Letting Go of Mistakes


A peek into “someone’s” (ahem) art supply closet.

Like most people who sew, I’m a bit of a fabric-aholic. I have a huge stash.

Last week, as I was (semi) organizing my studio, I packed up 2 big bags and gave it away–including a whole bag of pillow forms that I had gotten from someone else.

This was hard to do because I felt guilty about buying the fabric and then not using it. Wasteful.

But I was also happier when it was gone because I didn’t have to go through the guilt of looking at it every day anymore either. And I realized that I had given myself permission to let go of my mistakes.

Why it’s Complicated

I have a friend who is a professional organizer and I have these imaginary conversations with her in my head when I’m tidying my studio. Often these conversations happen because I have piles I can never quite get rid of completely (and I’m wondering how on earth to do that) and sometimes because I’m mentally defending my mounds of supplies that I won’t toss.

I have a box of feathers, for instance, that I’ve owned for over 20 years. Literally. My mom scored them for me at a yard sale in the early nineties. The thing is, I used some of those feathers the other day.  And I could tell you that I use them regularly, which is true lately, but I’ve also gone for years when I didn’t use them.

Hence the agony of the arty person. We can have a seemingly ragtag assortment of stuff that sits for ages without getting used. Normally, in the organizing world, that means you must not really want it and you should toss it.

But that’s not so helpful for the arty collagist type person. It’s true that I could never use it but it’s also true that I could.

Some Guidelines

While I’m definitely a work in progress on clutter and organization myself, I do think, when it comes to art supplies, that normal rules of keeping and tossing don’t apply.

But I also think you can hang on to things too long out of guilt, feeling wasteful, or unrealistic expectations and accidentally create a clutter that interferes with your creativity. This we don’t want!

So here’s a few questions I try to ask myself when I’m attempting to create more order in my studio:

Do I own these bits or do they own me?

Does your stuff control the way you move around? Does it oppress you? Do you feel overwhelmed by it?  Being enslaved by your stuff is a sure sign you need to get rid of it (or at least some of it if that statement just gave you a heart attack!) Either way, don’t let your stuff control you–and don’t feel bad about needing help to figure it out either.

Is this stuff about my “Present Me” or my “Past Me?”

Sometimes we hang onto old stories about ourselves when they no longer serve–except to provide us an identity or a comfortable explanation that we’re used to saying: “I’m a _________ (fill in the blank) type artist and that’s why I have all this kind of __________ supplies.

For instance, you might be defining yourself this way: “I always frame all my artwork myself, so I have all this mat board leaning against the wall over there and all these odd sized frames in these milk crates that I scored at yard sales and that big cutter that’s partially blocking the back door until I set it up again…”

But do you still do that? Do you want to? It’s okay to have changed, moved on, realize you don’t like doing that, etc. It’s okay!

(Or if that definition of yourself means a great deal to you and it hurts to get rid of that stuff because of you still want to be that someone who frames all her art, it’s just that you’re not making any art right now, which is what REALLY bums you out….well, it might be a good time to sign up for a phone coaching session where we can figure out how to get you back to that!)

Is it really so precious or could I actually get it again if I got rid of it now and decided I needed it later?

We artists often collect unusual bits that can’t be gotten in a store whenever we feel like it. But that said, we also have an abundant universe.

Even if you can’t get that exact thing again, if you believe that you can always get what you truly need when you need it, you can have faith that when you’re struck by inspiration, you’ll not be suffering without “x” because you tossed it or gave it to charity or sold it at a yard sale to another quirky soul six months ago.

Don’t forget, you’re creative. Part of being creative is coming up with creative solutions. Your creativity is not dependent on your stash of cool bits.

Is it serving me? Is it feeding my creativity? Does it give me joy? Or do I just feel bad about getting rid of it?

You can think something is neat/cool/fun/handy and still get rid of it. By getting rid of it you’re not saying to it: “You are worthless.” You’re just saying, “You’re neat, but I’m about other things now.”

If it truly has value, then you know a thrift store or charity shop will be happy to have it.

Is this about my beliefs about things other than art?

For instance, do you allow yourself to have made a mistake? Sometimes hanging onto stuff forever is about that: never say die!

Or are you like me–is it hard to feel like you “wasted money” and if you throw that out you’re conceding that that’s what you did?

Remember, an abundance of supplies is an expression of loving to create–it might not have been the smartest economic decision ever, but are you giving that mistake too much weight? I mean, have you never ordered the wrong thing at dinner? Bought shoes that don’t fit right?

We all make mistakes, we all use our money unwisely sometimes. If your art supply shopping is preventing you from paying your bills or feeding your kids, okay, you’ve got a problem. But I doubt that’s your situation. Don’t beat yourself up!

Okay, admit it, did you actually forget about it?

