Too Many Hobbies. Too Little Space. What to Do?

Too Many Hobbies. Too Little Space. What to Do? January 3, 2017
Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons, by LisaClark
Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons, by LisaClark

I sew on the kitchen table.

Let me repeat that: I sew on the kitchen table.

I kneel down to pull my sewing machine off the bottom shelf in the shelves where I store my pots and pans, and I drag my serger in from the spare bedroom where we keep the exercise equipment, and I pull out the Stanley tool box in which I keep my notions, and I get the little lazy Susan dealio where I put the things I use a lot while sewing such as scissors and — heaven love ’em — seam rippers, and I get thread out of the self same exercise room and then I get the fabric from the exercise room closet and I get the pattern from the file box on the top shelf of the exercise room shelves, and … ahem … I’m sorta ready to sew.

That is, until I think of something that I’ve got to have that I forgot to get that is behind the second shelf where sewing incidentals share space with real-life casserole dishes and such. Then, I’m back, digging it out and lugging it to the kitchen table.

When I finish, I do all this in reverse and add a bit of sweeping up, polishing the table surface, and, sadly, trying to get the new marks I’ve accidentally made on the surface of my table up and off and out.

I’ve looked at a ton of websites that claim to instruct sewists in the fine art of sewing organization. Most of them are built around the notion that there will be a dedicated sewing room and at least $10,000 for decorating. The emphasis seems to be on expensive specialized sewing furniture to put in the sewing room.

Not only are these “dedicated sewing spaces” beyond my reach, they specialize in cute, and by that I mean the kind of cute that creates permanent visual clutter of the nerve-jangling variety. Among other things, they recommend that the sewist “go vertical” with her supplies by papering the walls of her “sewing space” with pegboards festooned with spools of thread, scissors, ribbons, elastics and such. The designers of these spaces evidently assume that people who sew not only love looking at that mess, but that they are all basketball players, since these displays are often pictured going straight up to the ceiling.

I don’t have the spare room or the $$ for decorating, and the thought of hanging such a bunch of stuff on the walls where I have to look at it makes me break out in hives. I want the what nots out of sight unless I’m using them. I want things to look calm, not all jangled up. I feel so strongly about that, you could call it a rule.

There are a few sites that talk about “sewing in a small space.” These seem to focus on cute; as in too cute by at least half.

They give advice on how to achieve cuteness that includes such impracticalities as storing expensive sewing notions in oh-so-precious, used cardboard egg cartons with the lids cut off. (I kid you not.) These uber cute knick knacks are photographed after they’ve been painted and decorated to make a pretty display. The photos show them with things like expensive pressure feet nestled in them, just waiting to be lost forever.

As if.

Several of these sites show cunning photos of a “sewing space in a closet.” There are shelves and a desk or table all neatly piled up to the ceiling with fabric and the tiny tools of sewing in a two door closet that is just about the size of the one that I have currently stuffed with fabric, batting, interfacing and things such as golf clubs and weights (It was a full-time exercise room before the sewing bug bit. My husband still thinks it’s an exercise room.)

All of these “sewing space in a closet” deals look claustrophobic. I think they’re more like “sewing-space-in-a-cell.”  They are crammed so full that the view from inside has to be constant visual chaos.

Staring at a wall, or, for visual relief, shifting my gaze to boxes full of random stuff, is not my kind of vista. I want to have a supply closet. I don’t want to live in one.

I’m the kind of gal who falls asleep when she’s getting an MRI. (No joke. I really do fall asleep during MRIs.) But I would find one of those old-sewists-in-a-shoe-had-so-much-stuff-she-didn’t-know-what-to-do cute, cute, cute “sewing-spaces” crazy making.

Besides, where would I cut the fabric? Where would I put the serger and the ironing board? Etc. Etc. Etc.

How do I organize this mess into something more functional?

I’ve already decided that I need to undo the year-long neglect I have inflicted on my poor house. It’s been licked and promised ever since I was diagnosed with cancer, and it’s getting to the point that I can’t stand it. My office — which I pretty much abandoned during the time of active treatment — became a catchall. Didn’t know where to put a thing? Put it there.

During the year, we had our first grandchild which added a ton of baby paraphernalia, I took up sewing and brought in major hobby paraphernalia, and I had surgeries and sickness mess which added its own piles of paraphernalia. Behind every closet door and in every drawer, there lurks a confused mess. All my newly acquired sewing purchases — and when I was in the sick-but-getting-better phase of being sick, I shopped online as … ummmm … let’s call it therapy — all my sewing purchases are just mess piled on top the mess.

