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Episode 101

How to Clean Your Sewing Space in 15 Minutes

Sarai and Haley explore why a messy space is such a block, and what makes clean-up hard for us, and they share Haley’s surefire, seven-step process for cleaning up your space in only 15 minutes.

Sewing is inherently messy. There’s a lot of equipment. There’s a lot of stuff involved, from tiny pins and needles to machines and power cords. Oftentimes, if you have a small space or you just don’t have a dedicated space, there’s a lot of moving things around. And that big mess can really be a mental barrier to getting started with your sewing.

Luckily, Haley has a seven-step process for you to follow, and it only takes 15 minutes.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
Welcome back to Seamwork Radio, where we share practical ideas for building a creative process so you can sew with intention and and joy. Today we’re talking about ideas for cleaning up your sewing space in just 15 minutes. So we’re going to cover why a messy space is such a block, what makes clean up hard for us and Haley’s surefire, seven-step process for cleaning up your space in only 15 minutes.

Haley wanted to add a caveat that’s as long as it’s not a huge mess.

Haley
Yes, small to moderate messes.

Sarai
If you have kind of a normal sized mess in your sewing room, we’ve got a solution for that today.

Alright, so our icebreaker for today, it actually comes from our sample sewer Areta, and Areta asks, “what are your bad habits when it comes to sewing?” Alright, Haley, I’ll let you start with this one. Mine is very relevant to the topic today.

Haley
I mean, I definitely have, like, a handful of bad habits. I think that the two that come to mind are kind of related. The first one is that I often will cut out a pattern and then forget that I have it cut out and then find it, like, amongst my patterns. A year or two later, I’m like, oh, yeah, I forgot I was going to start that project. And then related to that, I also have a bad habit of just not finishing projects. It’s not like I do it all the time. Maybe, like, one in every five projects. But I feel like it’s when I get to a place with a project where I’m starting to realize that maybe I don’t like it as much as I thought it I would.

Sarai
Yeah.

Haley
And my sewing time is so limited that I don’t want to spend a bunch of time sewing something that I don’t think I’m going to like very much. And so I abandon those until I come up with a better idea.

Sarai
Just abandon ship.

Haley
I get around to it eventually, but I just have this purgatory of projects. I just cleaned my sewing space. I had to be confronted with my bad habit recently.

Sarai
Yeah, that’s surprising to me because you seem like you don’t have a lot of clutter, so it seems like you would find those really quickly.

Haley
Yeah, you would think they’re actually kind of all in one place. So there is, like, method to it, but it’s not a place I look very often. It’s kind of intentionally out of sight.

Sarai
Yeah, those hidden corners.

Haley
What about you?

Sarai
For me, I would say, well, a few things. I have multiple bad habits. One that I’ve worked on a lot and has gotten a lot better, actually. My new BERNINA sewing machine helps me a lot with this. One is just not being very good about cutting thread tails immediately, which would leave a lot of threads hanging off my garment at the end, which is just such a pain in the butt to have to clip all those and find them again. And I’ve gotten a lot better at that. And my new machine has the automatic thread cutting feature, so that really helps because it’s not that I’m lazy about it. I just kind of forget about it, especially when you first start stitching. So that’s one of them, but less so now.

My second bad habit, I would say, is related to our topic today, which is I’m not very good at cleaning. My sewing room is set up in such a way, I also use it as my office for work. When I want to sew, I kind of have to rearrange things, so I have to move a chair, roll up a rug, pull out my cutting table.

Sarai
I have to take out the serger, put it on the desk, plug it in, move my sewing machine, so there’s a little bit of setup and tear down that has to happen. And right now, I’m kind of in the middle of—I just finished a project this weekend, and I have another one cut out that I want to sew. So I don’t want to put everything away and just to drag it all back out again. And so for the last week, just this room has been utter chaos. Like, my rug is all folded up, there’s just stuff everywhere, and I’m not really motivated to put it all away, just to take it all back out again. So just clean up is not my forte. So I would say that’s another one of my bad habits.

Haley
How long would you say it takes you to take apart the space and then put it back together?

Sarai
Not very long. It’s more of a mental block. Like, it’s probably five minutes. It’s a little bit of physical exertion, pulling things out and moving things around, but it doesn’t take a long time. But it’s more of a mental barrier, I think, to actually doing it, because I know that I’m just going to have to redo it again sometime soon. But then sometimes you don’t get to your project when you think you’re going to get to it, and so everything’s chaotic for weeks at a time, and you keep telling yourself you’re going to get to it.

