10 Steps to a Decluttered Stash

Ahh That's Better

Reds, pinks, oranges, and yellows in my newly decluttered stash.

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.

Ahh That's Better

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.

Ahh That's Better

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.

14 Comments

  1. Beth says:

    I’m on board for a “meh” swap!!!

  2. erin says:

    i really need to do this. first i just have to work up the courage to let some of it go….

  3. ok, ok, you’ve convinced me. :)
    Your stash looks so nice and organized.
    I know my mountain of fabrics will never look that neat, but I am going to clear out and give away a lot of my vintage ‘cutter’ fabrics. That will be this weekend’s project. (I may need to take an anti-anxiety pill first, though) LOL

    Kimberly

  4. Lindsay says:

    I really love this post, and would print it and hang in my craft “room”, but that might push things over the edge! I love Peter Walsh’s book, too – when I read it I also thought it seemed unrealistic applied to craft supplies–but I was convinced it was a failure on my part that I insistently justified the fat quarters and scraps and treasures. I’m very reassured that it’s not just me :-)

    Of course, I did keep some of those “meh” fabrics–I’ve been using them as an opportunity to practice things like tricky piecing and painting/bleaching/altered surfaces.

  5. Rebecca says:

    Have you seen those mini bolts that fit in bookcases? I’d love to try them, but I know I’d spend too much time arranging everything into color schemes! Look here: http://thefabricorganizer.com/

  6. Caroline says:

    This post comes with perfect timing. I am in the process of getting ready to move to a larger sewing studio and was planning on editing down my fabric stash. This will be a great resource to use when I am making hard decisions! Thank you!

  7. [...] those of you that found out you did have a disorganized fabric stash, True Up now walks you through 10 Steps to a Decluttered [...]

  8. Kim says:

    To add to number 8, I was thinking about having a “meh” fabric swap with some sewing friends. The idea would not be to have a yard-for-yard exchange, but rather to get rid of some less-than-stellar stuff with less guilt. If it goes to a friend who loves it, then it’s much easier to part with. At least, I THINK it will be easier to part with. Anything left can go to Freecycle!

  9. Allisa says:

    This post is extremely helpful & inspiring. Especially about the “meh” fabric, I am so guilty of holding onto fabric I don’t love thinking there will be a project for it…someday.

    Now, off to “break-up” with a few unsuspecting pieces…

  10. [...] really need. I was inspired and aided by posts Three Signs of a Cluttered Fabric Stash and 10 Steps to a Decluttered Stash over at True Up. I really hope someone out there is inspired by the fabrics and can put them to [...]

  11. Anyone in palm beach county, FL for a “meh” swap? None of my good friends live near that sew.
    annette

  12. Marie says:

    I love “Clean Sweep” and Peter Walsh, didn’t know he had a book! Love your take on his methods. I live in dread of someone submiting me to the show tho! He told one sewer to only keep what she could use in one year! I sometimes think that if the economy and the world all go to hell( the trucks stop rolling to the craft stores) I could still be inspired and keep creating the rest of my life!

  13. Heidi says:

    I put your ideas to work in my studio this week-wow!! Although I am not totally decluttered, I have made a huge dent in destashing and feel so good about it. I can’t believe how many of my fabrics weren’t even in the “meh” category, it would have been the “what the??” category! ha ha It’s like completing my spring cleaning. Thanks for all of your excellent suggestions. BTW…I have some of those fabric bolts Rebecca was referring to and would love to unload them!!

  14. Virginia says:

    … I was reading this article in hope of making some order of my stash… it made me so sad to think that someone can have so much fabric that they’d be willing to part with it. I live in Uruguay, South America, where good quality cotton fabric is very hard to come by, and I quilt on the basis of thrifted clothes, scraps from clothes people have altered, and the occasional internet order or gift from someone who travelled. My challenge is to keep an ordered stash out of this motley assortment of sizes and fabric types… I write this not as a complaint, but perhaps to help you be thankful for the blessing of your stashes. Happy quilting.