One of the privileges and pleasures of a traditional American lifestyle is having the time and money to pursue a hobby. If your hobby is watching televised sports or playing video games, you don’t need much more than your preferred viewing screen, but if you actually play a sport or do a craft, like quilting or painting, you’re going to accumulate some stuff. Arts and Crafts supply organization is a challenge second only to Legos.
One of the first questions I ask a disorganized crafter is, “Do you actually do the craft?” It’s far easier to order colorful art supplies online or go into Michael’s and fill up a cart than it is to schedule time and set aside space to work on projects. Also, people who supply shop yet never seem to craft tend to have disorganized living spaces, poor time management or unrealistic ideas about their own talents, resources or personal goals. So we start with basic home organizing and some journaling about the general vision for leisure time activities.
If you are a disorganized would-be crafter or artist, gather all craft supplies into one area and if there are multiple arts or crafts types (quilting, knitting, painting, collage, etc) separate them into separate bins or areas on a table or the floor. Get every bit of crafting stuff out from the regular part of the house and garage and put it aside. Then organize the house.
Personally, I don’t believe that arts and crafts can be inspired or enjoyable in the midst of a dysfunctional life, even though history proves me wrong on that point in example after example. My defense: genius artists can and often do work in impoverished, filthy and chaotic environments. This column is for the garden variety American hobbyist. In other words, if you sleep eight hours a night, find time to watch Saving Grace reruns and never miss a meal, you’ll have a much easier time crafting in an orderly home.
With your home in order and some surfaces (the faithful dining room table) cleared to work on, start looking at your supplies. Which hobbies have you never gotten to? Which, when seeing the supplies, still attract and excite you? Put “like with like” together: crochet hooks, threads, pens, colored pencils, tablets, paint brushes, tile nippers, etc., etc. For crafts you don’t feel like doing, donate the supplies to a school or an art studio like Nimbus in St Helena (of course call or e-mail first to see if they would like the supplies). For the supplies for crafts that still interest you, what sort of containers do you need?
For crafting, I like the containers to be as light and mobile as possible unless you have a specific room or studio for your activity. Shelves and cupboards on wheels, snap-together containers, tool boxes with handles and lightweight plastic bins are all good choices.
Something that has worked well for me and a lot of my clients are snap together plastic containers for pens and small drawing supplies or collage supplies, like scissors. A quilting client uses tall Elfa wire drawers to organized folded fabric. Fishing tackle boxes are famously handy for organizing beading supplies or other crafts with a wide variety of small materials. When lightweight, on wheels or with handles, craft supply containers can be brought out for hobby time and easily put away when a room is needed for another purpose.
As with most organizing dilemmas, crafting supply organization starts at the purchase point. Do you really do the craft? Do you really need that extra tool? Do you really need all that extra inventory (fabric, tile, yarn, paint, paper)? Keeping your supplies as minimal as possible yet still having enough to complete a project is the sweet spot. I just let go of a can of spray adhesive and a can of spray sealer that I’d been holding on to for no specific craft for almost ten years.
And about those completed projects: what is your plan for them? A house can only hold so many paintings, ceramic pots or afghan blankets. Giving them as gifts is tricky because the recipient may feel much more obligated to keep or display something that you—their friend or family member—has made. I know because as a teenager I inflicted some of my basket weaving creations on to my grandparents as gifts. With crafting, most of the fun is in the making of the thing, so my suggestion would be to have occasional arts and crafts yard sales with fellow crafters and donate what doesn’t sell. Or ask your loved ones what they would like. Doing crafts on request or “commission” is a fun way to find a project to work on as well as be sure to have a home for it when it’s complete.