If you have realized you have a fabric clutter problem, it’s time to do something about it.
As Peter Walsh stresses in It’s All Too Much, decluttering is not about getting new shelves or fancy color-coded containers. It’s about prioritizing your and your family’s favorite activities — and recognizing that clutter robs you of the time, money, and energy to pursue those activities. Decluttering means paring down to the pieces that you use most and that inspire you most to fit the space that you already have.
Walsh takes a strict “use it or lose it” approach to fabric and craft supplies that I found somewhat unrealistic. Those of us who do a lot of textile work tend to use fabric for reference and inspiration as well as an ingredient for sewing, so here is my interpretation of Walsh’s methods.
1. Plan a day or weekend free of other commitments so you can complete the process from start to finish.
2. Have boxes, bags, or bins ready: one for keepers, one for scraps (either to use yourself or purge), one for fabric to get rid of. You might also divide the exiting fabrics into separate “sell” and “give away” piles. Don’t ignore this step – if you don’t have discrete containers, this process can get out of control, and you’ll likely end up back where you started.
3. If your fabric is not sorted at all, decide on a system that will work best. If you already have a system, choose a different one — It’s a good way to assess what is and isn’t well-represented in your stash. You can sort by fiber content, by age (vintage vs. new), by design (florals, geometrics, novelties, solids, etc.), or by color, or any combination of these.
4. Honestly assess how much space you have, and calculate how much yardage will fit into it. Don’t worry, no geometry is necessary. First, take average length of your fabric pieces (say, one yard or meter) and figure out the best folding dimensions for your storage system. Then determine how many folded pieces will fit into each compartment/shelf/box/drawer. Assuming you’re using one compartment per category, this is the upper limit of how many pieces you can keep in each category.
5. Start folding within each category. You will naturally reach for your favorites first, and the “second-tier” fabrics last. Consider saying goodbye to the latter.
6. What comes to your mind as you fold each piece? Ask yourself why you’re holding on to it, and be honest with yourself. If it’s “I love this so much I may never cut into it” or “I’ve used this in three projects already and I’m not even a little bit sick of it” — great, keep it! If your first thought is “meh” followed by one of these excuses, though, alarm bells should be sounding:
- But it was so expensive! / But it was such a great deal!
- But it’s vintage/Japanese/by a big-name designer!
- But I got it in a swap/while traveling/as a gift!
- But I might need it someday/I’ll use it to make gifts for people I don’t like much!*
Remember the Walsh refrain: you only have the space that you have. You could easily overfill your space with fabric that you’re crazy about. So why hold on to fabric that you don’t even really like? No matter its cost or origin, the “meh” stuff is just not worth keeping.
*It is reasonable to keep your less favored fabrics to use for muslins, pillow forms, and so on. But you need to decide on how much is reasonable to keep based on your sewing habits and available space, then stick to that number.
7. If your stash is still overflowing, try:
- Ranking your fabrics from most to least favorite within the category, and commit to getting rid of the one or two lowest ranked. Not enough? Re-sort into different categories and repeat.
- Letting go of your solids. I love solids, but they are easily replaceable. Keep color cards or samples instead and buy them on strict per-project basis.
- Cutting a yard or two of really long pieces and letting go of the rest.
8. Get rid of the outgoing fabric immediately — donate it or have a destash sale Etsy or eBay. Or, hold a giveaway on your blog. If you don’t remove the outgoing fabrics from your home immediately, they will tend to stick around, spread out, grow/mutate/seek revenge.
9. Admire and photograph your gorgeously folded, organized stash. Congratulations on your hard work! Now that you actually have access to your fabric, you’ll probably want to sew something … and if you do, it means …
10. You can buy new fabric! From now on you have to be good and commit to using or purging the same amount of new fabric that you bring in. Keep a running tally on a whiteboard or in a notebook if it helps.
It’s easy to see how this method can be extended to your entire craft space. Personally, my fabric stash is in pretty good shape after following these steps, but I have to tackle the patterns, books, yarn, beads, and other supplies that make it near impossible to work in my craft room.