I’m going to clean this house as it deserves to be cleaned, but I don’t have the stamina to do it on one big swoop. I’m going to have to go through it systematically, sorting, tossing, reorganizing and cleaning one area at a time. First, I will clean out closets, drawers and storage. And by that, I mean that I will clean out part of a closet. And rest. Then, I’ll clean out another part of the same closet. And rest. And so on, moving from one closet to the next until the job is done. It will take weeks.

Then, I’ll move on to steam cleaning the showers, dusting the tops of the ceiling fans, door casings, shampooing the carpets and polishing the wood.

I’m taking the pledge. No more retail therapy. I’ve taken out loans to get the medical bills under control. I’ll be paying them back for a good, long while, which is, odd as this sounds, kind of heartening. It assumes that I’ll be around to make those long-term payments. It seems the bank is optimistic about my future, and I’m happy to know it.

But I’ve still got to pay those bills. And I don’t need any more stuff. I’m full up on stuff right now.

So, the buying is finis. And the using is under way. I’m in the process of turning that fabric into clothing, both for me and for my granddaughter.

But the rest of it — the sewing machine, serger, notions and what nots of sewing — will remain. And I don’t have the first clue how to organize it so that I can sit down to sew at my kitchen table without spending a half hour getting things out and then another half hour putting them away when I finish.

Cleaning out the closets and drawers will open up storage space. I will have enough room to store everything. But how do I do it in a way that makes it easy to move what amounts to a major work area from storage and to the kitchen table, then back again?

Do any of you have ideas? You don’t have to sew to help me think this through. People who work on cars or do woodwork have remarkably similar organizational problems. That’s why my Stanley tool box is the single best organizational tool I’ve found for my sewing.

If you had to move your woodworking tools, supplies and projects from storage in disparate closets to the kitchen table, and work on it there, then put it back and clean up the mess afterwards, how would you simplify it? It’s pretty much the same sort of deal with sewing.

I’ve looked at big tool boxes that stand alone and would hold my sewing machine. But a sewing machine is too delicate for the garage — or at least I think so — and putting things out there would still leave me with the lugging it in/lugging it out problem. Besides, my husband thinks the garage is his. I park my car on my side of his garage. Other than that, I’m not allowed. He would pitch a fit if I started putting my stuff out there.

I need to organize and store the equipment and supplies of my sewing hobby in such a way that I can enjoy it without feeling like I’m preparing for a full-scale invasion of an alien planet every time I sit down to sew.

Ideas? Thoughts? Advice?

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16 responses to “Too Many Hobbies. Too Little Space. What to Do?”

  1. I think the sewing is great and provides an outlet for your creativity and is a stress buster which you obviously need now. I have the same problem in my little house. My son takes guitar and the teacher recommended that we set aside a permanent space for his guitar, a seat and a music stand. I just laughed when he said that because there is no space left in my house! Every inch seems to be taken up. We keep the guitar and music stand packed up and he pulls it out when he practices. I know that doesn’t help with your sewing but I understand your dilemma.

  2. First: I think you deserve to have a dedicated table for your sewing machine, even if it’s just a small personal folding table or a desk from the thrift shop. My mom used a card table. One of those rolling drawer organizers might be helpful for the tools and notions of actual sewing: put your thread scissors and your pincushion on top and use the drawers for things like big scissors, feet, thread, bobbins, etc. Pull the organizer around to a convenient spot when you’re actually sitting at your little table sewing, and then push it away when you’re done.

    As for the other stuff, I’d suggest first taking an inventory of your sewing supplies and then organizing the list by what you use for what tasks and how often. Then, store the things used together in “kits”. Store the things you use most often in an easily accessible place, and try to store things close to where they’ll be used.

    For example, you probably don’t need to get at patterns and fabric all that often, so you could store them in a closet. Store any tools that you only use for cutting fabric in a “kit.” Then, when you’re ready, clean off the kitchen table, bring out the fabric and the patterns and the kit, cut your pattern, then put it all away: tools in the kit, kit on the shelf, fabric on the shelf, pattern in the box.


    Flylady will help you declutter 15 minutes at a time.

    I hate clutter. It is a constant battle. No more buying does help a lot. I try very hard to get rid of something for every new thing brought in. A few years ago my kids were with Grandma and my husband was traveling for work. My family refers to that time as when I went crazy and threw everything out (or donated). Zero regrets even though I had to replace a few things I shouldn’t have purged.

    How about buying a small table for the exercise room or your office where you can keep the sewing machine up while working on a project? Set it up so you can look out the window. You can cut the fabric on the kitchen table.

