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Sep 10, 2014

FIVE TIPS for Downsizing Your Fabric Stash (or anything else)

Digging out the bedroom: there's a bed under there somewhere!

Despite my having written many posts about decluttering, one of the areas I've never tackled is my fabric stash.

Just as I can't think straight when I'm feeling overwhelmed by clutter, I can't plan my sewing projects effectively when I don't know what fabric I own and where to find it.  It's also discouraging that a lot of the fabric I have on-hand inspires me hardly at all.

I don't think my fabric stash is large compared with some stashes I read about; my proximity to the Garment District means I rarely buy fabric on impulse and almost never online.  Still, with five years of sewing under my belt, I have much more than I need.  Remember that bolt of purple cotton corduroy I once found on the street?  It's very nice fabric, but I think three yards of it should cover all my imminent purple corduroy needs, don't you?

If I lived in a house with a basement and/or attic, or had a designated sewing room, perhaps I'd keep everything.  But since my stash lives in the bedroom, I have to sleep with it every night.  I could keep buying additional storage boxes, but even if I stacked them seven high, eventually I'd run out of floor space.

So I've been culling, reorganizing, and trying to create a fabric stash that reflects my current taste/interests rather than those I had years ago.  We all change.  Just as you wouldn't want to be living in your high school bedroom (college pennants, Farrah poster!), you want your belongings to be an expression of who you are now.

Here are a few tips that I've developed that are helping me move forward.

1) FORGIVE YOURSELF FOR ACCUMULATING THE STUFF IN THE FIRST PLACE

I find it really hard to get rid of stuff I've spent money on.  It's one thing if I found an item in the trash, but if I purchased it, how can I now give it away for nothing?

I remind myself that there's plenty of fabric in the world.  By donating the fabric that no longer excites me to a thrift store, I make room for fabric that does excite me.  When I purchased the fabric, I did it with every intention of using it, but it didn't work out.  I could punish myself and force myself to hold on to it all (or even to sew with it) but it certainly isn't going to bring the money back.

2) FORGIVE YOURSELF FOR NOT MONETIZING YOUR LOSS

There are some things I can't easily give away: they cost (or are worth) too much.  I went through an eBay-selling period this summer and made some cash selling an old camera and some brand new running shoes that never fit right.  It felt good to do this, despite the time and effort it took.  But it's easier to sell a brand-name item like a camera than it is to sell fabric -- not that people don't go to eBay to purchase fabric sometimes.  But right now, it's more important to clear away my fabric clutter while I'm on a roll.

If I had to sell my fabric in order to pay for a wisdom tooth extraction, that would be a different story.  But right now, knock wood, I don't: I had my wisdom teeth extracted decades ago.

3) THE THRIFT STORE (FLEA MARKET/CURB) HAS BEEN GOOD TO YOU; YOU CAN BE GOOD TO IT IN RETURN

I've found wonderful treasures in the trash, at the flea market, and at my local Salvation Army.  At the time, I couldn't believe people would get rid of these things.  Well, now I believe it: stuff piles up fast.  Donating it is how we keep the cycle going.  If everybody hoarded their treasures, those great finds wouldn't exist.  By giving these things away, I'm helping to restock the source and let others enjoy what I am no longer able to.





4) FEEL THE FEAR AND DUMP IT ANYWAY

I know it sounds weird, but when I get rid of things, I sometimes hear a little voice say, You'll be sorry: you'll need those three yards of wool plaid one day and you won't have them and you'll recriminate yourself for having given them away.   

My answer to this little voice is that, if I ever wish I'd kept that wool plaid sometime in the future, I'll remember that when I made the decision to let go of it, it felt like the right choice at the time -- the best choice I could come up with.

Sometimes we really do miss something we've disposed of.  In my experience, however, it happens almost never.

This leftover pique will become dish towels this week, promise.

5) NEW SPACE CREATES NEW GROWTH

I know that, despite all my downsizing efforts, new fabric will likely replace the old fabric, and that's OK.  I can try to be more discerning, but I'll probably fill up my one now-empty storage box eventually.  But it will be with things that inspire me and stimulate my creativity now, not five years ago.

