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Episode 118

How to Sew Without Overflowing Your Closet

When do you have enough? Making things brings you joy, and you can’t always measure it by the number of clothes in your closet. So how can you sew without overflowing your closet? Sarai and Haley share 10 questions you can ask yourself.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
I’m Sarai.

Haley
And I’m Haley.

Sarai

And this is Seamwork Radio.

Welcome back to Seamwork Radio, where we share practical ideas for building a creative process so you can sew with intention and joy. Today we’re talking about how to sew without overflowing your closet. So we’re going to cover an exercise that you can do to define what enough means for you and how to enjoy your sewing without feeling overwhelmed by excess.

Alright, so our icebreaker for today, this one comes from Virginia B. And Virginia asks, “Have you ever been confident enough in your creations to donate the items you no longer wear to charity and just felt good that someone else would get the opportunity to love them, too?” That’s a great question, Virginia. For me, personally, yes, I have been donating things for many, many years, and I always feel great about it. I think no matter what it is, no matter how weird it is, there’s going to be somebody who loves it out there, and they’re going to be excited to find it when they do. At least that’s my hope. What about you, Haley?

Haley
I agree. I have also been donating. I don’t really have a hang up on, I don’t feel really, like, sad when I donate things that I’ve made because there’s always new things that I will make in the future. And also, I’m like, wow, this is a really cool thing that someone’s going to get. And I think I was young enough when I started sewing that even then, even if my garments weren’t, like, I don’t know, of the best quality, I was young and cocky, and I was like, this weird skirt is great. Someone’s going to love it. And like you said, someone probably did love it and didn’t notice that the nap on the corduroy was facing two different directions, stuff like that.

Sarai
That’s something people who don’t sew, I think, might not notice. So they might, but they might not.

Haley
Yeah. I’m sure there was some more obvious sewing since then that I’m, like, giving myself too much credit.

Sarai
But yeah, I think when I was younger and newer to sewing, I think my hang up about the quality of my garments was mostly that they were unfinished on the inside a lot of the time, and so they would have threads or unravel at the seams. Because I didn’t have a serger and didn’t really know very much about alternate ways to finish seams back then. So I think that was kind of a little bit of a hang up. But I still sort of felt like most people who don’t sew are not going to care as much about those issues. I could be wrong. I could be totally wrong about that, but I’m sure it depends on the person. But being very young myself, probably a little bit of projection there. I was more interested in what it looked like on the outside than what it was like on the inside, I guess, at that point. Well, that’s a good question, Virginia. Thank you for submitting that one. And if you have an icebreaker for a future episode, if you’re a Seamwork member, you can go to Seamwork.com/go/icebreakers and leave it for us there and we will likely use it on a future episode. So thank you so much again, Virginia.

Now we’re going to get into our issue for today. So I brought up this issue, something I wanted to talk about today because I personally feel like I have a lot of clothing. And so this is something that I tend to grapple with myself, which is feeling overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I have, while at the same time really enjoying the process of making new things and always seeming to want to make more new things.

So there are upsides and downsides. I think the downside of having a lot of stuff is that the more stuff you have, the more you have to take care of it and maintain it and organize it. And that in itself adds a lot of mental overhead. It takes up physical space in your surroundings. It also takes up mental space. And I personally really like to take care of my things and make sure that they’re all going to last a long time and get use out of them. So that means that I got to put work into them. This is true for things like shoes or purses, like keeping them in good condition, polished, not letting them get too beaten up.

But it’s also true for clothing and making sure that it’s all taken care of, it’s hung neatly, it’s organized, it’s cleaned appropriately. All those things can add a lot of time to your life, a lot of things to think about that you might not otherwise think about if you had a more minimalist wardrobe. So it’s really about finding that balance.

