Sew Organized: Declutter The Sewing Room

The verdict is in: a big house is not the answer to the clutter problem.

Biggest culprit: CEO's sewing area. One small room. Two large closets face one another in the hall outside with facing mirrors. Perfect for storing fabric and supplies, and just the thing for checking fit and marking hems!

Except that who can pin a hem in the middle of this? Check out this unretouched photo to see the bitter, bitter truth!

Time to kick some clutter butt! Experts like Michelle Passoff recommend beginning with your biggest clutter challenge. I'm game! Spring is here and the wardrobe is empty. Let's get started!

Set Up Clutter Central!

Choose a workspace and sweep the counter clean, if you must. I've assembled my Clutter Central essentials: notebook computer, Perry the teddy bear, 3-by-5s for notes, planner, pens, boxes, black garbage bags, and boxes for storage and give away items.

I plan to donate clothing to charity, and give extra fabric away to friends who sew. I'll note the contents of storage boxes on the notebook computer. There are lots of good home inventory programs, but I'm using Windows Cardfile for now.

I'll keep a running list of donated items on the computer, too. Once printed, an itemized list can be stapled to the donation receipt and filed away for tax time. My planner stands open to handle any action items that occur to me as I sort and clear.

Command Central for Sewing Declutter

Before I begin, I remind myself of the rules. Each item is to be handled only once. A decision--keep, donate, give away or throw away--must be made while the item is in my hands. Items that don't belong in the sewing area are to be placed in a "put away" zone near Clutter Central. I'll put them away when the job is done.

Empty Those Closets

To get started, I empty one closet. Just getting there isn't easy! I have to walk on, over and around piles of fabric, trim and patterns. I begin to haul out the contents of the first closet.

Here's a pleasant surprise! Some good clothes are there, hiding behind all the mess . . . new pants for Steve, not hemmed, CEO rayon pants made last summer, but never put away. They're dusty and covered with snippets of thread. I add a laundry basket to Clutter Central, and set up a mending box.

Don't Be Sidetracked By Sentiment

Buoyed up by this pleasant surprise, I meet my first challenge: grandmother Mim's sewing machine. Sentimental value. Dragged from Texas to California to Georgia, to Washington.

My options: I can clean, oil and set it up for use in the sewing room. Or, clean, oil, and donate to family in need of a sewing machine. I could continue to store it, unused, but in different place--but I'm motivated today! Hug Perry Bear and think about Mim. I decide I'll clean, oil, and set up the machine, photograph it (with Perry?) and donate it to a family that can use it. Mim would never treasure a thing over a person. Perry approves.

Find more sentiment: two grandmothers' sewing baskets. These I'll keep for display in the new, clean sewing room, together with Mim's high school sewing class textbook. I fight the impulse to sit down and read about how girls were taught to sew in the 1920's. On with the decluttering!

More clothes. New "Liz" coordinates bought last summer. Never worn: too tight in waist, loose in hips, need ironing. Decision: donate, made easier by finding I can't button the waistband. I put donated items into black plastic bag--quick, quick!--to avoid second thoughts.

I find lots more clothes. Much food for thought here: there are over a dozen pair of men's dress slacks. Size 34, 36, and 38. Decision: donate. I also decide to be more enthusiastic about Dr. DH's diet plans, and make a note in my planner.

Here's a lost treasure! A favorite summer skirt, ripped at the back pleat. I try it on, and decide that a simple knee length hem will save this comfortable old friend. To the mending box.

I sort a rack of old coats. Most to be donated. One more time, sentiment rears it's head: Dr. DH's Haight Ashbury Free Clinic letterman's jacket with "Steve" embroidered on the front. A keeper. I start a Clothing Archive box for DH and enter contents into computer home inventory database.

A few coats are modern, in good shape, and suitable for consignment. I move them to a closet I've designated as an "action" area for a consignment store run. Donated coats go straight to the car. No second chances!

Sentiment redux: my wedding gown. Must keep, but it's not cleaned or prepared for storage. Move gown to "action" closet, and note "gown to cleaners for preservation" in planner.

Almost there! I can see the back wall. One last item invokes existential questions. A prime purpose of decluttering is to free you from the outgrown shells of older personalities. So, where does an old knitting machine fall?

It's a new acquisition, passed on from a family member's estate. I don't know how to use it, and learning would be a real commitment. But . . . I've always wanted to learn machine knitting, and golfing means I will need golf sweaters and cardigans. Knitting machine stays, with a note in the "goals" section of the planner.

One hour into the declutter project, and it's time to clean!