Haley
Yeah. In the meantime, you’re just, like, bummed out every time you go into that space because it feels a little chaotic. I mean, at least that’s how I feel.

Sarai
Yeah. I am good about cleaning up threads and things that are laying around, stuff like that. Like the actual cleanup cleanup part, because I have cats, and I don’t want them to get in trouble with the threads. So that part is fine, but it’s just like the tidying and moving things around that I’m not so great at. That’s a really good question, Areta. I’m glad you asked that one.

So if you have an icebreaker for us for a future episode. If you’re a Seamwork member, you can go to Seamwork.com go/icebreakers, and you can leave it there. That will take you to a post in our community where you can share your icebreaker idea.

Alright, so we already talked a little bit about our topic for today. The issue is that sewing is messy. It’s inherently messy. There’s a lot of equipment, there’s a lot of stuff involved. Oftentimes, if you have a small space or you just don’t have a dedicated space, there’s a lot of moving things around like I just talked about. And that big mess can really be a mental barrier to getting started with your sewing.

At least I find that it is. When I have a lot of stuff laying around, it doesn’t feel conducive to actually creating or starting a new project. So that’s always been a little bit of an issue for me, mainly because I hate cleaning. What about you, Haley? Do you enjoy cleaning?

Haley
I can say that I truly do enjoy cleaning. I really like it. I remember even, like, back when we used to work in the office five days a week, sometimes you and Kenn would come in, Kenn would open the fridge. You’d be like, who cleaned the fridge? It’s always me. I see, like, a little puddle in the back corner of the fridge, and I’m like, yes, something for me to obsessively clean for the next ten minutes. And then once I get started, I can’t stop. It just kind of snowballs from there.

Sarai
That’s a wonderful trait to have. Kenn is very clean as well. He’s a very tidy person. And I’m really not a tidy person by nature. I’ve learned to be more tidy and living with him, but I’m naturally a little bit chaotic, and I think that’s just kind of how I am. And I have to sort of adapt to make it work for me, because I like things being clean and tidy. It’s very soothing, it’s very calming. But I need some kind of external motivation to actually clean myself, because I don’t really particularly like it. Actually, I like cleaning. Cleaning, like, I like washing windows and scrubbing things and getting things clean, but I don’t like tidying. I don’t like moving things around or figuring out where things go and putting things away and taking them out. I don’t know. I’m lazy about that kind of thing, I guess.

Haley
I think I look at it like a puzzle, the tidying part, and how can I do this in the most, like, effective way? How can I create an environment that’s going to make my life a little bit easier? I like that kind of the engineering part of creating a tidy space and creating systems.

Sarai
That seems like a good way of looking at it, maybe looking at it that way. Would help me. I think for me, just thinking about it right now, I think a big part of it is that I make so many decisions throughout my day that I get kind of decision fatigue. And so at home I’m sort of like I don’t want to decide where this goes. I don’t want to figure this out right now. I don’t have a spot for it. I don’t know, I don’t want to deal with it right now. I just make so many decisions at work all day long that I’m exhausted and don’t want to do it anymore. I just want to have it done for me, which doesn’t happen.

Haley
Yeah.

Sarai
Is your sewing space really clean and tidy all the time then?

Haley
Usually, like I’ve talked about a little bit, I just moved last month and so I’m in the process of setting up my sewing space. So that is kind of just an inherently messy project and undertaking. So normally it’s pretty tidy, but I have to say that it’s just kind of stressing me out not to have the order that I desire in my space present right now. And that’s kind of just because I don’t know exactly how things are going to function quite yet. And it’s hard to create order if you don’t know everything’s function.

Sarai
Yeah, that’s true. It’s hard when you first move into a space and it’s a bigger project, you kind of have to start at a different level than when you already have it all set up and everything. You have to sort of imagine how things are going to work and then they may or may not work out that way and you have to change things and it takes a while.

Haley
Yeah, definitely. But typically I have a pretty tidy sewing space. What about you?