And I think the other thing about having a lot of clothing is that when you have a lot of variety in your wardrobe, it can kind of dilute your personal style. If you are always looking at the next thing and getting really excited about something new that you don’t already have and just adding more and more into your wardrobe, then I think it can kind of crowd out the things that really feel true to you and the things that you actually really, really love to wear. I find this to be less true as I get older, which I think is really natural, which is that when you’re younger, it’s a time where you’re, I think, a little bit more obsessed with novelty and trying things out and being more experimental and really trying on different identities.

And that is a totally normal and very healthy part of being young. And as you get older, I think you tend to settle a little bit more into who you are. And so I think maybe this is one reason why it feels like a little bit more of an issue for me as I get older, is how much stuff do I really want? Because it doesn’t all necessarily feel like it’s pertinent to me anymore.

But on the other hand, I really love clothes, and I really love making clothes. It’s my career. It’s my hobby. I absolutely love it. I love textiles. I love looking at different fabrics, and I like color. I like prints, you know, as far as, you know, the visual kind of enjoyment I get out of them. I just love the whole process of sewing. I really get a lot out of it.

So how do we bridge these things and make a decision about when we have enough and what that means for us personally and what that looks like? And then on a tactical level, what do we do when we feel like maybe we do have enough stuff?

So I want to start just by asking you, Haley. Do you also feel like you have a lot of clothing, or are you a little bit more minimalist?

Haley
I would say that I have, like, a moderate amount of clothing. I really make an effort to not accumulate too much. I go through my closet once a year and get rid of some stuff, and I feel like that’s a practice. And also, just doing that regularly really encourages me to not accumulate a whole lot of things. I think specifically, for someone who—I’m a designer, I have obviously a strong interest in clothing. I think people would expect me to have a lot more clothing than I actually do.

Sarai
I think that’s true. A lot of designers, it seems like a lot of them seem to have a very well-defined sense of what they like to wear, and they stick with that. And I think that’s part of what we were saying about personal style and having that be kind of a factor in how much stuff you own, how much you wear too.

Haley
Is there something that you have way too much of?

Sarai
I would say, like athletic wear, way too much of. Because I think we may have talked about this on the show before, but when I have old T-shirts and things, they get downgraded to workout clothing, and so when that happens, you know, they just tend to accumulate there because I don’t really care if they get a hole in the elbow or something like that. I’ll keep wearing them to work out. And the result is that I have a huge collection of old T-shirts and sweatshirts and leggings and things like that because I never really seem to get rid of them, because there’s not really a reason to, because I don’t really care what I look like.

So that’s one thing that I have way too much of. But in my day to day, I think that’s kind of a special case. Actually, it’s the same I would say for pajamas, I also have a lot of, like, old pajamas I could probably get rid of that are stretched out or have a little hole in the knee. I have some really cute, like, knit pajamas that have a hole in the knee because, I don’t know, the cats, they jump on your lap, and they’re always, like, I feel like they’re always tearing holes in them.

So that’s another area I would say. I used to have, like, a lot of denim, but I’ve pared that down, and I just have a few pairs that I really love and that fit me really well in a few different styles. But that’s one area where I can start to collect things if I’m not careful about cleaning out my closet pretty regularly. What about you? Is there in a certain area where you just feel like you have too much?

Haley
I definitely used to feel that way about loungewear and, like, pajamas and activewear, but I did a really good job of getting rid of a lot of that stuff last year just because just for years and years, anything that just got a little bit ratty, I was like, it’s pajamas now. And it just was kind of silly the amount that I had. So I did a big clean out, and I feel better about that.

But the one thing that comes to mind is tank tops. It’s just because I wear them, like, underneath so many sweaters and with, like, as, like, a base layer for so many things. With my warmer months, I’ll wear them on their own. I just have, like, so many different tank tops. I’m, like, particularly obsessed with a style that the company, Arq, they’re based here in Portland that they make. They’re an underwear company, but they have this cropped tank top that I’m, like, obsessed with. I have a lot that’s, like, one of my ready to wear problems. They’re a small company, though, so I feel fine about supporting them. And they’re really awesome. I have a lot of them.

