Sue’s comment a few posts back (which was about not feeling guilty about having stash) made me think about why I do want to pare down mine. For me, it has less to do with guilt than with thoughts about efficiency and waste. In general, I want to get things done as efficiently as possible, which means with the least possible waste. But what constitutes “waste”?
Lean manufacturing processes define waste as anything that does not give value to the customer. That seems like the basis for a working definition: waste is anything that does not help me produce things I value. Waste represents lost resources, lost energy, lost time – so I think reducing waste is good, generally speaking. (I recognize that there are plenty of people for whom reducing waste isn’t a priority – but I have limited resources and want to squeeze as much as I can out of them. So to me, it matters.)
What sorts of things are waste? Well, inventory for one. Stash, to me, is essentially money and storage space. If the inventory isn’t used, it’s a waste of money and space. Ditto tools.
Time can also be waste. If I go out to the local fabric/crafts store to pick up something, that can easily take an hour. If I could have avoided that trip, then I’ve just wasted an hour of my time. If I have to rework something because I made a mistake, that’s a waste of time (and materials).
And money, of course. Money can be translated into time – the time required to earn money, if you’re working – but that’s a pretty indirect representation, if you ask me. Money enables me to acquire resources – physical materials, working and storage space, training – classes, conferences, etc.
Unfortunately, of course, most of these things are trade-offs. If I don’t acquire a time-saving tool, I save money, but it takes longer to do the job, so I waste time. If I don’t have a critical item in inventory, I lose the time it takes to order it, and any cost difference (if, for example, I could have bought it on sale).
Typically, I have valued time over money. This results in acquiring lots of stash and tools because it reduces time in ordering it later. (It doesn’t help that I’m an instant gratification bunny, and I like shopping.) Living with Mike, who often values money over time, has made me revisit this. I don’t think I’ll ever achieve his level of spending reduction (in part because the things I do tend to involve more materials and tools), but I’d like to waste less money than I have previously. Ideally, I’d like to waste less time and less money – but when it comes to tradeoffs, I’d like to dial the notch a bit further back towards saving money. This generally translates to reducing unused inventory – both in stash and tools – and being more careful about purchases.
Reducing waste also means looking at alternative ways of getting the same result – for example, yesterday I was wondering whether I wanted to add piping to the curved seams of the garment. I didn’t have a yarn of the appropriate size to use as cording, so I ran out to the fabric store and bought two skeins of yarn that I thought might be suitable. I then went home, created a few piping samples, compared them against the final fabric, and realized immediately that it wouldn’t work – the piping, even if handpainted with dye to match in hue, would be a solid color and hence stick out like a sore thumb, rather than providing subtle outlines.
At first glance, this doesn’t look like waste. I had a question, I sampled, and I got my answer. But, it wasn’t necessary to run out to the craft store to get the answer I needed. I could have doubled or trebled a yarn already in my stash to get the right thickness for a sample, saving me about $15 and a 40-minute trip. I could have thought through the piping and realized that the colors wouldn’t match without doing the sample at all. There are lots of ways I could have gotten the value (figuring out whether piping would work) that would have wasted less time/resources. I just didn’t take the time to think things through, and consider alternatives. That wasted both time and money.
So I think that will be my approach to paring down: when faced with a problem or question, ask myself what the least expensive (time/money) way of solving it is, and think of several alternatives rather than taking the first one that comes to hand. Also, purchase just enough to solve the immediate problem – don’t jump ahead and order enough for possible future work. I wound up with five yards of rayon velvet because I wanted enough to make both samples (2 yards) and the final product (3 yards), and didn’t want to “waste” the time on ordering more (a 2 day delay), should it work out. Since I wound up using only half a yard for samples, and decided not to use it in the final product, that’s 4.5 yards of waste – or about 90% waste. Not a good use of money. I do this kind of thing all the time, unfortunately.
Off the cuff, I’d estimate that I could save at least 30-50% of my project costs (if not more!) by changing this particular habit. So I think I will work on changing this particular habit. “I will spend less money” is not a useful statement because it is unfocused; it’s much easier to choose one specific thing to change. And it makes more sense than blanket statements, like “I will not buy more stash”, which can cripple creativity.