For the last week, I have been culling my possessions. That’s a fancy name for “getting rid of stuff I don’t know what to do with anymore.” My linen closet suddenly holds all the towels, sheets and pillowcases comfortably. My studio doesn’t need an addition, in fact, there is some room in the closet. All my clothes fit in one closet and so do my shoes.
Why am I doing this? Because keeping track of stuff, not knowing where your stuff is, and buying stuff you don’t need, if you could only find the item from the first time you bought it, is getting old. Yesterday, when I stripped the bed, a pillowcase shredded in my hands. It was tissue thin, at least 30 years old, and one of several single, frail pillowcases I own.
It was time. I piled shelf by shelf on the bed and started with choosing the rags. The towels we keep “just in case” we need to sop up something disgusting. Once I had three of those, it was enough. I kept enough towels to supply guests and us without panicking. The others will be be given away. Some of them can be thrown away, too threadbare to pass on.
I was shocked to find I had three fitted sheets with long tears in them (waiting to be mended?) and three flat sheets without a partner. They all moved on.
My parents were frugal and I inherited that nature. But my mother actually mended, darned and made do. I can’t sew, and I’m not sure stitching up a threadbare sheet is really going to hold it together for a lot longer.
The studio was worse. I packed up four large Rubbermaid containers for a K-8 school. Papers, paints, brushes, glues, bottles of mediums, projects, rubber stamps (gulp), stamp pads, fabrics, threads, decorative scissors, stencils. I kept watercolor pencils, markers, alcohol inks, pads of various papers, inks, and decorative paper. If it works for collage, Monsoon papers, and alcohol inks abstracts, I kept it. Almost everything else will go to the school.
There is still work to do. Consolidating all my pens, brushes, and pencils from six different containers into individual containers. I have a button box from my mother-in-law and one from my mother, and a few random containers. They will all wind up in the same container. Maybe even separated by color.
Standing in the disorder of my studio, I wondered why I was doing this. And slowly, the idea became clear: I have to keep a lot of inventory in my head and am constantly planning the next project to use what I buy. I haven’t really gone deep with a project for years. And I want to. I want to explore to the limit of my ability. It’s why I gave up teaching art for now. When you teach, you constantly have to invent something new and different, or trendy. You have to make kits and samples, plan ahead, and not do much of your own work.
The idea of having a studio with the supplies I need, then digging into my own work and exploring feels fresh and tempting. This is how I felt when I first moved to Arizona, with just a few watercolor pencils, thinking I’d be here about a month before the moving van pulled up. It was a year, and living without a lot made me make the most of what I have. I want that spacious feeling, that feeling of airiness again.
And I want that spacious feeling in my whole life. The linen closet isn’t packed and pushing the doors open. I have space in a few bookshelves. My studio is a mess, but a lot of it will be picked up right before the school year starts. And in a few days, the closet will be organized again.
The only thing left is my desk. It’s not as bad, but that work needs to be done a lot more slowly. Possibly a new organization system is called for. And that will happen too.
Space in your head is created when there is also space around your body. And it feel a lot easier to breathe in here, too.
—Quinn McDonald will continue to shed and cull until her surroundings feel welcoming rather than guilt-inducing.