I think I have them in, like, maybe five colors. That’s a lot for me, but they take us so little room, so I’m like, it’s fine. It’s all right. Yeah, I have a lot of those. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that you have?

Sarai
Yeah, I do sometimes. My closet is pretty sizable. My dresser, though, I have an antique dresser that belonged to my great grandmother, and it’s not so huge, so I often feel like my drawers are overflowing. That kind of overwhelms me. That makes me stressed out. So I try to make sure that I keep everything very neat and very tidy in there, and that helps a lot. But I can feel kind of overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that I have.

I have a lot of shoes. I think I’ve mentioned this recently, too, is that I have a lot of shoes, because I’m definitely a shoe person. I like shoes a lot, but I also don’t—now that I live now that I work from home and I live out in the country, at least half of them go completely unworn and have a really hard time getting rid of those. But they’re everywhere in my closet, and I have them in all, like, every shelf that’s in my closet has shoes in it, and I really should just clean them out and get rid of them. But they’re so lovely, and I really do like them, and I feel like, well, maybe I could wear them once in a while.

I don’t know. So they do make me feel a little bit overwhelmed just because I’m running out of space for them.

Haley
I can hear the hesitation in your voice.

Sarai
I know it’s hard. It’s my Achilles heel. What about you? Do you get that way?

Haley
Usually if I’m feeling over, I don’t feel overwhelmed often, but if I am feeling overwhelmed, it’s not necessarily because of the amount of stuff I have. It’s just because I feel like it’s gotten disorganized and I need to reorganize it. I don’t know. You know how it is. Just after so many months, it just feels like how did everything get halfway unfolded?

So usually it’s, for me, more of I just need to take a little time to do some organizing. I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed right now because I usually use my winter break to clear out my stuff a little bit, so I feel like I have a box of stuff that could find a new home. So usually I take that as, like, a signal that I have some action to do around my wardrobe.

Is there anything that you’ve gotten rid of over the years that you really wish that you had kept?

Sarai
I’ve been thinking about this lately because I feel like I want to say no, because I think it is really liberating to get rid of things, including getting rid of things that you’ve made. But I do sort of wish that I’d kept more of what I’d made just for sentimental purposes, maybe to hand down to my niece when she’s older or something like that. I do sort of wish some of that stuff that I made that felt really special, I’d held on to. I also I’ve gotten rid of a lot of sweaters that I’ve knitted. And if you knit, you know that knitting a sweater takes a really, really long time. And I do sort of wish that I had kept some of those. I’ve gotten rid of some just because I found that I wasn’t wearing them that much. And sometimes things that you aren’t wearing that much, it’s sort of a temporary thing, and you can come back to them later. As long as you really loved it, you really feel something for it. And so some of the things that I’ve knitted and spent months and months knitting, I kind of wish that I had held on to.

But maybe I’m very sentimental about that kind of thing. So it’s more for the sentiment of it and the hand me down aspects of it than for to actually have it in my wardrobe and to actually wear it as more of a keepsake for me. What about you?

Haley
I’m sure there’s things that I’ve gotten rid of that I’ve regretted. I think that all of us have had that moment where you’re like, oh, you know what would go really well with this is that one blouse. And then you go searching for it and you’re like, wait, did I get rid of that? That was a bad choice.

Haley
I definitely had that, like, that moment. The only kind of long lasting one is that I used to have a couple of velvet jackets, like vintage velvet jackets that I loved. And they were, like, I feel like in 2010, that was, like, a really trendy garment that everyone was thrifting and wearing. And I was very enthusiastic about this trend. And then what? It wasn’t very trendy anymore. I think I got rid of them eventually, but I wish that I would have kept—there was one that was like a burgundy color that I really loved, and I really wish I would have kept it because it was cute. It was really cute, and I think it would still fit me today. So I’m kind of bummed about that. I’m more paranoid. I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story on the podcast, but I’m really paranoid about leaving things in my pockets of things that I’ve donated because when I was little, my mom, in her first marriage, she had my great grandmother gave her her engagement ring, and that was my mom’s wedding ring that she wore. And then when she got divorced, she obviously wanted to keep the ring because it’s a family heirloom, but she didn’t want to wear it.