I still have a way to go.  And after the fabric, there are patterns, sewing books, and even a few sewing machines that are not enhancing my life at all, just the opposite.  But even if I stop with just the fabric, it's giving me more room to breathe, literally and metaphorically.

I hope you find these tips helpful.  If you have any other great fabric stash-culling ideas, please share them below.

Have a great day, everybody!

One box of (mainly) knits
Ivory and pink solids and prints in another box.

52 comments:

  1. I am sew proud of you! I have been de-stashing too. It feels soooooo good!

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  2. Gee maybe this will inspire me to give away a couple of sewing machines. You know, those that you thought were such a great buy that it would be easy to turn them around if you decided you didn't want them. Uh... except that going through the effort of selling them takes hours, well below minimum wage hours. And it turns out that not everyone is raving mad about vintage machines after all.

    It was sort of like when you decide on a new car. You though it was the cat's meow, but now that you have it, you see the same care everywhere - I mean EVERYWHERE - seems they are common as hens teeth and nobody with any sense is looking to buy one now, especially an old scruffy one. Sheeesh.

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    1. I was reading a blog, don't remember who or where and he was really into vintage sewing machines, posted videos on them and how to repair them. The last post was that he was using a "modern" machine because in the end it did all the things that he really needed for sewing. I love the look of vintage sewing machines but for my purposes I much prefer my electronic brother that does great stitch work. Most people I know anyway do have vintage machines but rarely use them. I have two but now have given them away.

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    2. I have a couple of "vintage" machines, but not because they are pretty, but because I use them on daily basis for my freelance design business. My significant other has a very expensive Bernina with all the bells and whistles, but, quite frankly, that is a delicate Swiss watch compared to my 1950's all metal Pfaff, a veritable iron work horse. After rescuing it from a thrift store for a song, paying a mechanic to fine tune it, I use it nearly everyday to sew samples and develop new designs. Yes, I also have an industrial Juki, but that reliable and indestructible machine can't do zig zag, buttons and buttonholes like my vintage Pfaff. So, for me, the vintage machines have paid for themselves many times over, and they are going to stay! John Y

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  3. I've learned as I get older that having some empty space is as wonderful as getting new things. Trouble is around here thrift stores don't take fabric. It would wind up in the dumpster and hate to donate knowing that. I've recently found a friend in a quilting group that will take literally anything. They donate their unusable for dog bedding at their humane society. Now that I have an outlet. I need to do just what you are doing.

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    1. Hey BeckyW, I went thru a major purge of things and fabric. All the fabric, giant rolls of home dec fabric when to a local animal shelter. They used it for pet scarfs and beds. They used the wool I donated to make blankets for pets and horses. The remainder of my donated items when to raise 1000.00 for the animal shelter. I was glad I did it,

      I am a big fan of donating my fabric/wool etc that I no longer wish to use to local animal shelters. They are so in need of things. My dog Maximus the Westie is a shelter dog. I now donate in his name when I purge my excess fabric and wool.
      -Corey

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  4. there is a facebook group to help get rid of fabric called Fabric Crafters U bid it Destash! You can try them.

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  5. I can really relate to this. I have a lot of lovely cotton and poly-cotton prints that just don't fit my style anymore, so I can't see myself sewing with them. Sewing/knitting/crafting time is precious for me at the moment. So I am planning on either donating those fabrics to a charity shop, host a give-away or give it to a local quilting group.

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  6. I used to feel bad about getting rid of stuff that other people gave to me. A sweater from my grandparents comes to mind. Then I thought that it would be better of used by someone who wanted/needed it than archived in my apartment. (And eliciting feelings of guilt whenever I ran across it). I thought this was a better way of honoring the idea of a gift. I haven't downsized my fabric collection much yet, but I when I do get rid of some things, that's how I approach it -- it's better to be used than not. Also, hopefully it brings a buck or two to Goodwill.

