Getting a handle on your craft supplies

Janine Adams, owner of Peace of Mind Organizing in St. Louis, in her guest post today shares her seasoned, practical advice for keeping hobby supplies from taking over your home. Welcome, Janine!

Let’s face it, a lot of the fun of doing a craft and/or hobby is buying the supplies. But, if you spend more time buying supplies than actually creating things with them, you can have a storage and organization problem on your hands. (Supplies can even pile up on the most diligent crafter.)

If your craft area becomes overwhelmingly cluttered, it can do a number on your creative spirit. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. You can try this approach to gain control of your craft space–and create space to craft.

  • Contemplate categories: The key to organizing your craft space, in my experience, is to store everything in categories that make sense to you. Think of your favorite craft store. How do they organize their products? Perhaps you can replicate that category system in your own home. For example, I’m a knitter and I organize my yarn by weight, except certain yarn that I organize by fiber. (It makes sense to me and might not make sense to others, but that doesn’t really matter.)
  • Sort everything: Once you’ve decided on your categories, start sorting your supplies into those categories. You may end up modifying your categories a little, and that’s okay. If you run into unfinished projects, you can create a category for those, too. But do give some thought as to whether you’ll actually ever finish them. Why did you run out of steam on a certain project in the first place? If you don’t realistically think you’ll ever finish a project, perhaps you can deconstruct it and sort the components into their appropriate categories?
  • Weed mercilessly: You’ll have more space to craft if you have fewer supplies to store. Are there some supplies lurking there that no longer appeal to you? Perhaps your tastes have changed? Heck, there may be whole categories of crafts that you no longer do. Consider letting them go so they can be used by others.
  • Decide on containers: It’s so tempting to buy containers right away, but if you do it before the sorting and weeding process, you might end up with less-than-optimal storage solutions. Don’t limit your search to organizing and craft stores. You might find storage ideas at a sporting-goods store (I store my circular knitting needles in a tackle binder used for fishing, for instance), an office-supply store or a housewares store. IKEA is full of possibilities. Pinterest can be a great place to find innovative storage solutions. Also, check out the Creative Organizing blog of my friend and fellow professional organizer, Aby Garvey, co-author of the fabulous book The Organized and Inspired Scrapbooker.
  • Shop at home: Now that you have an organized craft space, you can save money and effort by using what you have, rather than going to the craft store. All that thought you gave to your categories can really come in handy when you shop your stash!

17 Comments for “Getting a handle on your craft supplies”

  1. posted by Mackenzie on

    I have 4 46qt totes. One has my store-bought yarn. One has my spinning fibre and the yarn it has become. One has my fabric. The last one has finished objects that are for sale in my Etsy shop. In the store-bought yarn bin, any yarn for which I have multiple skeins is in a ziploc bag. I’ve also got a 3-drawer thing that has needles & hooks in the top, knitting WIP in the middle, and crochet WIP in the bottom.

  2. posted by WilliamB on

    My two space-hogging hobbies are reading and knitting. (I, cravenly, consider cooking to be Part of Life and let’s not get into how much time I spend on it, OK?)

    I have a couple thousand books. I could reduce my reading footprint by going electronic. Ain’t going to happen, for all the usual reasons. My book collection meets Erin’s requirements[1]: organized, put out rather than packed away, and used. I am a heavy rereader of both fiction and nonfiction! I restrict growth by checking the book out of the library first; if I want to write in it or reread, then I purchase.

    My other space-consuming craft is knitting. Knitting and hobby stores have many useful organizing solutions but I found three elsewhere I want to share. For double pointed needles (one of the trickiest items for knitters) I use acrylic tubes with lids, and – very important! – wrote the needle size on the tube *and* the lid with a paint pen. Most of my stuff now rests happily in scrapbooker’s boxes; other people I know use cascading sewing baskets. Finally, my unused yarn itself is in bags in wire grid shelves from Bed, Bath and Beyond. This stuff is modular and user-assembled; for moves I can break it down into flat pieces and reconfigure it for the new space. Heck if I ever get through my unused stash (readers who craft can stop laughing now) I can use it store all those sweaters.

    One thing I learned the hard way: I shouldn’t buy too many projects at once. I get more happiness from buying then finishing one or two projects then buying another one or two, then I get from having a couple dozen at home to work my way through. I’m not going to get rid of yarn or books because I bought too much at once, but I no longer buy a dozen knitting projects at once just because yet another knitting store is going out of business.

    [1] Which is kinda funny, given the number of points we disagree about.

  3. posted by pru on

    Do you have any tips on how to pass along used craft materials though, besides perhaps putting it on the side of the road, using Freecycle or Craigslist? I have no problem weeding but I get bogged down with trying to figure out who else might like to use my less preferred paper supplies or stamps.

  4. posted by Claire on

    For the excess craft materials, why not ask a local youth group if they might like them? Guides/Girl Scouts are always strapped for cash and a donation of craft kit is likely to be welcomed with open arms.
    Failing that try other youth groups, pre schools, hospital children’s wards, play stores…. kids aren’t that picky and can come up with the most ingenious uses for random craft offcuts

  5. posted by Andrea A on

    For craft supply storage, I LOVE these 6qt storage boxes from Sterilite —

    They tend to be super inexpensive, easy to stack and label and are a good size to store “enough” without going overboard. I am using about 20 now, and they store everything from paint, to brushes, to specialty scissors and punches, even ribbon and sewing supplies.

