the possibility of un-spun fiber

Resolutions for 2009:
Slow Stashing

It’s the time of year when we make lists of ways in which we’d like to live differently in the New Year. Although mine usually begin with a few fairly realistic personal and professional goals, I tend to finish with a hopeful, “By this time next year I’d like to be basking on a white sandy beach in Fiji while someone brings me drinks with umbrellas in them.”

Sharing our knitting goals is a tradition in the KR Forums, and those goals, too, tend to start at realistic (“I’d like to finish one project this year”) and end on the somewhat lofty side (“I’d like to knit 12 Charlotte’s Web shawls this year.”) But this year’s resolutions were particularly telling. Faced with the current rather dismal economic reality, many of us are pausing before clicking the “buy now” button and, instead, turning back to our stashes. Which, let’s face it, tend to be rather substantial.

One Forum member made this bold declaration: “I will only knit from my stash this year.” To which a resounding number of you responded, with a sense of relief and hope, “Count me in!”

That gave other knitters hives and caused a collective gulp to be heard from LYS owners across the land.

Slow Stashing
Speaking as someone with an embarrassingly huge yarn stash, but who also understands the plight of those who wish to continue working in this industry, I’d like to propose an alternative solution for 2009: Slow stashing. At its core, slow stashing involves being mindful of every skein we own, and only bringing in new skeins that are truly deserving of our time, our attention, and our resources.

Slow stashing starts with an unblinking survey of our stashes. Pull everything out—including deep in the closets and attics where yarn tends to congregate. Remove it from cover of darkness, take it all out into the bright open air, and study what you have. (If you live with others, choose a day when nobody else is around to witness the gluttony. This needs to be a private moment.)

As you look at each skein, each bag of yarn, each project, pay close attention to your feelings. We’re going to create two piles: the happy pile and the unhappy pile.

The Happy Pile
As their names suggest, the happy pile contains yarns that lift your spirits as soon as you see them. These yarns inspire you to grab your needles and quickly cast on. They bring back good memories, they came from good people, they feed your knitting spirit. We keep those yarns.

In the unhappy pile go all the yarns that immediately cause your spirits to sag. These yarns appealed to your sense of “should”—I should buy this, I should knit something out of this, and, even now, I should keep this. As soon as you find yourself muttering the word “should,” put that yarn in the unhappy pile. Also in the unhappy pile go yarns that, through no fault of their own, carry emotional baggage. Yarns were innocent bystanders to tough times in your life. Yarns that you've already tried to use a few times but always ended up frogging. Yarns that you feel you should use even though the spark just isn't there. Those yarns need to go.

As you watch that unhappy pile grow, keep breathing. It’s going to be ok. Look back to the happy pile for comfort. Remember that you’re doing a good thing here, a healthy thing—so keep going until every skein has been seen.

Now that you’ve gone through your entire stash, step back and admire the amount of room you’ve opened up in your life—both physically and metaphorically. Use some of this space to display your happy yarns more fittingly. After all, they are the source of your inspiration, they deserve a little room right?

Letting Go
Meanwhile, we still have to contend with that unhappy pile. If the notion of simply getting rid of this yarn is enough satisfaction for you, that’s exactly what you’ll do. Schools, community centers, shelters and rehab programs, public libraries, prisons, and even hospitals may be eager to use this yarn in their programs. Just a few phone calls will likely find your stash a grateful and deserving new home.

Swap tables are another fantastic way to pass unwanted yarn to a deserving home. Consider establishing a swap table at your local knit-in or guild meeting. The rules are simple: Bring yarn you no longer need, and take yarn that you love. The swap table at the Knitter's Review Retreat became so popular over the years that it now fills an entire room. Inevitably there will be leftovers that nobody wants. In the case of the Knitter's Review Retreat swap table, those were collected and donated to a residential substance-recovery program in Philadelphia, where they will be used for an in-house knitting therapy program.

Creating Cash
Times are tough, and not everybody may be in a position to let go of such a substantial investment. If that’s the case for you, consider listing your stash items in the Knitter's Swap section in the KR Forums or in the trade/sell section on Ravelry (the latter is especially convenient for those of you who already list your stash on Ravelry).

The point is, every skein of yarn can find a good home—and it doesn’t need to be yours.

Once you’ve given your stash a rigorous review, you’re free to do what you like. I see two possible paths. First, you can still choose to knit from your stash—and for some of us, the economy has already made this decision for us. If that’s the case, I still urge you to go through your stash. Otherwise you’re signing yourself up to knit from happy and unhappy yarns alike, and nothing kills the love of knitting like a sense of drudgery and obligation.

But there’s another possible path, the slow stashing path, in which you get to choose which yarns to let into your life from this moment forward. Acquiring yarn actually is a core part of slow stashing—but you are doing it in a mindful and conscious way. You are seeking yarns that inspire you, yarns made from noble fibers and by good people, yarns that are truly worthy of your time, your attention, and your dollars.

The next time you find yourself in the yarn zone—a basket full of yarn and your credit card ready for swiping (or finger poised over the “order now” button), stop. Take a deep breath, come back to earth and look at what you’re doing. Are you buying these yarns because you think you should, or out of some sense of obligation?

Or are you buying these yarns because you love them, because they make your hands tingle and your heart flutter, because they’re good yarns and because you know, in your heart of hearts, that they must come home with you? It takes fortitude to stop yourself mid-zone and reevaluate what you’re doing, but you’re saving yourself an extra skein on the unhappy pile when you perform your next stash inventory on January 1, 2010.

Will slow stashing cause a global LYS meltdown? No, I don't think so. The point is that we’re still acquiring yarn—good yarn—and supporting businesses, but we’re doing so in a much more mindful and fitting manner. And the more we stash from this place of mindfulness and love, the longer our love of knitting will endure. And that’s the whole point, right?

arrow What are your knitting resolutions for 2009? Will you be knitting from your stash? Stashing slowly, steadily, or speedily? Share your resolutions for the coming year.