Slow Stashing and Spring Cleaning

A healthy yarn stash is like a garden. With prudent planting, weeding, and fertilizing, it’ll feed our creativity indefinitely. But too often, our stashes can slowly turn from inspiration to overwhelm, rather like a zucchini plant if you leave it for a weekend in July. Blink and that tidy bin of sock yarn has exploded into more yarn than you could possibly ever consume. Worse yet, it could become food for moths.

Instead, what do we do? Shove the bin deeper into the closet and close the door. But at some point, unless your home has endless closets, there will need to be a reckoning.

I first introduced the notion of “slow stashing” here in 2009. It wasn’t so much about depriving yourself of yarn as it was about making an honest assessment of everything you have, letting go of what no longer works for you, and committing to be far more intentional with each subsequent skein you bring home.

Clearly overwhelm was in our collective ether, because a year later, Marie Kondo came out with her book and a new minimalist movement was born.

Thwarting the Mighty Moth Problem

One thing I failed to mention back in 2009 was the issue of moths, whose entire lifecycle depends on a steady supply of nutritious wool that’s been shoved in a dark corner and ignored. Which sounds rather like the depths of one’s yarn stash, n’est-ce pas?

And since there’s no time like spring to do a little cleaning, I thought we’d revisit our slow stashing ritual and talk about what you can do if you discover that someone has made a meal of your yarn.

Image by Soraya Garcia, Unsplash

Spring Stash Overhaul: Step One

Slow stashing begins with a fearless inventory of our stashes. Pull everything out—even the stuff in the attic, under the bed, or stuffed into an offsite storage unit. Take a deep breath and pull it all out. Bring everything into the bright open air and study what you have. (If you live with others, choose a day when nobody else is around to intervene or pass judgment. 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 (or, as Marie Kondo later called it, the pile that sparks joy or does not spark joy).

Image by Anastasia Zhenina, Unsplash

Step Two: Plotting out the Piles

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 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. Perhaps 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 into the unhappy pile go any yarns that, through no fault of their own, carry emotional baggage—yarns that 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. (Don’t think about where yet, just keep going for now.)

Before your rational mind has time to step in and try to second guess, place the unhappy pile into a large plastic bag. We aren’t disposing of it yet, we’re simply getting it out of the way.

The goal here is to see only the yarns that made your tail wag. To look around you, take a deep breath, and feel the space that you’ve just created, both physically and metaphorically.

Siora Photography, Unsplash

Step Three: Ditching the Dead Weight

After you’ve toasted yourself with a cup of tea or coffee (or adult beverage of your choice), it’s time to jump back in and 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 or clicks online will likely find your stash a grateful and deserving new home.

Swap tables are another fantastic way to pass unwanted yarn to a new home. Consider establishing a swap table at your local knit-in or guild meeting—or even host a stash swap party for your knitting friends. The rules are simple: Bring yarn you no longer need, and take yarn that you love. Make sure there’s a plan for the yarn nobody takes. The goal is for none of it to return home with you.

Photo by Alexandra Tran, Unsplash

Creating Cash

Our stashes can represent quite a substantial investment of money. It doesn’t always make sense to altruistically donate it to good causes—sometimes we need a bit of that money back.

Fortunately, destashing online has gotten vastly easier than when we first talked about this in 2009. If you are able to use Ravelry, consider listing your stash items in one of the trade/sell sections. (This is especially convenient if you already list your stash on Ravelry.)

Other possible destash outlets include Etsy, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace. I’ve even seen people list their destashes on Instagram quite successfully.

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

Step Four: Putting it Back Together

Now comes the fun part: putting the yarn back. But first, give a good airing to the boxes, bins, bags, baskets, and whatever else has been holding your stash all this time. Sweep them out with the brush attachment on your vacuum, paying special attention to any cracks where moth eggs or larvae could hide.

This is a good time to reassess your storage containers. Do they still serve their purpose? Do they fill you with a similar sense of guilt or drudgery?

Use this exercise as an opportunity to reclaim not only your stash but the very space in which you store it. For example, I’ve found half-finished projects stored in bags that carried bad memories. A simple relocation into a different bag presented the project in a new light.

Moths and the Importance of Stash Hygiene

There’s another reason I’ve asked you to pull everything out and give your space a good cleaning: moths.

Broadly speaking, the two most common types of clothes moths are the webbing and case-making moths. Of those, the vast majority are webbing clothes moths. You’ll recognize them by the fine white silken tubes and fine, pepperlike “frass” the larvae leave behind.

All clothes moths love to find dark, quiet, undisturbed corners filled with delicious food. They won’t eat the wool themselves, for the moths can’t eat at all. They don’t even fly very far. Their entire mission is to mate and lay eggs in places that’ll provide a steady food source for the larvae after they hatch. I use pheromone traps to help me monitor different parts of the house. As soon as a moth shows up in one, I know to look deeper, find the source of the infestation, and take action.

Why Wool?

Moth larvae are attracted to the keratin in wool (and in all animal hairs, including ours).

Should the keratin also contain a dusting of perspiration or dander or food stains, you might as well tie a napkin around the moth’s neck, hand it a knife and fork, and say, “Bon appetit!”

But keep your stash moving, give your yarns a regular shake in the sunshine, and keep your storage containers clean, and moths will only see a “closed” sign and keep going.

Taking Action

At the first sight of a moth infestation, take everything outside and give it a good shake. Wool yarns can be “cooked” in an oven at 120F for 30 minutes. As long as there is no moisture or agitation, you need not worry about felting. And in terms of heat damage, wool is scoured, dyed, and finished at much higher temperatures. Yellowing has been known to occur if the wool is kept at a high temperature for upwards of 30 hours, but we’re talking only 30 minutes here.