  4. If it was me I would pick up a cheap desk with drawers from St . Vincent’s if I had the room to do so. I had a sewing kit whose box disintegrated; I replaced it with a $3 purse from the same source. And here in South Bend they have senior discounts every Tuesday, and Goodwill has them twice a month on Tuesday, so if I need something I generally go to one of them. I have material and patterns in a box on a shelf, but the practical right now stuff is in the purse.

  5. I failed “sewing” a long time ago and don’t own a sewing machine anymore. I had one when I needed to repair kid clothes etc.(many, many years ago!). I admire your ability to take a piece of fabric and turn it into something. My daughter is able to do that, but she didn’t learn it from me!! 🙂 As for cleaning out things? A little bit at a time—as I’ve been trying now for a bit over a year since my husband died. A garage full of stuff we moved here in 2011—-much of it from 50 years ago! Memories etc, go with some of the things. Take your time, and trying not to do retail therapy is a great start. I have managed to purge some clothes of mine (because they no longer fit–to small 🙁 ) I do agree with the commenters below that perhaps you can find a way to keep your sewing machine out, at the ready, so you’re not having to pull it out each time you want to use it. Slow but sure will get it done. If you’re a little like me—-I have to be in a mood to do the cleaning, but when I start I tend to accomplish a lot.

  6. I’ve been asking myself that. Before I got sick, it needed to be a dedicated office for tax purposes. But I won’t be taking business deductions this year — or, I would imagine, in the future. I’m going to continue writing, but I’ve concluded, for a number of reasons, that I won’t do it as intensely as I did before, at least not the blogging part. So … do I need a full room office? I don’t NEED it, but, once I get it straightened up again, I would like it. It’s good for me to have a place to write where I can close the door afterwards and go away from it.

    I have a horseshoe shaped desk in my office, and one side of the horseshoe is plenty big enough for sewing — not cutting things out, but sewing. I’ve been considering that. However, I’m the kind of person who likes things in silos. It helps me make the switch mentally from one thing to the next, and it helps me turn it off when it’s time. I don’t know — from a psychological standpoint — about mixing writing and sewing, at least not so long as I blog. Does any of that make sense Ken?

  7. I’m going to start with the closets because that will free up organizing space. My house looks ok on the surface. I’ve kept it picked up and such. But it really needs the heave and toss routine for the closets. I think I’m going to begin by donating my Representative clothes to Goodwill. I should have done that already, but just haven’t.

  8. It sounds like your purse serves the same purpose as my Stanley toolbox. I don’t have a place for a dedicated desk. I have spaces where I could put it, but it would look ratty and ruin the room in all of them. The spare bedrooms aren’t free, but at least they are out of sight.

  9. Goodwill was the recipient of all my good used items, and some of the clothes that my husband had. I have kept some of his clothes as I can’t bring myself to take them out of our closet yet. When I do, they too will go to Goodwill. You’ll get things accomplished—on your own time. Closets are a great place to start.

  10. I’ve been thinking about that. I actually have enough room in the closet in the exercise room for a small table. All I have to do is find another home for the golf clubs, weights, etc. The exercise room has a recumbent bike, elliptical and a Total Gym — I know, why am I so danged fat and out of shape with all that??? — and my husband uses them every single day. It’s a small bedroom, and stuff eats up all the wall space, except for one wall next to the doorway. That has a chair there now, and it’s needed. Even exercise dynamos need a place to sit to take off their shoes and such. 🙂

  11. I’d have a bit more space if pianos were as storable as guitars! 🙂 I have a whole room that’s basically just for the piano. It has a sofa and I was planning to add some really nice book shelves and a chair before I got sick. (Everything stopped when I got sick. The whole year was lost.) Now … I dunno. Money is a lot tighter than it was before the cancer. A LOT tighter. And my stamina is still way down low. It sounds like your house is full of love. That’s all that matters.

  12. To me? I understand the concepts. But you’re talking to a man here. Home organization is a foreign language to me. Which is scary, me being single.

  13. Echo that. Flylady is chock full of helpful suggestions, and there are about 10,000 posts devoted to decluttering on, many taking her as an inspiration.

    Bear in mind that this is mainly advice on how to declutter., so as to be able to organize better. Set a timer for 15 minutes, start cleaning and sorting (into only three categories: give away, throw away, and keep), and when it dings, stop. Rest if you need to, set for a second 15 minutes when you’re ready and able to carry on, rinse and repeat.

    Look for hot spots in your home, places where you unload as you come in, and start with those. Hit them every time they pile up.