    I really like that everything has a clean, uniform look when stacked in my craft closet, regardless of the varied nature of my hobbies. Also, even my husband can find items at just a glance. He’s enjoyed the system so much that he as adopted it for his own hobbies!

  6. posted by infmom on

    Several years ago, I bought a 15-drawer card catalog (remember those?) at a library sale. I have used it to sort out my beads, findings, and other materials by color, with wire and cords in a drawer of their own. So much easier to find what I want than in the big disorganized tackle box where everything was crammed before.

    Now if I could only find something as good for my fabric and sewing supplies.

  7. posted by infmom on

    @pru: Many people bag up their craft supplies securely by project (using large zip-lock bags, for example) and donate them to charitable thrift stores. I have seen many an afghan’s worth of yarn packaged up that way.

  8. posted by chacha1 on

    I donated several banker’s boxes full of craft materials to a middle school art teacher (my sister). Her annual budget for supplies, for five classes a day, was $300.

    Donations to public schools are tax-deductible in the U.S. if you use Schedule A.

    Getting rid of all that stuff (nice stuff, just stuff I wasn’t interested in using anymore) helped me get my head around properly organizing the things I *do* want to use. My crafts are beadwork and embellishment (costume & textiles).

    My primary storage facility is a spectacular Chinese 18-drawer jewelry/lingerie chest. Each drawer is partitioned … I love that thing.

  9. posted by Jeri on

    @Pru…Here in Portland is a store called Scrap that accepts used items of the office supply/craft nature. Your community may have something similar.

    You may alway check with a local women’s shelter or prison to see if they have any crafting programs.

  10. posted by Another Deb on

    I buy lots of craft supplies at the Goodwill to use in my classroom. Thank you to people who donate strange collections to the GW. I have science activities that require assorted materials such as BBQ skewers, baby bottle liners, foam peanuts, carbon paper, marbles or stamp pads. I also now have enough tape dispensors and staplers for each lab group.

  11. posted by Penny on

    @ Jeri: I love Scrap! My best friend and I visited there on a Portland trip last summer and had WAY too much fun digging through everything.

    @Pru: There’s also a Scrap in the San Francisco area. In Phoenix, there’s a group called Free Arts of Arizona, which does art daycamps with homeless and abused kids. It accepts art-supply donations, and also seeks folks who can teach craft skills to the kids. There may be something like that in your area.

  12. posted by Jenny on

    I adore paper crafts: scrapbooking, stamping, card-making. Here are some solutions that have worked for me:

    Original item: hanging cosmetic travel bag with clear pockets, from beauty supply store
    New purpose: holds sorted embellishments (brads, buttons, etc.)

    Original item: desktop file rack from office supply store
    New purpose: holds my cutter, self-healing mat, plastic stencil sheets, T-square, and other flat tools

    Original item: photo album with clear 4″ x 6″ pockets
    New purpose: holds small stickers and die cuts sorted by theme.

    Original item: various sizes of binders with clear plastic pockets, from office supply store
    New purpose: One holds paper scraps sorted by color. Another holds sticker sheets too large for the photo album mentioned above. Another holds “inspiration”: clips from magazines, sample greeting cards that I’ve liked, etc., plus blank paper for random jottings.

    Original item: Sectioned cardboard container with handle that previously held 6 bottles of wine (from grocery store)
    New purpose: handy tote for basic tools like scissors, pens, adhesives, and a container of wet wipes

    Original item: stackable flat lidded Rubbermaid food containers, from grocery store
    New purpose: stores stamps by category

    Original item: jumbo ziplock bags from the grocery store
    New purpose: jumbo is perfect size for holding 12 x 12 scrapbook pages. I hang bags from clip-type skirt hangers and use them to collect photos, paper, and embellishments for particular layouts. Then when I have time to scrap I grab a bag and everything’s right there ready to go. When I finish the layout, the jumbo ziplock then protects the finished page until I can put it in an album.

  13. posted by Jenny on

    Not a craft, but hobby-related:

    Musicians: how do you organize your sheet music?

  14. posted by Ida on

    You inspired me to clean out and organize my scrapbooking supplies!
    I tossed out a couple of items and gave away the items I won’t be using.
    Cleaning out these items inspired me to craft – having a clearer vision on what I had on hand alloved me to move forward on projects I had previously felt too overwhelmed to start.
    Amazing what a little cleaning and organizing can do for ones’ creative spark!

  15. posted by Janine Adams on

    There are some fantastic storage ideas in these comments! That’s the great thing about creative people–their creative problem-solving ideas!

    @Ida, I’m glad my post inspired you to clean out and organizing your craft supplies. It’s really great that that process inspired you to craft!

  16. posted by Allison on

    I live in a tiny apartment and don’t have the space to have a designated craft area, so it has to be both easily accessible and storable. I now use a contractors tool bag. It has all kinds of pockets, which work great for scissors, rulers, and knitting needles, as well as having plenty of storage space. For all the small pieces, I use a daily pill box. My bookcase is the home of my Incredible Hulk cup of paint brushes and milk glass vase of markers. They look decorative as well as being easily stored.

  17. posted by Helen on

    I am a stamper and a crafter of all things paper. While organizing my supplies this month, I used this neat iPhone/iPad app to list all my supplies. (I have been known to buy two of the same stamps simply because I forgot I already had purchased the stamp). Never again!

    The app can be used for any type of craft supplies. A fun feature is the use of UPC to enter what you own.

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