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  7. I would rather give away my limbs than my fabric stash. However, I really admire your ability to declutter. Heaven knows I could do with some lessons. ;)

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  8. On #2 - I find that when I donate fabric that I've fallen out of love with to a good cause, the thought that someone else may make it into something special or something needed - maybe for someone who is special to them - is enough for me to overcome any thoughts about money spent in the past.

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  9. I would just add to the above tips: Forgive yourself for change and growth. Sometimes coming to the conclusion that we made a bad decision in the past (fabric, machine, lover) means addressing our own shortcomings in style and taste. Hanging on to something can often mean evading truth. Rather than dwell on the past, focus on the growth, the improvement, the future.

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  10. This post applies to more than fabric. Thank you for writing it.

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    1. Indeed. "I could punish myself and force myself to hold on to it all (or even to sew with it) but it certainly isn't going to bring the money back." Replace fabric references with relationship ones, and the best advice I've gotten in awhile.

      Thanks sweetie. I needed it.

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  11. I listed my de-stashed fabric as free stuff on craigslist. A volunteer from a group who works with developmentally disabled adults came by and took it all, fabric, notions and all. It's always good to move on when you need to, it's a win-win for you and for whoever gets the fabric.

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  12. Peter, check with an organization that runs a shelter for women an children. I used to volunteer at one. A creative outlet was a sanity saver for some of the residents. Having something at which they could work and about which they felt could sometimes gave them just enough confidence to resist the temptation to return to unpleasant situations.

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    1. That's a really good idea. Where I live, there are crafting groups that teach knitting/crochet/sewing to people in need, and other groups that knit and sew for charity groups. They always need supplies.
      I gave my stash to the to the Toronto Textile Museum for their annual sale that raises funds to maintain and acquire artifacts and support classes. The yarn went to a charity knitting group.

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  13. After the second time I did this, I decided that fabric is trendy, and needs to be purchased just in time for the project. I have had only two over supply problems in all these years since that decision, and face the current overstock fabric with familiar lack of enthusiasm. So, I am sure it will soon be on its way. You will be glad you did.

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  14. If it's something I've bought that I'm passing on to an op shop, I tell myself that the money is already long spent. That if it doesnt' fit the lift I want as I am now, that it's better off with someone else!

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  15. Earlier this year I destashed 82 pounds of "what was I thinking?" fabric to a store in my city called Scrap. They sell all sorts of crafting supplies for very low prices and were thrilled to get all my fabric and it made me feel really good. (Plus, I did NOT go into the store and buy anything!)

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    1. 82 lbs -- that's like a whole person! LOL

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  16. I live in an area where the trip to a fabric store takes more time than I like and the selection is not always what I am looking for, so when I see it at a price I like I buy and stash. On the other hand like my Home Ec teacher mother-in-law said "after a while it can pile up and you can no longer remember why you bought it or saw in it." She was right. Our local 4 - H club takes fabric donations and sewing machines for their craft classes and fund raisers. Time for me to clean out too!

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  17. I had to laugh when you said that you didn't know what fabric you have and where it was. My fabric stash is enormous (to me, anyway) and I'm pretty sure I know where to find just about all of it. That could be because I have it in totes separated by fabric content/type (and sometimes by solid vs. print - I have a whole tote devoted to striped knits, lol!). Having said that, I've been very judicious of late about what fabric comes in and it has to have a specific garment that I'm making from it. And I'm trying not to overbuy, yardage-wise. That can be hard to do when you're buying online. Kudos to you for being so ruthless about keeping your stash under control.

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    1. When I have a stash, I take a sliver off an end, staple it into a book, list fiber content and yardage. I usually know where and what it is, but not how much there is or what else it co-ordinates with.

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  18. Peter-- So glad you blogged again. I look forward to your posts and missed my fix. Sounds like a de-clutter
    is more than just a clean-up. Your vacay opened up some cosmic energy. It's all good. One door closes and a window opens up. You can even marry Harry and mess around with Ike. G-speed

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  19. Great points! Especially about how it can be great to give up your wonderful finds so that someone else can enjoy a wonderful find. Another thought that helps me is to envision what it would cost to purchase organizers or cabinets to make excess possessions easy to locate or use. Then compare the value of the "loss" of fabric to the cost of storing that fabric. It's easy to envision getting amazing deals on fabric at thrift stores and then spending a lot on plastic storage containers or shelving to hold it all--which doesn't end up being all that frugal.

