I’ll Need This Someday: Clutter Control for Artists and Creatives

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For the past three weeks two heavy French doors are blocking access to my work bench. Kelly spotted them on the street and we grabbed them for the garden shed she wants me to build (a project, admittedly, that I’m dragging my heels on). Lest I blame Kelly for my workshop clutter, it should be noted that the doors are next to four columns I grabbed from anĀ old house that was being demolished. The columns and the doors are now part of a category of stuff all creative people know about: “I’ll need this someday.”

It seems to me that there are two basic types in the artist/maker/gardener world: those who sketch out an idea and then go find materials and those who start with the materials and then, only later, figure out what to do with. Then there’s the folks who accumulate materials and then never do anything with them.

Of course, life isn’t so black and white. Most of us probably fit somewhere between those three extremes. But lately, especially with the good results I’ve had using the free 3d modeling program Sketchup, I’ve come to the conclusion that, at least in my own case, I might be better off drawing up a design first before scavenging for materials. The universe, I’ve noticed, tends to cough up stuff when you need it, especially in our highly wasteful consumer culture here in the U.S. Facebook is also useful for putting out a call for materials. And, if I can’t find it in the street or through social media, I can always buy used materials at our local ReStore, which benefits Habitat for Humanity.

The same principle applies to new technology. I just heard Kevin Kelly discussing his latest book and I really like his advice to only buy technology five minutes before you need it. That way you don’t end up with things you don’t need and you also have the benefit of having the latest version.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the aesthetic triumphs of those who are expert scavengers, such as our neighbor Doug Harvey who turned the ever present street headboard into an art piece. Then there’s the time I passed up the chance to grab the Olive Motel’s Art Deco sign, only to see it later in a fancy boutique with a $3,500 price tag.

What kind of creative person are you? Do you have a “I’ll need this someday” pile?

When you’ve been blogging for ten years you sometimes duplicate subject matter. It turns out the Kelly already covered this topic in a more detailed post: De-Cluttering for DIYers, Homesteaders, Artists, Preppers, etc.

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13 Comments

  1. I employ all three methods. I have been lucky to have a basement that is at least 40×40 feet plus a 17×19 foot sewing room. The clutter in each is my own business. I have noticed that people who keep immaculate houses often ask me if I “know where I can get” such and such. They know I have that item or most likely do. So, I give them what they need.

    Granted, my storage and sewing room were not total disasters or unmanageable. Periodically, I would just drag something out to the curb and call people who might want it. I do this the day after garbage day to give people a chance to drive by it for almost a week while they make up their minds.

    Most of my projects were not of the type where I needed to shop for the main supplies.

  2. My problem is not storing things well and when I go to use them they’re unusable. I need to go re-read Kelly’s post.

    So, I’ve been only picking up stuff that I know I’ll use. I’ve been contemplating a making a small woodfired oven (I have a large cob oven) and found a discarded bbq/smoker that should work with either a gasifier or rocket stove. Now to start tinkering….

  3. Oh! I am so bad with holding on to things I will use “someday”.
    I sew,quilt,knit,crochet, embroider and I am at the moment perusing books on needle felting,hat making and Ribbon embroidery.I never know what next obsession will be. I know that all stem from fibre crafts….but what if I give away something I may need next year.

    However I know I have to get my sewing room under control and I am working on it.

  4. I’m somewhere in the middle. I dream up more projects than I have time for, but I also really enjoy having a good stash of materials so that when I have the time, I can get right to work. I also keep notes in my EDC notebook of supplies or components that I am looking for, so that when I find myself in a thrift shop or restore I can actually remember what I need. Sometimes an entire project is designed and waiting for the universe to deliver a crucial piece for a long time.

  5. I’ve become much more selective in my thrifting and collecting: nowadays something has to be very unique/ great quality for me to bring it home. I’ve found in the past that some “treasures” end up feeling a burden and causing anxiety and clutter after they hang around too long. I’ve ended up donating and giving away many things I was once excited to repurpose. Yet I’m always on the lookout for furniture I can paint or refinish and I keep the dimensions of anything I need in my purse so I can make sure I only pick up the right size if the opportunity arises.