If you’re nervous about this approach, you can also place your yarn in a bag and put in the freezer for a week. But the freezer will need to maintain a steady 0F for the larvae to be killed. Otherwise, the larvae will simply stay dormant until it gets warm again.

The most foolproof way to protect against future moth infestations is with barriers, preferably airtight ones. Not all plastic totes have a completely airtight seal, so I tend to use the giant Ziploc bags instead. (Just know that the handle is useless and the zip mechanism is fiddly. But they do work.)

I’m not a fan of the vacuum “space” bags because they compress the fibers in your yarn. If you must use space bags, it’s important to revive the yarns before doing anything with them. Otherwise, you’ll get a different gauge that first day than you’ll get a week later. Steam is a fantastic yarn reviver, especially for wool. You can just bring the skeins into the bathroom and take a long hot shower. That way you and your yarn can be revived.

For storage, obviously bins and baskets and cedar chests and tabletop displays are always a possibility too. Because these spaces aren’t going to be airtight, try to keep your yarns in rotation.

Image by Giulia Bertelli, Unsplash

Step Five: Stashing Again…Slowly

Having successfully performed this spring exercise, you should be left with a collection of yarn that works for you—that lifts your spirit rather than overwhelming it.

You also need to have yarns that reflect what you’re drawn to now versus what you liked in the past. We’re constantly evolving, and it’s ok for your stash to evolve with you.

When I first wrote about slow stashing, there was some backlash from those in the industry. They seemed to think I was telling people to stop buying yarn and only knit from their stashes for the rest of their lives. You and I know that this will never happen.

We’re still acquiring yarn—good yarn—and supporting businesses we want to support, but the goal is to do it in a much more intentional manner. And the more we stash from this place of mindfulness and love, the longer our love of knitting will endure.

That’s the whole point, right?

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  • I have used Irish Spring soap as a moth deterrent for years. I smash a bar with a hammer and place the pieces in bags of yarn, bins, cupboards, closets, wherever there is wool yarn or sweaters. I’ve never had a moth problem.

  • In the PNW, carpet beetles are more of a threat than moths. Their larvae is very destructive to wool.

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  • I always appreciate your advice. I have not, however, had luck offering yarn to any local organizations at all- school system, non-profit, etc. have been not only uninterested but downright rude when I’ve inquired. Too bad because it’s the good stuff!

    • I have had the same experience. Over the years that I have knitted, I have not only bought yarn but once people know I knit, I get inundated with people who have 100% acrylic yarn to give to me. I have been unsatisfied with knitting with this yarn all except for blankets where it seems to be a great choice. But how many blankets do you need in a house? A local knitting club told me they’d have my yarn, but it had to be full skein or nearly full skein with a label.

    • I trained as an art therapist and always enjoyed finding good quality medium to work with or offer my clients. Maybe you could contact a few art therapists in your area to see if they could make use of your unwanted skeins.

  • There are usually church charity knitting groups. You may be able to find some of those who would accept your donations… or knitting groups at your local library. Or maybe you could find an after school program or middle school or high school knit/crochet/ fiber arts club or class that would take them!

  • My stash lives in glass front cabinets with sachets of lavender and cedar blocks in strategic places. I will take it out for an airing when I have a few days or weeks, after all I have reached SABLE – Stash Accumulation beyond Life Expectancy.

  • @Dorothy Brown: try posting on your local NextDoor.com. You may well find some happy recipients.

  • I put bars of imperial leather soap in with my bins. I leave the bars in their plastic wrap because it turns out that mice live to eat soap and got into one of my attic bins. (They did not eat the wool, just the soap)

  • I started knitting charity hats and scarves with my stash. It feels good, and StevenBe in Minneapolis is hooked up with a number of charities that distribute to the needy.

  • If you’re in the Western New York area Stitch Buffalo will gladly accept yarn donations.
    It’s a textile arts center committed to empowering g refugee and immigrant women through the sale of their handcrafted goods. They’re big on re-use of textile supplies
    StitchBiffalo.org

  • Clara, as always I thank you for your good ideas. I went through my stash today, and it was pretty easy to separate out the unhappy from the happy yarns. The unhappy yarns are with my give aways. The other thing I did was go through the shawls I’ve knit over the last several of years, but haven’t yet blocked. Of the five I had, I am now left with just one, because although the others were fun to knit, they are ones that I would not wear for one reason or another. I feel much lighter for having accomplished that task.

    • Susan, I’ve found that some local charities love shawls for silent auction items. You would still have to block the shawls you didn’t want to keep, but it would raise money for a worthy cause.

  • I have a wonderful friend who knits for babies and mums as well as the premature unit at our hospital. Her knitting is splendid and she shows me what she makes with what I give her. All my random but beautiful skeins, my no longer my style skeins, my spares after big projects I never want to look at the yarn again skeins, etc go to her.

  • Love this blog! Taking a more thoughtful approach to purchasing yarn can help ensure that you have the right yarn for each project and reduce waste, which is great for the environment and your wallet!

  • People give me acrylic yarn which I gladly take. I make small log cabin blankets which I donate to the local animal shelter.

  • There are many creative reuse centers across the country. They are usually non-profits with a mission to divert resources from the landfill and profits from the sale of art supplies go back into the local community supporting art education and support to teachers. I have brought bags of leftover yarn from projects and my reuse center happily accepts.

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