But we had moved into this new apartment, and it was, like, kind of shady, and I think she was worried it was going to get stolen. So she hid it in a coat jacket, like a winter coat jacket. And we lived in the desert, so you don’t really wear them very often. And so she cleaned out her closet one day and was like, I don’t need this winter coat. And she donated it with the ring inside of it. And then, like, a week later, woke up in the middle of the night and had that realization. I know. And she went to the thrift store. It’s called Angel View. It’s like some local thrift store. And they let her look through the staff, but it wasn’t there anymore.

And that’s the story of how my mom accidentally donated my great grandmother’s wedding ring. So she didn’t have the heart to tell her mom until, like, years and years later. I think, like, 15 years had passed before she could actually tell her what happened with it. But that is very traumatic memory for me. So every time I donate things, I look through the pockets of everything, like, five times because it stresses me out.

Sarai
What a nightmare. That’s, like, my nightmare scenario. I hate losing things, and that’s just so terrible. And it’s worse than it being stolen, because at least you can blame somebody else if it’s stolen. There’s nothing you could have done. But, well, don’t let that stop you from donating things. Just be careful.

Haley
But do check the pockets of the things you donate.

Sarai
Yeah, that’s a lesson for today. Check your pockets. If you take nothing else away from this episode, check your pockets.

Alright, well, I wanted to share something today. I wanted to share an exercise that I have done that I think might be really helpful for those of you who might be struggling with whether you have enough clothing or what enough really feels like to you. So I did this exercise for myself, just for my general life, and that is to sit down and write out a bullet list of what is enough for me. And the reason I did this is because I don’t want to get myself into a situation where I feel like I am never good enough. I am never doing enough. I never have enough. I am always kind of thirsting for the next thing and not appreciating what I already have. And so I sat down and just wrote out, like, a little one pager thing that I have in front of me right here. It’s on my bulletin board in my office right here, so I can look at it anytime I want. And it just has a title on it and says, What is Enough?

And it has maybe, like, I don’t know, ten or 15 bullet points on it describing what feels like enough for me in my life. And I found it to be really, really helpful and really grounding. I find that sometimes, especially as a business owner, it can be very tempting to always be pursuing the next big thing, which is fine. I think that’s part of being an entrepreneur. But it can become sort of addictive. And like all addictive things, it’s usually a substitute for something else that’s missing from your life. So I have found this to be a really helpful way to kind of ground myself over and over again. And I think it could work in a smaller capacity for your wardrobe. It could also work for your sewing stash, for your fabric stash. If you feel like that’s an area where you’re always accumulating and never feel like you have enough, or that you’re always feeling like you want to buy more, or you can’t resist the temptation of some fabric that you might never be able to buy again. If those kinds of things are an issue for you, I think doing an exercise like this could be really helpful.

So the concept is simple. I’ve already described it for you, which is just to sit down and write down that idealized picture in your mind of what your wardrobe would look like if it were enough for you. And that’s the basic idea.

But I’m going to share some questions that you can add to it or that you can answer for yourself in order to come up with things that you want to put on your bullet point list. So these are just some ideas. You could also come up with your own questions, your own bullets, but these are some ideas that you can kind of go through to get a sense of what feels like enough to you. So when you’re crafting this vision in your mind, this idealized picture of what enough looks like for you, some things to think about.

So the first one is, how do you feel when you get dressed in the morning? What does that feel like to you? I think that’s a really great question. For some people, it’s really important to not have to spend a lot of time thinking about what you’re going to wear. Some people really enjoy that process of putting together outfits. I personally enjoy it. I know a lot of people say, I don’t want to have to think about what I’m going to wear in the morning. I don’t want to waste brain space on it. For me, it’s a creative exercise. I like putting together an outfit. I like matching my mood for the day. So I think it depends on the individual. So that’s one question you consider when thinking about what feels enough for you.