Sarai
I would say most of the time it’s actually fine because I have a lot of drawers and things and I have some dedicated furniture for sewing and I have this cutting table that has all these drawers where I can put things in and I have sort of my system pretty much figured out and it’s easy. So most of the time it’s actually pretty clean. I think the times when it’s not is when I’m actually working on something or between projects or that’s one of the things that gets me. I also have a few things that I don’t really have a home for and I’m still trying to figure out what to do with them. Like, I have a surgery at home and I’ve been buying surgery thread for it every time I have a project where I want to use the serger. And so I’m accumulating more and more serger thread and I don’t really have a place for it to go. I was keeping it in a cabinet, but it’s sort of outgrown that it takes up a lot of room because you have these four huge spools of thread and then you get them in all these different colors.

And so I’m thinking I might need to—I have a bunch of shelves in here that right now they have books on them. I’m going to have to move those books somewhere else just to put my thread somewhere, but I haven’t really figured that out yet. So there are certain things that are just kind of stuck for me in my space, but I would say most of the time it’s actually pretty tidy. What do you feel like are sort of the obstacles for you when it comes to keeping your space clean? Do you have any?

Haley
I think that my biggest obstacle when it comes to keeping my space clean is that it seems like my stash be that fabric, patterns, notions, whatever, is always kind of fluctuating. Sometimes it’s bigger, sometimes it’s smaller. And I feel like my systems have to kind of adjust those as those fluctuations happen. And I think just finding the motivation for those bigger organizational projects can be kind of overwhelming. So I’ll have these kind of pain points at any given time. Right now, my pain point is my notions. I need a new system for keeping them organized, just all kind of just like piecemeal together and it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I would say those bigger organizational undertakings or my big roadblocks and it’s just overwhelming to dedicate the amount of time that often times you need for that.

Sarai
Yeah, that’s true for me. Aside from the thread thing, I have the same problem that you just mentioned with vintage patterns because I have a lot of vintage patterns and they’re all pretty neatly organized, as you know, because we used to have them in the office and now I have them at home. They’re in little like mini crates and they’re all in sleeves with backing and they’re organized by decades and they’re tagged, but then they’re kind of at capacity, like my storage is at capacity. And lately I’ve been buying a few more vintage patterns and I just don’t know what to do with them because they don’t fit. Do I have to redo this whole system? I don’t know where to get these crates anymore. I bought them years ago, I don’t really know what to do with them now.

Haley
I hate when I do that. I have a similar problem with my patterns too, as I have one crate that I kind of keep everything in and when I outgrow that I just tend to start giving things away because I don’t want to find a matching crate and I want to buy two new ones.

Sarai
Yeah, I think maybe it’s time to get rid of some of these patterns. Most of them were given to me. I’ve given away a lot of them already, but I could probably stand to give away more because I probably will never sew with them. So they should go to a home where they’ll actually get used. What do you think is the most helpful in keeping your space clean? Is there something you found that’s really helpful? Generally?

Haley
Yeah, I think that having rituals and routines set at regular intervals is what helps me the most. So I have always allow myself like, ten minutes of set up and ten minutes of breakdown time whenever I have any amount of time to sew so I can make sure that I’m not leaving a mess out. Because like you, my sewing space is also my office, and I spend a lot of time in here every day, and those messes tend to distract me. And then in addition to that, I have kind of like a weekly tidying routine that involves my whole house. But there’s some I have a checklist, actually a weekly tidying checklist, and there are sewing room items on that checklist.

Sarai
That’s impressive. I definitely do not have a checklist. You know, our house is pretty tidy overall, but there are just certain areas that kind of get that accumulate clutter that we have to pay special attention to because the place where you drop your mail, all that stuff. But my sewing room is probably one of those. So you have kind of a process for quickly cleaning your sewing room, the seven step process that we were talking about. So maybe you could share that with everybody today because I found it really helpful and this is something that I definitely want to implement.

Haley
Yeah, so this is a process. I actually kind of use it when I need to clean any space. But I found it particularly helpful in the sewing room because just so much kind of junk. Not junk, but, you know, stuff. So step one is if you’re like me and you tend to get carried away when you’re cleaning, kind of like my story about the refrigerator. Step one is to set a timer for yourself so that you don’t get carried away. You can either just set the timer for 15 minutes, or sometimes I’ll even set the timer for like three five minute alarms that repeat so that I have some kind of warning going off so I don’t get stuck on one particular task. I find that super helpful. And then I kind of work from the lowest hanging fruit up. So the easiest things go 1st. 1st thing I do is I grab the trash bin in my sewing space and I clear out any trash. So any thread, paper, all of that kind of stuff. That stuff leaves the room first. And then once I’ve gotten any trash, I put that trash bucket, like, outside of the door, just out of the room.

