Mental Clutter (and what to do about it)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about clutter. Sure, there’s the kind we all know and think of, like when you leave a pile of fabric lying around your house. (what? You’ve never done that before?) But recently I’ve been thinking more and more about “mental clutter”, by which I mean the stuff in the back of your mind that seems to keep nagging at you, even when you wished it wouldn’t.

Somehow in the past year, my project list got out of hand. It has always been long, but somehow for me also always manageable. Projects got completed in a timely manner, checked off the list, and the earth continued to turn on its axis. Yet lately I haven’t felt that way anymore. I’ve been feeling, well, to be frank, overwhelmed. Overwhelmed! About a hobby! About something fun! Now that’s what you call an oxymoron, my friends. Even when my quilting studio is completely tidy and everything is put away in its space, I had mental clutter clogging up my brain and keeping my creative juices from flowing. “Oh, right, I still need to bind those six quilts. And I probably should finish that half-made bag. Oh, and baste the tops in my closet. Do they all have backings picked out yet?”

My friends, the list goes on. Not to mention the fact that there are so many quilts I still want to make, many of which I’ve already bought fabric for. They’re just waiting there, sad and patient, for their turn. It adds to my feelings of overwhelmingness, because every time I was searching for a fabric in my stash to round out a pull, I’d say things like “wait, no, I can’t use that one. I’m saving it for project x”. It became easier to simply run out and buy more fabric, because the fabric in the stores was free of any previous obligations or contractions. Buy, use some, store rest in stash. Repeat. You can probably see how things got out of hand stash-wise, too? And then every time I would think I would use my stash for a quilt, I’d go through the whole exercise again, get frustrated again, and go out and buy more. Buy, buy, buy. (On a different note, I DID sing Bye, Bye, Bye, complete with hand gestures, in my kitchen the other day to demonstrate to my husband that 18 years after the song came out, I could still recite it word-perfect. He was unimpressed, and Riley, our poodle, was even less so.)

So what is this? A rant about the mental clutter in my brain? No, no, just hold on, we’re getting to the good part. I have a feeling you can relate to some of this, maybe all of this? I’ve started to employ some strategies to help me be more organized in this hobby. None of these are groundbreaking or new, but they’ve really helped me out so, you know, sharing is caring and all that.

1. Make a list of all current projects. This can be as simple as writing them down on a sheet of lined paper, or you can get fancy and download quilt planning sheets. My favorites are the fancy ones, actually, because I like the checkboxes on the side for each step of the quilt making process. Writing everything down keeps you from feeling like you have to remember them all in your brain, and I promise you, you’ll feel a sense of “phew!” just from writing your projects on paper. Also, if any of these projects have deadlines, make a note of that.

2. Quick wins. Because I use the quilt planning sheets, this part is easy, but even if you just write your projects down, number them or write them in order of most completed to least. Make note of the ones that I like to call “quick wins”. That half-made bag that will take maybe 2 hours at the most to complete? That’s a quick win. The quilt that just needs ends woven in before it is deemed snuggle-worthy? That’s definitely a quick win. Find the things on your list that will require a maximum of 3 hours for you to finish them completely. And I mean finish. I don’t mean to get them to the next step of the process. No, which ones can you cross off the list for good. You have a couple of projects lying around that just don’t inspire you anymore? Consider donating or selling them off to someone who will enjoy finishing it.

Once you have identified what those quick wins are, you can use them to your advantage. The next time you step into your quilting studio, instead of feeling like you have too many projects to work on and you’re not sure where to start, look at your list and select a “quick win”. “I’ve got two hours, what is on my list that I could do that would make me feel accomplished?”. Select one of them and get sewing! I promise you, getting a project completed and crossed off the project list feels SO GOOD! The one exception to the quick win rule is if you’re working with deadlines. Then, obviously, those must come first.

3. Once you get all the quick wins completed, look at your list again and determine what is closest to being finished next? Maybe you need to baste and quilt a top, or maybe you need to buy a backing to get the next project moving forward. I’ve found that by ignoring projects that were just cut or in the ‘sew blocks’ phase, and concentrating a lot of my efforts on the projects closest to completion, I’ve felt such a greater sense of accomplishment. And then I work on the list, going backwards from nearest to completion to farthest, because every time I can check a project off my list, the list looks much, much easier to manage, and working on what is left is suddenly more fun.

I recently took to Instagram to document binding four quilts in one night. These quilts had been hanging around my quilting studio, some of them for months, just waiting for binding. Binding! Oh, how we sometimes procrastinate. I decided to tackle these, so I went to a couple local quilt shops that night and grabbed the bindings I needed, came back home, and got to work at about 7:30pm. It was a long night of quilting, but 4.5 hours later, I had four finished quilts! It felt good to get these done, not to stare at them every time I walked into my quilting studio and think “UGH. RIGHT. These need binding”.

My current WIP list is 17 quilts long, so I’ve set myself on a freeze. No new projects, no buying of new fabrics, no matter how lovely they look. My goal is to whittle the list to below 10 projects before I tackle anything new. It is unrealistic to think that I would get them all done and have no WIP list at all before I start something new, so hopefully trying to get 7 of the projects done and off my list is doable motivation for me. Three of the projects on my list just need binding. I seem to get stuck at that last step, huh?

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