’t place them in cabinets, closets, or containers yet. "Successfully storing and organizing crafts supplies is about ongoing inventory control," Jenkins says. Start the editing process by combining partial quantities and eliminating duplicates. Test all tools and supplies, discarding anything that doesn’t work perfectly.
Determining whether an item—or indeed, an entire craft—is out-of-date can be particularly challenging. Jenkins reminds clients that "Crafts change over time, and so do you." Maybe you were into metallic printed fabric, but you finished those projects years ago. Do you really want to dedicate space to a look that’s over for you?
Because people often struggle to make objective decisions about things they’re passionate about, a paid professional or a trusted friend can push you to get realistic. “You can easily convince yourself you might need something someday,” Jenkins says. Family and other sewers, however, aren’t always the best helpers. Family comments can easily feel judgmental, and friends, particularly those who share your hobby, are likely to add your castoffs to their own already overflowing supplies.
Reference materials are one area where Jenkins recommends ruthlessness. Patterns, instructions, and other inspiration from the 1970s, ’80s, and even the ’90s are often dated to the point of being unusable. Even if you like vintage looks, you’re unlikely to actually work from vintage directions. “Bottom line: Vintage reference materials must be timeless to merit storing,” Jenkins says. Ask yourself if you can get similar (and perhaps better) information and inspiration somewhere else that requires no storage space, such as a website, a library, or a museum.
Give It Away
Your old supplies can benefit someone else when you give them away. “Remind yourself that you’re passing on your passion,” Jenkins says. “You’re encouraging someone else’s expression and discovery.” It’s also pretty cool that your supplies can become something totally different from what you imagined in another person's hands.
Elementary schools will take just about any art supply you’re willing to part with, and middle and high school students are in constant need of supplies as well. Don’t overlook community resource centers, including those that cater to after-school care and individuals with special needs. Preschools and day care centers are generally a bit more selective about donations, but adult day cares and nursing homes are often very open, even accepting old magazines and books. Always call first and explain specifically what you want to give them.
Put It Away
Most creative people are also visual learners, so play to your strengths while setting up your organized crafts or hobby space. “You will feel more creative and energized when your supplies are displayed,” Jenkins says. “If you put it away in a cabinet or drawer, you might as well not have it.”
Take the time to display your supplies and tools attractively, keeping like with like. Hang items on walls using hooks and other holders. Store clustered supplies in clear containers, and position everything on open shelving. Reserve tabletops, cubbies, and shelves for items you frequently use and interact with, such as your sewing machine and fabric.
You can safely put away things that you will be purposeful in finding. When you need a template or interfacing, for instance, you will remember that you have them and know where to find them. By contrast, you probably won’t remember all the thread colors you have. Jenkins recommends displaying your major or most frequently used colors, and then creating a list or sample palette of all the colors you currently have in stock.
Keep It Tidy
Quick cleanup is critical if you want to keep creative clutter to a minimum. “You will not put things back into deep storage mid-project,” Jenkins says. “So do everything you can to limit packing and unpacking.”
Designate clear containers for each active project. Look for containers with handles (and perhaps wheels) so you can move them around easily. Plastic zipper bags or cardboard pizza boxes are inexpensive alternatives to off-the-rack options, but if a project is taking years to complete or you’re working with sensitive materials, invest in acid-free containers. Whatever your container choice, write the project name, start date, and target deadline with marker on a label or the container itself. That way, you create a project log and a written goal in a few seconds.