    Or think of what buying a larger house, or renting a larger apartment, or renting a storage unit (all of which people regularly do) would cost versus the small loss of letting go of unused fabric and other supplies.

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  20. We are in the process of (finally) painting the bedroom and dedign room of the apartment I have lived in since i was a sophomore in college (a 800-900 square foot inexpensive. two-bedroom, why move if not necessary). I have a problem de-stashing most things (fabric, yarn, CLOTHING),but when we tackle the design room, everything is going to be gone thrpugh and organized or gotten rid of. luckily, my boyfriend is an excellent organizer.

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  21. Kudos to you for the destashing of your fabric. I need to take inventory of what I have, decide what to keep and give away. But just thinking about it makes me exhausted! One of these days...

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  22. I'm a big believer in "toss without guilt" days, as I'm sewing in a small space, too. I find it helps to store fabrics by type (wool, cotton, silk etc.) in separate zipper bags (giant Ziplocks from the hardware store) and number each bag. I have swatches of everything in a little notebook, with the number of the bag they're in. When I want to do a project, I look in the book and figure out how to use what I have. It sounds at little OCD, but it has cut back on my fabric impulse purchases.

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  23. Peter, my sewing mentor and aunt ( still kicking at 98) only destashed when she was in her late 80s. At that point she let go without a fight! Or tears!

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  24. I've read a lot of decluttering arcticles, but I think this one is the best. This really addresses the issue that come up when I'm trying to get rid of stuff. And you are absolutely right about all your points. Thanks for writing.

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  25. Great points. As to #4, I think if I never, ever regret getting rid of anything, that means I'm keeping too much. But mostly it's out of sight, out of mind. (I do keep a good inventory so I don't later end up desperately searching for fabric I no longer have.)

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  26. I have been de-stashing too! For me the best thing was to use small pieces of fabric for mock ups or if they were unusable throw them away, also I started using my less expensive fabric for projects as for storage I saw a pin on pinterest that used file cabinets to store fabric and I gave it a shot, I have to say I was able to store 70% of my fabrics with this, so it s a good tip.

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  27. Often theatre groups would be happy to take a large amount of fabric like say...purple corduroy.

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  28. Good for you. I think you may have found at least one of things that was killing your mojo. Being overwhelmed by too much stuff kills a lot of people's mojo - and not just for sewing and blogging - but they aren't able to articulate it like you do.

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  29. The New York Times has videos of designers, and they purge/catalog/start anew after each season.

    Peter, you have given us all a path to turning the page and redefining our goals. Thank you for MPB.

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  30. Good points ;o)
    Giving is always rewarding + it clears your head, so you can move on.
    I got rit of my stash by giving it to the local community workshop. -And it felt great.

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  31. "I could punish myself and force myself to hold on to it all (or even to sew with it) but it certainly isn't going to bring the money back." I need to embroider that! Because I lack local sources, I do a lot of online shopping. And for the same reason, I feel I *need* to purchase every tempting fabric just in case I never find something similar again. What I need to embroider, too, is "There will always be more fabric to buy."

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  32. Thanks for posting this topic. I am working to apply this to all aspects of my life. The Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn summed it up perfectly - you need to ask just one question "Does this add value to my life?"

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  33. Congrats on the de-stash; I agree that getting rid of fabric that doesn't do it for you anymore feels good. But dude, seriously ... don't get rid of patterns. There are two things I've gotten rid of that I seriously regret, and that's patterns and sewing books I thought I'd never use again. Patterns are hella expensive, and you can take one that doesn't turn you on and turn it into something new that does. Really, keep the patterns. Trust me.