The second one is how much of your clothing do you use? So maybe you enjoy having a big closet and you may be mostly wear a few things out of it, but maybe it’s important to you that you get use out of everything in your closet and you wear it all pretty regularly. So again, that’s something very up to the individual and something to think about.

Number three, if you live somewhere where you have defined seasons, how does your wardrobe handle those changes in weather? That’s another thing that can help you to define what feels like enough for you. For some people, if you live in a place that has very, very different seasons, you want to have a wardrobe that will cover all of that. You want to have things that are specific for winter, things that are specific for spring. It just depends a lot, again, on your specific circumstances. So that’s another thing that you can consider.

Number four on here, I think, Haley, you came up with this one. I think it’s a great one, which is how often do you do laundry?

Haley
It’s a very practical question.

Sarai
Yeah, I think that’s a great one. So for me, we do laundry once a week. And I hate putting away laundry. I really, really hate it. I don’t know what it is, but the more clothing that’s piled up on the bed for me to put away, the worse I feel.

So how often do you do laundry? What’s your laundry situation? That could be something that you think about when you’re thinking about the size of your wardrobe. Some things. It might also help you to decide what kinds of things you want in your wardrobe because there are some things that you do not have to launder as often as other things. Like I don’t wash my jeans every time I wear them, for example. Other things you need to wash with everywhere. So that’s another thing to think about. There’s actually a really great article. I think I saw it online. I don’t know if it was in the print version. I think it was In Real Simple. That’s about how often to wash different types of clothing. I think it’s this month. If I can find it again, we’ll put it in the show notes. But just another thing to think about.

What percentage of your wardrobe goes unworn? So we talked about how much of your clothing do you use, but also what percentage goes completely unworn? Would that be? Is it important to you to have a very small percentage of your wardrobe that never gets worn? Or maybe it’s zero. Maybe you wear everything in your wardrobe. That’s another thing you can think about.

Do you have uniforms? Do you have things that you wear regularly, like outfit formulas? Or do you not have them? Do you kind of mix and match and have a bunch of different styles that you wear? Or are you somebody who prefers to just, you know, I wear jeans and I wear a button-down blouse every day, or I wear a long skirt and a sweater every day in the fall. If that’s something that’s important to you, that’s another thing that can influence what feels like enough to you.

And related to that, how often do you like to repeat your outfits? So outfit formulas. So that means things like, you know, a sweater and jeans, but it could be a different sweater with a different pair of jeans. But how often do you like to repeat wearing the same things over and over again?

If you’re somebody who doesn’t mind wearing the same thing almost every day, then maybe having less in your wardrobe feels right to you. But maybe if you’re somebody who really likes a lot of variety and doesn’t want to repeat outfits all the time, then that might be a different answer for you.

The next one is a little bit more abstract, but do you find creativity in the idea of abundance or do you find it in constraints? And I think this is something that can be very context dependent. I think I find creativity in both of those things depending on what I’m doing. But when it comes to your wardrobe, when it comes to your clothing, do you feel too constrained when you have too little to work with? Or does that make you feel more liberated to, for example, put together different outfits from the things that you already have? Or do you find that easier to do when you have an abundance of things to choose from? And this can apply to your fabric stash as well.

I think, you know, do you feel more creative when you have very little to work with and need to find creative uses for things? Or do you feel more creative when you have tons of materials to choose from and you get to play around with it and put it all together in new and interesting ways? And I think that is also very dependent on the individual.

So we’ve gone through eight questions so far. I’ve got two more. Number nine is what categories of clothing do you have covered in your wardrobe? So in this idealized world, what categories do you definitely have in your wardrobe? So for example, activewear, loungewear, special occasion clothing, what of those kinds of very specialized categories do you have enough of for your lifestyle? So, another thing to consider.

