Today I had a sobering realization, one of the sort that cracks you up and then whacks you over the head. I was packing one of the final boxes in the garage today when I thought, “You know, there seems to be an awful lot going into the studio.” So, in a moment of frivolity, I decided to count boxes. There are 32 boxes going into the craft room and 65 going into the rest of the house. Egad. (I haven’t even touched Sophie-the-loom yet!)
Now, there are some boxes yet to be packed, and pretty much all of the craft stuff is done at this point, but still, this is daunting. A third of Mike’s AND my belongings consists of my crafts studio. (And I didn’t even count the three boxes of tutus, or the boxes of textiles from Ghana, Guatemala, and Southeast Asia!)
The reflexive conclusion, of course, is that I have WAY too much crafts stuff. But then I thought about it, really dug into it, and concluded that there really isn’t a whole lot of deadweight in my crafts toolbox. There’s a lot of it because I pursue many different crafts: dyeing, weaving, sewing, chocolate, etc. There’s some deadweight: I could eliminate about 1/4 of the stuff without feeling much pain (legacy of past crafts). I’ll probably prune out some of it. But the majority of it is solid, healthy working tools and materials. Things that are actually used.
It hasn’t always been this way. I used to have an enormous stash (100+ pounds of fleece, back when I was spinning my own yarn!). I used to pile up huge lists of future projects, collect patterns, and so on. I still struggle against the instinct to bargain-hunt and then hoard. But my relationship with things was fundamentally changed by my six-month trip through Southeast Asia.
At the start of the trip, I was terrified at the prospect of leaving my stash. I was addicted to choice, to the thoroughly Western idea that to create, I needed access to whatever tools and materials suited my whimsy, and furthermore that not having access would be disastrous. So I pared down my stash to what I thought would be the bare minimum, a little bit of origami, a little bit of beadwork, a stitching project, a spindle and a bit of silk roving, some knitting needles and some sock yarn.
I wound up sending most of it home.
What I learned from traveling around Southeast Asia is that there is no relationship between creativity and tools, and that (when traveling) every ounce of excess weighs you down. Literally. I had trouble with my feet because my pack was too heavy, so I gutted everything and went on with just a few slips of origami paper, the spindle and four ounces of silk roving, and a pair of circular knitting needles. In the course of six months’ travel, I spun and knitted a beautiful blue-purple “ring shawl”, one fine enough to be drawn (easily) through a wedding ring. That was it. Four ounces of silk, a spindle, and a pair of knitting needles.
Once I got back, of course, I was broke and unemployed for a year and a half, which further transformed my relationship with Stuff. I didn’t have much space (I was staying with a very generous friend) and no money to buy stash, but I had really enjoyed making my ring shawl. I bought six ounces of a 50-50 silk/wool top and hand-spun another ring shawl, this one spun on a tiny, one-ounce silver spindle that I had bought in my travels (hired an Akha tribal silversmith to make me one). I made up my own pattern for the shawl, knitting in a personal meaning, so the shawl became a prayer shawl. A year later, I had made virtually no stash purchases, but had created my most beautiful and meaningful work to date, the Spiral Shawl.
I’m not saying stash is a bad thing. But one of the things that has most struck me in my travels through the Third World (Ghana, Guatemala, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India) is that artists can and do create the most marvelous things with very few tools and limited materials. In Guatemala, even the dishcloths were handwoven. In Laos, the women would weave the most fantastically intricate designs – on looms kept under the house with the pigs. In Ghana, they would sit outdoors in their yards and weave long stripes of kente on very simple looms, with hand-carved boat shuttles. These textile artists do not have access to the wealth of tools and materials that we do, but their work is no less stunning or detailed.
What I got out of my travels was an appreciation for how unnecessary most of our tools and materials are for the act of creation. They are conveniences, but they are not necessary. I used to collect stash for fear that I might not be able to do this exact piece with that exact yarn if I didn’t buy now. To me, that no longer makes sense. To me, that is a control issue. It reflects a mistrust in the universe, the need to store project ideas up against creative “lean times” – when the universe is full of abundance. The fact is that you can step out your door – or onto the Internet – on any given day and find more than enough inspiration and materials to create something beautiful. You don’t need to hoard, to plan projects years in advance – just trust in the universe and set your feet on the road.
Back to packing!
Life Looms Large says
A very wise post. Thank you!
Gosh, moving or not, we all deal with the “SABLE” issue. (Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy)
I just ran this quote in our guild newsletter, as I thought it was timely in my own reflections on “the stash” (although written 38 years ago!)
“After a while, one should be able to resist the impulse to buy every cone of yarn that “˜looks pretty.’ A craftsman needs adequate supplies, but it is a mark of the dilettante to acquire too much of everything. Acquisition can easily take the place of creation. An intelligent weaver or needlecraftsman buys carefully because that is part of the process of creating. He is learning which colors he can depend on to give him exactly the effect he is after. In time, working with several dozen colors he should be able to achieve as wide a range of effects as though he had several hundred.” From “Weaving &”ˆNeedlecraft Color Course” by William Justema 1971
Harold Zable says
I’m still trying to figure out what to do with some of my stashes. I’ve got a huge box of rug yarn from my latchhook phase sitting in the closet. I don’t know when, or if, I’ll use it again. And I’ve got a few hundred comic books that I’d like to get rid of, but I can’t quite bring myself to part with them.
Perhaps when our girls need separate bedrooms, and the space crunch is forced upon us, I’ll clean things up more.
One of the old guidelines for stuff removal I’ve heard was that if you haven’t opened up a box during the entire time you’ve lived in a home, you probably don’t actually need to bring it with you to the next one…
Welcome back to the Peninsula, Tien. 🙂
Very profound. I am also becoming more aware of the amount of “stuff” I have and am feeling a need to pare down. I have way too much stash (yarn, fabric, beads etc) and could do with a cleaning out.
Thank for the post – you may just have inspired me to start my own packing!
This is a timely entry. I was told today that my salary will be reduced beginning on Saturday by almost $10K this year. Most of that was going to be a down payment + play money. However, I have enough stash to last me and probably five other people through the end of our lives. I don’t need more, and in fact it’s sort of holding me back from creating, due to the overwhelming nature of it, looming in towers of boxes that are taller than I am.
Words of wisdom! Thanks for the reminder 🙂
Hi Tien, I’ve popped in and out of your blog for quite a while now. I always leave panting with exhaustion at what you’re able to achieve. Anyway, this particular post was most enlightening and has made me contemplate how we in the west have so many choices and the means to accumulate and hoard. And we do so for fear of never again being presented with the same opportunity. And then all of the a sudden the prizes become burdens.
Thank you for a post that really touched me. I only wish I had read it three stash years ago. 😀
Lisa J says
I was thinking about how your boxes of craft stuff are not “optional”. I love reading your blog and would never think that the boxes of craft stuff are less valuable than the boxes of “life stuff”. I can’t imagine what you would have if you did not have your craft things! They seem to be your therapy, your muse, your life.
Tim Rumbinas says
I love the way you express yourself, and you are correct in your philosophy. Could you pen out a 12-step-plan for stashaholics when you get a mo?
When I have money, I buy fiber and looms. When I have money left, I buy food.
I enjoyed your story of travel and learning to lighten the load.
Best wishes for your new home, I hope it’ll be a happy place.