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  34. So glad you are doing this and sharing! I did a similar culling of my fabric stash last year during a "sewing block." To help the fabric fly off the shelves of the second-hand store, I measured each piece and wrapped them up in twine, then added a label with the yardage and width. I eliminated at least two bins with that de-stashing! Good luck.
    Lisa

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  35. You have no idea how much I needed this. Thank you.

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  36. It is a great article. But no, don't throw it away, please. Find 4H group or local ASG chapter group. They always in need of fabric donations. Our ASG chapter is currently asking for fabric donations too. We sew many reusable draw-string bags for food distribution for less fortunate school kids. So, pleas, think about those and other groups.
    And good luck with de-stashing!

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  37. I don't want to rain on your parade and all that stuff BUT 3 yards of purple corduroy is not enough! What if you need a decent purple cape or even a purple Issey Miyake coat?!?!

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  38. I would hang on to the purple. It is such a Matt Smith Doctor vibe I wouldn't be able to part with it. Not to mention I have been trying to find some FOREVER in my little part of the country so that I can finish the collar to my purple tweed coat and we don't have any as far as a sonic screwdriver can see.

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  39. I've been working on organizing my fabric stash. I have way too much out and on top of my bookcases that line my half wall. It overlooks the dining room, so not a great view up. I am running out of room in my totes that fit in my fabric closet so it's time to actually get rid of some of my stash. I just never figured out where to donate it. I guess that the Salvation Army is my closest choice. Thanks for inspiring me. Next is getting rid of clothes that don't fit. Some of them are jackets I've made that I just can't bear to get rid of. Time for someone else to wear them.

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  40. I loved the part about forgiving yourself for not monetizing your loss. I loved to sell stuff on eBay when I was younger (poorer) but now I just can't work up the excitement or energy for it. It's hard to just give away items that have some value, though. For instance, a gorgeous bolt of super 180s wool. With no stretch. I hate clothes without some give, so why on earth did I buy an entire bolt? Oh yeah, because it was an insanely good deal. But it's not a good deal if it just sits in my closet. Arghhh!!!

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  41. Many good points. I plan to clean out my stash this spring and give it to a local charity that makes adult bibs and walker "pockets" for nursing homes, stuffed toys for the trauma center and for the child welfare agencies, anything requested by the agencies. Ugly fabric can contribute to surprisingly attractive patchwork! You have reminded me, Peter, that having room to breathe and work is so much better than tripping over tubs. By the way, I learned the hard way that few plastic tubs are strong enough to be stacked more than three or four high--the sides break down. Yet another incentive to control the stash urge.

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  42. "Clearing clutter makes room for miracles."

    Course in Miracles

    Thanks to all here, I needed it all!

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  43. Oh wow! It is so weird you having written this and me reading it now because I am going through this at the moment. I do have a designated craft room but at a compromise. I live in a one bedroom apartment where my craft area was shared with my lounge, but in July last year I decided to put my bedroom in the lounge and craft area in the bedroom.

    I have a lot of fabric: two large IKEA Malm chest of drawers (four large drawers and two small drawers at the top) filled to bursting with fabric, so much that I have had to reinforce the large drawers as the bases were falling out due to the weight! I also have storage boxes on top of the chests with more fabric in them, as well as some being stored in vacuum storage bags. I was going to one of those bags this week when I noticed a horrible mildrew/mould stain on the wall where the plastic bags had been stored right up against it, causing me to clean the area up and sort through my fabric. Unfortunately, some were marked with mildew marks and I am currently washing a lot of the fabric due to this and it not smelling nice. But while looking through the fabric I noticed a lot I no longer like, but thankfully it is only fat quarters. The plan is to try and turn my hobby into a business and use this fabric to make items to sell, so I won't actually get rid of, but it's just trying to come up with the right item to make (small enough for coin purses and glasses cases). I spent a fortune on the fabric so I want to see a return on it. But it's nice to know that someone else out there has the same problem. PHEW!!!

    With kind regards.

    Cee Jay/Leigh on Sea, Essex, England, Britain
    (The same place Helen 'Pink Hair' Mirren comes from).

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    1. Glad to hear you're off to a good start!

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