I can deal with it later. And then I work on categorizing. In my first sweep of categorizing things, I make two piles. There’s the pile of things that don’t belong in this room and the pile of things that do belong in this room. And something that can be kind of helpful for this is if you have, like, laundry baskets or any kind of large basket or box, put all of the things that don’t belong in the room into that laundry basket. Because then you don’t have to, like, do 20 laps around your home trying to put things away. You can just carry your basket around and put stuff away. And then with that pile of things that do belong in the room from there, you’re going to want to categorize it a little bit more. So make some subcategories. You can have fabric, maybe your unfinished projects, notions, patterns, all of that kind of stuff kind of further categorize it. And I like working this way because even if my 15 minutes timer goes off, like right now, I only get as far as categorizing. Then I’ve left myself an easier pick up task to come back to.

And that’s why I think this, like, 15 minutes breakdown works pretty well. If you still have time left on your timer, then everything goes to its home. That’s kind of like the ideal place. From there, kind of the two bonus items are all dust, sweep, put the cover on the sewing machine, like those kind of little nuances that make the room feel extra tidy. And then as a bonus, if maybe you don’t have a big mess to clean, maybe the mess that you’ve made while you’re sewing only takes you five minutes. I recommend spending 15 minutes on tackling one of those pain points, because all of us have them at any given point in our sewing journey. Maybe it’s the cone thread for your surgery or your patterns, and it doesn’t even necessarily need to be actually tidying them. You can spend 15 minutes on the Ikea website trying to look for a new storage solution or going down to the basement and finding some unused crates, something to get you one step further to having a system. Because once you start getting those systems in place, the first seven steps that I outlined become a lot easier and a lot faster because you know where everything goes.

Sarai
What I like about this, both the idea of tackling a pain point for 15 minutes, but also just the idea of setting a timer. So you mentioned setting a timer because you get carried away with cleaning and will spend too much time cleaning, whereas I’m the opposite and I just have trouble getting motivated to do it in the first place. And I feel like setting a timer for 15 minutes communicates to me that you don’t have to do this for hours. This is only going to take 15 minutes. You can handle 15 minutes of anything. You can handle 15 minutes of cleaning. And so it’s a little bit motivating.

Haley
Yeah, totally. And even if you only make it through clearing out the trash and getting things out of the room that don’t belong in there. I find that if I continually work in the same sequence, that coming back to some kind of mess is a little bit easier because it’s a little bit clear to me where I need to start.

Sarai
Yeah. It’s always helpful to have those kinds of clear stopping points in any project, no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s a sewing project or a work project or anything that you have to come back to, knowing where to pick up again is so helpful. I find that with writing, too, if you end at a place where you can easily pick it up again, it just makes starting so much easier the next time. And starting is usually the hardest part of anything, any project.

Haley
Right. And I agree that starting that little 15 minutes timer, I think helps to get over that little mental block. Even if it’s just the mental block of like moving the rug in the sewing table back into place, then you don’t get carried away too, like me.

Sarai
Yes. I feel like I could set a timer just for five minutes for doing all of that tear down stuff we were just talking about. I think if I did that one time, I would realize, oh, it only takes me five minutes. It’s worth it to put it all away because it’s only going to take me another five minutes to pull it out again. Whereas now I just look at it and I think, why bother?

Haley
Yeah. I really lately have been trying to book in parts of my day just a little bit more intentionally, whether that’s signaling to myself that my work day is over or I’m done sewing. These little break points that you allow yourself, I think, make a really big difference in your life in general. So I’m a big fan.

Sarai
Yeah.

Haley
They help you transition, I think.

Sarai
I find that in my life as well, it’s really helpful to have a ritual of some kind or something that signals to you, this part is over, we’re moving on to the next part. And that just kind of helps your brain to reset. So you’re not thinking about things that aren’t relevant to the moment, to the present moment and what you’re doing at that moment.

Haley
Right. And I think it gives you a more satisfying sense of completion. You feel like you didn’t have to run away mid project. I mean, obviously life happens sometimes you do have to go answer a phone call or whatever in the middle of sewing. But I think having those little quiet moments in between tasks and for me, that’s definitely doing a little bit of picking up and tidying of my space really makes me feel more peaceful when I come away from my sewing.

