I love storage, organization, and decluttering! It’s one of my favorite hobbies and after years of doing it in my own home, I started writing an organization column for American Patchwork & Quilting! I’m not licensed and don’t do this as a profession, but just wanted to share what works for me in case it helps any other quilters take control of their sewing spaces!
Word of warning: I don’t like decluttering advice that forces you to buy new products, rearrange your room, or change your sewing style. This advice will work for your space no matter how large or small. I hope it meets you where you are in your quilting journey.
Step 1: Get In the Right Headspace
Put it on your calendar. Clear the time in your schedule. Send your family out for ice cream. Then make the experience as positive as possible. Many people find the decluttering experience a stressful and emotional one. Play some music or listen to an audiobook. Light a candle. Make a fun snack (I’m always up for a glass of wine!). Or invite a friend over for support if you need it. Approaching the decluttering time with a positive mindset will keep you from feeling drained during the process, as well as keep you open to where it will lead.
Step 2: Gather Supplies
I like to keep it simple when decluttering. I have a trash bag, donation box, and box for things that belong in other areas of the house. If you have too many boxes, bags, labels, etc., it’ll only make the process harder and more complicated. Keeping your supplies simple allows you to concentrate on what you’re really doing — sorting your fabric and supplies.
Step 3: Work in an Ordered Fashion
Yes, I know — how annoying! Even the way you declutter has to be organized?! If you jump around from area to area, you’ll lose track of what has been done. I like to work clockwise and from top to bottom in my room. I work shelf by shelf, and drawer by drawer. Find what logically makes sense in your room — and if you have to break for the day, come right back where you left off the next time you declutter.
Step 4: Take It Piece by Piece
Take everything off the shelf or out of the drawer. Pick up every piece of fabric or tool and deal with one item at a time. I, personally, only like to keep things I truly love and will use. I go with my gut most of the time, but I’ve listed some guidelines below to help you through the process. As you’re working through each piece, make piles for what you’re saving, what you’re donating, and what is trash.
- Test it. Does it work? If not, is it easy to replace a part? If it doesn’t serve its purpose anymore, get rid of it.
- Do you have more than one? Some things make sense to own multiples of — like a rotary cutter, your favorite thread colors, packs of sewing machine needles. But it may be harder to justify owning multiple of a specialty ruler. Be realistic — do you truly need multiples or can you narrow it down to the best one?
- Are you actively using it? Sometimes we buy a fun new tool with good intentions of using it, but then never find a need for it. If may be the coolest item, but if you won’t use it in your projects, it’s just taking up valuable space in your room.
- Do you love it? You should never get rid of any fabric you love. You’ll only regret it!
- Is it the right size? Many quilters save scraps of fabric for their quilts. But if the size of a fabric is awkward, if it’s too small for the types of quilts you’re making, or you don’t save scraps, it may be fabric you want to donate.
- Will you use it? This is often the hardest question to consider when going trough your fabric, because it means confronting your expectations for your sewing life and what you’ll realistically sew. Here’s an example from my own life: I live in Iowa and over the years have collected a large amount of farm-theme fabric. But realistically, I’ll never make a farm-theme quilt. We live in a city, the fabric doesn’t match our decor, and that fabric will never get used. So I chose to let that fabric go and make room for fabric I love.
- Are you trapped by precuts? Don’t be afraid to separate your precut bundles. If you love half the fabrics in a fat-quarter bundle, but will never use the others, separate them and keep what you love. If you were obsessed with mini charm squares at one time, but haven’t touched them in years, you can add them to your scrap bin or get rid of them. Just because they’re packaged in a pretty bundle doesn’t mean they belong in your space.
Exception to the rule: If you’re working with fabric or tools that you have a very emotional attachment to (such as fabric that you received from a friend when she died, something you bought on a meaningful vacation, or a tool that was passed down generations), you should avoid touching the items. Have a friend hold the items up for you to look at when you’re making your decisions. If you don’t want the items but are still struggling to get rid of them, can you take a picture of the items to remember them by? Or can you donate them to a charity sewing organization so you know they’ll be used to better others’ lives?
Step 5: Make It Pretty
Now that you’ve decided what you’re keeping and what’s going, you can put things back on the shelf or in the drawer. At this point, I like to clean the space with a wipe or duster. Then put the items away. I refold fabric if needed, clip loose threads, wipe off dirty tools, and stack things neatly. This is the rewarding part, because you can see what a difference the decluttering process has made! And don’t be afraid of empty space — that space may get filled later in the process or save room to grow with things you love in the future!
Step 6: Re-evaluate Your Space
Once you’ve made it through this process with your whole space, it’s time to view your space as a whole. Now that your space only contains the items you love and will use, you can decide the best use of the space. Here are a few things to consider:
- Did you make enough room on a shelf to move fabric from a drawer or closet to that space?
- Did you find similar tools in multiple places around your room? Do you have room to place all the same type of items together now?
- Did you free up enough room to make your space work better for you — like an empty drawer next to your sewing machine to fit your threads and machine feet? Or a spot on your work table for your most used supplies? Or a spot to store all your works-in-progress?
Move things around in your space as needed. That extra space may be just what you need to store your items better, smarter, and in a way that works for your needs!
Step 7: Get It Out
Now is the time to get rid of your donation pile. The longer you have that pile in the house, the more you’ll see it and think “now why was I getting rid of this?” If it’s larger yardage pieces or precut bundles, you may consider selling it (but I often think that’s more work than it’s worth). If you frequently go on quilt retreats or to a quilt guild, bring the fabrics for the “free” or “trade” table, so your friends can find joy in what you’re discarding. If you want your fabric to go toward charity projects or teaching purposes, this list has great options.