And then number ten, I think this goes back to something that we talked about a little bit earlier, but how is everything organized and contained and how much room do you have for everything? I think this is something that is important to me. When we talked about feeling stressed about the amount of stuff you have. The times that I feel stressed about the amount of stuff I have is when it feels like I can’t contain it all, I can’t organize it all, I can’t see it all, I don’t even know what I have, that feels stressful to me.

So when you’re painting this picture in your mind of the ideal wardrobe for you, thinking about how it’s actually going to look and how you’re going to organize it all and keep it all so that you don’t feel stressed by it, I think is another aspect you can definitely consider.

So those are just ten questions that you could include as kind of like little journaling prompts for yourself to think about what feels like enough for you personally. And you know, the last thing I wanted to say is I think this exercise is a really good way to kind of, again, ground yourself and think a little bit more intentionally about what you want to have in your life and what you don’t.

And then, you know, kind of the next step after this is really thinking about how that fits into your sewing. So once you have kind of a picture in your mind of how much you want to have, thinking about what does that mean for me in terms of the things I create? Maybe that means for you that you need to do a closet clean out once every three months or something like that.

Or maybe you need to do more wardrobe planning before you do your sewing. So using a program like Design Your Wardrobe to kind of map out what you want to create so that you’re bringing things into your closet with more intention. There are different strategies you can use to make sure that you are fulfilling your own needs for what you want in your life and what you don’t want in your life without giving up the things that you really enjoy.

So if you really love sewing and clothing like I do, there are ways to bring it into your life without succumbing to the more and more and more attitude that I think we all can sometimes fall prey to because it’s so prevalent in the world. So that’s kind of my thoughts on the matter. Do you have anything you wanted to add, Haley? I’ve been talking for a while, so any other thoughts?

Haley
No, I think you beautifully kind of encapsulated it. I think that finding that balance between creating the life that you want to live and in this case, what does the big picture of your wardrobe look like, or your belongings, it could even be your stash. And also balancing that with the things that bring you creative joy and maybe having an abundance isn’t really something that causes you any grief. In which case, this might not be a super useful exercise for you, but as always, I feel like this is like we offer up these exercises for uncovering things that might be blocks for you and giving you some ideas on how to creatively kind of work around them.

Sarai
I think that covers kind of our big takeaways from this episode.

Haley
Yeah, that definitely is definitely our big takeaways. I will do a little recap for us.

So today, Sarai proposed a really great exercise for how to uncover what is enough for you. So this could be to look at what is enough in terms of your wardrobe, in terms of your fabric stash. And she proposed ten questions that you can ask yourself to kind of journaling prompts to kind of uncover what that looks like for you, because it is going to be very different for everybody.

So we also wanted to promote a little something as we get to the end of the year, and it’s that time of year where you’re thinking about maybe gifting things for others or maybe you’re making a little list for something that you would like to someone else to gift you. And we want to mention that we now have some gift certificates available, so if you’re looking for a gift for yourself or for a friend who sews, we have gift certificates available right now at Seamwork.com. A gift certificate for an unlimited membership with the 50% off discount right now on Seamwork. We also have gift certificates available for our in-depth Learnt to Sew Clothing for Absolute Beginners course, which is taught by Sarai and me.

And you can find all of these right now for the holidays on Seamwork.com. And if you want to learn a little bit more about the things we talked about in today’s episode, I would definitely encourage you to check out the article. Has Your Sewing Become a Substitute for Shopping? It is really relevant to our discussion today and a really interesting read.

And if you liked this episode, we would just love if you left us a review. It helps us to know that you like what we’re doing and also helps other people to find us. And to all of you out there who have left us a review, a huge thank you. We just really appreciate them, and we read every single one of them.

Sarai
Okay, that does it for us today. I hope you all have a great week. I’m Sarai.

Haley
And I’m Haley.

Sarai
And this is Seamwork Radio.

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