Sarai
Yeah. I think that’s something we can carry with us from sewing into other parts of our lives as well. Like so many things in sewing, there are things to learn about the rest of your life. Also how to make it feel good and how to make the creative parts of your life feel like the good effects from that part of your life can impact all the other parts of your life in a way that’s positive and not in a way that feels stressful. Alright, awesome. Well, I’m going to recap the seven steps that Haley went through plus the bonus. So first, set a timer for 15 minutes, especially if you avoid tidying like me, or if you’re someone like Haley who gets carried away with tidying, setting a timer can be helpful for you no matter what. The second step is to clear out any trash. The third step is to categorize the remaining things so things that don’t belong in this room and things that do belong in this room. So make two piles. The fourth step is to take everything that doesn’t belong and move it out, move it out of the room.

The fifth step is to make piles of categories. So for example, fabric projects, et cetera, just make piles of the remaining stuff that does belong in the room. Then everything goes to its home so that’s when you actually put the stuff away in its home. And then the 7th step is to do any last cleaning. So sweeping, dusting, putting the cover on your sewing machine, whatever it is, that’s going to be those final finishing details that are going to make it extra clean. So those are the seven steps. And then as a bonus, if you don’t have a big clean up job to do, but you want to spend some time tidying, just spend 15 minutes tackling whatever a pain point is in your sewing area. So for me, for example, I talked about the cone thread and how right now I really need to sit down and spend a few minutes figuring out what to do with that and where it goes and doing a little rearranging to make that happen. So you could set a timer for a task like that for just 15 minutes and just give yourself that short amount of time to figure it out and you’ll probably get it figured out and make your life easier the next time you come back to your sewing room or the next time that you need to tidy in there.

So that’s super helpful. Thank you for sharing these, Haley. I think I’m going to print these out and put them on my bulletin board so that I can remember the steps. Yeah, I’m trying hard not to have too many to do list and checklists in my life, but I think that might actually be helpful and reduce stress, so I’m going to try that.

Alright, and if you want to learn more about this general topic and if you’re interested in sewing spaces and ideas for your own sewing space, we have a couple of suggestions. We have a series of sewing room tours on our YouTube channel. So our YouTube channel is Seamwork Video, so you can just look that up on YouTube. And we have a bunch of videos there from our team members giving tours of their own sewing spaces, so you can get some ideas from that. We also have the anatomy of a small sewing Space, which is an article on our website, and we’ll link to that in the Show Notes. Really excellent article on small sewing spaces and got some great tips for keeping your sewing space neat and tidy all the time.

Sarai
So I highly recommend that we also have an episode of the podcast called update Your Sewing Room Without Buying More Stuff so you can check that out. That’s a great episode that can also give you lots and lots of ideas for your own sewing space and how to keep it neat and tidy or just kind of get yourself organized. In addition to that, we also have a free download called the Ultimate Guide to Setting Up Your Sewing Space. And it’s a free mini guide that has tons of tips and ideas for creating a better and more functional sewing area no matter how much space you have. So you can download that at Promo.seamwork.com/sewing-spaces-guide. So we’ll put that link in the Show Notes, but it’s promo.seamwork.com/sewings-paces-guide, and we will again link that in the Show Notes so you can find it. But it’s totally free and you can download on our website. So if you liked this episode, we would super appreciate a review and a rating on your podcast platform of choice. We love hearing from you all, so please leave us a five star rating if you enjoy the podcast and let us know what you think by leaving us a review.

Sarai
You can also follow us on YouTube at Seamwork Video, and you can follow us on Instagram at Seamwork. And if you’d like to join Seamwork and become part of our private community, plus get access to hundreds of sewing patterns and dozens of sew alongs our podcast, listeners get 50% off, which is a lifetime discount when you join us at Seamwork.com/go/podcast50. And that’s, again, a lifetime discount, which means that if you sign up with that link for our unlimited plan, you get to keep that discount for as long as you’re a member. All right, and that brings us to the end today. Thank you again, Haley, for sharing this with us, because I think it’s going to be really helpful for me personally. I’m sure lots of other people will feel the same way.

Haley
Yeah, you bet.

Sarai
Alright. And with that, I’m Sarai.

Haley
And I’m Haley.

Sarai
And this is Seamwork Radio.

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