Clean It Out, Clean It Up

As I wipe down the dusty shelves and vacuum closet floor and baseboards, I think about what should be stored in the newly emptied closet. A high, inaccessible shelf will serve for records boxes holding seldom used craft supplies. A central shelf unit will hold folded fabrics too big to live happily in records boxes. Delicate fabrics will be hung from hangers, and fabric rolls can be stacked in hanging space, too.

Assess The Stash

Now that we've covered the rules for digging out, I review the rules for assessing my fabric stash. All fabric will be evaluated against the following factors:

  • Quality - is the length a pure, natural fiber--or a stiff, low quality blend or synthetic? If it doesn't feel good next to my skin, OUT IT GOES!
  • Fashion Forward - is the fabric dated? Prints are the first to cycle out of fashion, so be careful with them. Is it a denim or chambray more suited for the country look '80's than the sleek, streamlined '90's?
  • Image - Which CEO bought this length of fabric? The single mom? The new bride in a big city? The long-suffering urbanite stranded in the provincial South? Does this fabric reflect who I am now? If not, find a new owner who matches the fabric's image more closely!
  • Color - Even if the length passes all the above tests, if it's a color outside my palette, out it goes. Again, find somebody who can wear pink and move on!
  • Length - The mom of young children is long gone from CEO's house, but numerous short lengths of fabric remain behind. Golf shorts require 1 5/8ths of 45" fabric. Anything shorter should be handed off to seamstresses with shorter people to dress.
  • Love Affair- The last test. Yes, when I bought it, each one of these fabric lengths tugged at my heart in some way. But like old lovers, has the magic moved on? Recycle everything that doesn't make my heart pound. Why waste precious time and energy sewing something I don't absolutely love? Find that poor reject a new owner, and we'll both benefit.

After a snack and some mineral water, we're ready to go. Time to move some fabric!

Fabric Storage Savvy

As each surviving length passes the tests and is stored away, I note the amount, type and width of the length. Eventually, this information will be fed to a computer database, but for now, I just gather the data on the computer as I declutter.

First lengths to pass all the tests: two dress lengths of velvet, red and green. The lengths are hung from wire hangers with safety pins to avoid creasing. The closet looks brighter already!

Next additions are no-brainers: rolls of dark and light fusible interfacing. I add other rolled lengths of drapery lining. The rolled fabrics have a separate closet bay from the hanging lengths. I consider buying a large garbage can to corral the rolls--and mark "garbage can" on my to-buy list.

Here comes a bolt of upholstery/home dec fabric for an upcoming bedroom project--passed and slid into place. Rolled upholstery lengths join the other rolled fabrics in their bay.

As I stash the "big" items away, I decide that this closet can hold the non-clothing items incident to my sewing room. Thanking myself for an earlier spurt of organization, I stack neatly labeled boxes of craft supplies next to the central closet shelves. Doll, bear and Santa-making supplies, plastic canvas materials, beading and dried floral craft supplies each have a separate records box. I stow dried floral stems in long plastic crafts storage boxes, and they fit nicely onto the high shelves. We're cooking with gas, now!

On to the "big" fabrics--woolen suit lengths, flannel cuts and jacket lengths of polar fleece. Most pass the six point fabric retention test. I'm surprised to see how many nice suitings emerge from the piles and boxes and bags. Dr. DH will have an appointment with a good tailor, soon!

Wool suitings are hung. Tweeds, flannel lengths and polar fleece jacket lengths are folded and stacked on the shelves. Rejected, old-fashioned lengths of stiff wool blends join the "donate" boxes at Clutter Central.

Home dec fabrics, next. We're in a new house and I've been buying for scheduled projects, so again, most home dec fabrics make the cut. I fold and stack by "room", and am pleased to see that I have most of what I need to decorate a bedroom and the downstairs playroom.

This is heartening news, even if I do cull several pretty but tiny lengths of tapestry. Tapestry purses have come and gone and the millennium will be here before I stitch them up--so out they go!

Clean sewing area closetI stand back and admire my clean and finished closet. Moving the designated fabrics into their new home has tumbled and tossed the remaining closet, but I'm resolute: I'm focusing on what I've achieved. One large bag and one back seat full of donated clothing, a start on the clothing archive boxes, a box of fabric to donate, and a large black garbage bag of trash have come out. A sleek, streamlined and efficient storage closet has emerged.

Success breeds success! The second sewing area closet is emptied, cleaned and re-filled. Now there's room to declutter the sewing room proper. Stripped down for action, the CEO is ready to sew!

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