Even though I’m a big believer that you have to see your supplies if you want to create, I still have stuff I’ve put in boxes and forgotten about completely. Then, when I open the box I think, “oh yeah, I forgot about that. Hmm…that’s pretty neat.”

Neat or not, that can go. My life was fine without it. My creativity was not informed by it. I didn’t even remember owning it for goodness sakes.

What do you think?

How are you doing with your stuff? Do you allow yourself to make mistakes? Do you let stuff go? Would you feel more free with less clutter?

What are your strategies for keeping on top of your supplies or organizing your studio/workspace corner?

Please leave a comment–we’d love to hear from you and don’t forget, your experiences might help someone else!


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  1. Well. Now I I know how I’m spending the Memorial Day weekend. I have all these really important books good could be better used by someone else. I’m giving them away.
    Thanks, sarah.

  2. Bev says:

    wow that sure hits home, have stuff from the 90′s at least in boxes, bins or what nots, I did get rid of some stuff last year, porcelain angel heads with hands, trinkets, etc, well forgot that and bought someone elses stash of wide lace to make a couple treetop angels for friends, once it arrived, reality hit, ohhh I donated those to salvation army, ugh, ok so now I have lace, might or might not use it, if not will donate it, perhaps someone else has those angel pieces and needs it, haha. thanks to your sharing info I won’t fret over it just move it along. thanks for some needed insight

  3. Sarah Bush says:

    LOL Valerie, I didn’t even think about the book stash! We read them, love them, and then store them for 50 years!!

  4. Sarah Bush says:

    Hi Bev, You’re welcome! I’m so glad it resonated…and good to remember that 1993 was 20 years ago–that still shocks me. :-)

  5. Deni says:

    Sarah, I just went through all the shoes that were sitting on the floor of my closet. With great pain, I put about a dozen pair aside to be given/thrown away. I have so many more that are in another room, that will join their fellow footwear in the pile.
    I have moved many many times, and it has been difficult shlepping all my art stuff around with me. I have had to leave so many of my belongings behind, and it is always painful, but it has taught me to be conscious of my material goods.
    My studio now is small, and it requires me to be careful of what I accumulate. Instead of being limiting, I find that it is a meditation on making the best of what is around me.

  6. Sarah Bush says:

    Thanks for sharing that Deni! I like the idea of considering it a meditation. Beautiful way to put it!

  7. nancy truhn says:

    I have been avoiding my studio for over 6 mo, first with the excuse that my hand hurt too much to work on it; then had reconstructive surgery on my right thumb and of course I couldn’t work .. until healed. Well it has been healed a good number of months and I just keep putting more stuff i’m going to paint/craft etc. and now fear I am or am becoming a hoarder. I don’t know how to let go of things. I’ve watched all the organizing shows and hoarding shows and I KNOW the process … I just can’t do it! I had given away “some” things but not nearly enough. The shoe story above reminded me of “Soles for Souls” that is collecting shoes to go to Haiti …. gave about 10 pair, that felt good. Part of me thinks of the amount of $ I spent on the “stuff” and I rebel at just throwing it away. I will really TRY to accomplish some clearing out a friend in our local VFW is having a garage sale, they will even come and get it. I’ll let you know next week how it goes!

  8. Sarah Bush says:

    Nancy, the hoarders I know could never say the sentence, “I think I am or becoming a hoarder.” so I think you’re gonna turn the corner! I think you are in the throes of transitioning yourself to get there. Maybe you need a partner/friend/hired hand to help you organize it first so it doesn’t have to be all on you? When the mess feels out of control, it’s very hard to get started. Maybe you could use my favorite technique of setting the timer and let yourself stop after 20 minutes? I look forward to hearing how it goes! hugs!

  9. Linda says:

    Thanks, Sarah. Just what I needed to read right now. These are great questions to ask myself as I plow through the massive (though not quite hoarder level!) accumulation of living in the same house for 35+ years. My husband passed away last year, before he could help with the top-to-bottom reorganizing we had planned for our retirement. Now, having survived the 1st year without him, it’s up to me to choose to let go of both his stuff and my excess of art supplies (and dishes and clothes and cat toys, etc., etc).

  10. Claudia says:

    This post is right on. I keep hanging on to fabric and other supplies because I REALLY WANT to do/make the project I have in mind, but the reality is, I don’t have that much time in 5 lifetimes :) I try to pick the projects I’m excited by *right now* and maybe let go of the others.

  11. Sarah Bush says:

    Yes @Claudia, it’s so true and that’s a great idea. I also try to keep track of my ideas-I-can’t-do-now (or in the near future) with a casual sketchbook/notebook too–that way, I can be reminded of possible ideas at a later date when I’m feeling blank…

  12. Sarah Bush says:

    @Linda, wow, that’s a tender project, and I am sending you have my best vibes. I emptied my parents house of 45 years a couple of years ago, so I truly appreciate what that entails. hugs..

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