  6. I’m lucky in that I’m a drawer and printmaker, so all my artist materials tend to be old pieces of paper with illustrations on them that can be stowed away and not take up a lot of room. Finding things, however, is a pain.

    My recent problem isn’t exactly to this point about inspirational material clutter, but more to do with finished art “clutter”. My dad, who is an exceptionally talented sculptor and wood worker moved in with us

    http://www.euonymdesign.com/miya/furniture_seating.php?id=1

    and brought most of his Oeuvre with him! I love the furniture and sculpture but we live in a small ranch house and many of his pieces aren’t necessarily practical, so I’m at a loss as to what to do. We have beautiful pieces pulling double duty as coat racks and books and magazine receptacles!

  7. I don’t think your matching blog posts are entirely accidental; you’re just both working through this question.
    It’s been (relatively) easy for me to ban purchases of new project supplies. If I pay a little more for something later, the extra cost can be considered a storage/moving/maintenance fee. But free windfalls? I’m weak. Keeping a list of what I have and planning projects around that helps. Being able to donate instead of throwing away helps. (Someone else might “need it someday”!) But these lines are all highly personal. I certainly couldn’t have anyone else declutter my stuff!

  8. I used to be crippled by the stuff I was holding onto for some future, undetermined, project. I am getting better. Like you said, in this consumer era its pretty simple to find secondhand versions of things whenever you finally need them. No need to sit on them until that time. That said, we really need to make a greenhouse out of that scavenged lumber and window frames. I’m tired of them taking over the garage…

  9. Boy, this really hits home.

    I tend to be rather clear-eyed about what to save and what to pass up, in large part because I absolutely cannot tolerate clutter (thanks, Mom!). On a few occasions, I have discarded/given away an object that I later could have used, but my attitude is that I can’t save everything.

    On the other hand, saving darn near everything is the position that my beloved husband takes. He spent decades working in construction, so every piece of detritus is precious and can be used. In the abstract, he’s right and in his defense, he often has just the thingamabob that we need in a pinch; however in his not-defense, he has filled a shed, a garage, and much of a basement with his ever-growing collection of random stuff, which makes me feel claustrophobic. He is not allowed to start any piles withing the inner sanctum of our home (i.e. living space), so it is obvious which parts of the property are under his control and which are under mine.

    I have tried, so far unsuccessfully, to explain that when he’s finally breathed his last the people who have to sort through his crap (me, possibly; our kids, definitely) are not going to remember him with warmth as we/they slog through everything. Hasn’t even made a dent.

  10. I’m much better than I used to be about “hey, that’s cool! I know just what to do with it, too!” (and then never do it).

    I’m currently involved with neighborhood facebook groups for asking and giving of stuff (stuffstuff, garden stuff, food trades, all sorts of stuff), food swap groups, and a group of friends who do quarterly clothing swaps and yearly craft supply swaps. It’s helped with the finding and shedding and not acquiring in the first place of things – I find it’s easier to not gather every cool thing I see because I’m pretty sure I’ll see it again, or something very like it, when I’m actually ready to use it. Or if I do get it and realize I’m not going to use it, it’s easier to pass it along knowing it’s got somewhere to go and won’t just get tossed or wasted somehow.

  11. I am definitely a grab it because I’ll use it some day kind of creative person. If it’s organized and stored properly, I don’t think it’s an issue. And there have been more than one occasion where I’m like ‘I need *this* item but ugh we threw it out!” My fiance however calls it hoarding, which I think is entirely unfair as my brother and my dad were true hoarders, and I spent years uncluttering my parent’s house and recycling, throwing out, selling and giving away the years of true hoarding.

  12. Have you heard of Rooster? I call it a closer and smaller version of Craigslist, and without all the overabundance of posts to wade through. I’ve lent out baby gates, had people come and take unwanted things, and I’ve asked for things as well and have gotten offers or items I need. Still flakers on there unfortunately.

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