Monday, 9 November 2015
During this past week I took a few hours to go through my stash and reorganize it. It had been two years since I last did it and it was getting a little scrambled, and I find it's a good idea to go through it all occasionally so that I have a good frame of reference on what I have. Doing this, and also recently seeing a few articles online about stash size, got me thinking about stash size, which in turn led me to write this post.
No, the photo above is not one of me and my stash, but rather one of a woman called Bonney and her stash. Bonney is the mother-in-law of blogger Anna of Mochimochi Land, and also the owner of what may be the world's biggest yarn stash. In July 2007, Anna posted some photos of Bonney's stash, and in January 2011, Anna posted an interview with Bonney about her stash in which Bonney estimated that her stash numbered a staggering "few thousand" balls of yarn. The other article I saw that I keep thinking about is from Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner of Mason Dixon Knitting, in which they detail their respective approaches to stash organization. I will quickly summarize their methods thusly: Kay says get rid of it all and go buy the perfect yarn for each project when you're ready to begin it; Ann says keep all your yarn and revel in it because it's yarn... unless it's mauve.
I'd say my personal yarn stash management style falls between Kay and Ann's, and very far from Bonney's. I've never had and never will have a huge yarn stash. It fusses me to have some enormous amount of yarn around, waiting to be knitted up. It makes me feel pressured and accused, as though I should have done it already, and as though I should have managed matters better than to acquire it in the first place. But I also don't like the idea of having no stash whatsoever. Having a modest stash on hand saves me money. If I need a small amount of a contrast colour for a project, I can usually find it in my stash rather than buying another whole ball. If I'd like to knit dolls for a Christmas toy drive, my odds and ends of yarn will be perfect for that purpose and I can make a doll almost for free, whereas buying new skeins in all the colours needed would be expensive. The same goes for making a striped sweater for a small child. If I should need a pair of socks or slippers or want to whip up something for a baby shower, I have yarn for that. And while yes, it is lovely to be able to go out and buy the perfect lot of yarn for a given project, I really enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to make something I want to make with the bits and bobs of yarn I have sitting around. I've already planned the sweater I'm going to make my little grandnephew for his third birthday next summer: it's to be dark green with a little intarsia owl on the front in shades of rust, tan, and ivory. Because I don't quite have enough of the dark green main colour yarn, I'm going to piece it out by adding stripes of the intarsia colours to the ribbed neck, cuffs, and waistband. I've also planned to make a cabled cushion cover for one of the bedrooms in my house out of the 300 grams of cream DK weight I have on hand, and have decided if I don't have enough yarn to knit both sides of the cushion, I can always knit one side and sew a fabric back onto it. The thrill of making do with the yarn I have is certainly equal to the pleasure of buying it. Buying the perfect yarn for a project feels like a luxury, while contriving ways to use yarn from my stash makes me feel like a genius.
The above picture is of my stash. Those four plastic boxes and three plastic bags contain all the yarn I own aside from the three projects currently in my workbasket. There's a box of cotton yarn, a box of fingering, a box of bulky weight, a box and a bag of DK, a bag of worsted, and the biggest plastic bag (the Dollarama bag on the left) contains the assorted yarn I've designated for use in the projects I plan to knit within the next year. My stash, while not exactly enormous, is still bigger than I would like it to be. Ideally my yarn stash would fit into two of those plastic cases. My plan is to knock the stash down in size by one bag or box a year until it gets there. I'm already on my way, as at this time last year my stash consisted of those four boxes plus four bags of yarn rather than three.
I do have a few strict rules about yarn buying. I plan my projects ahead of time, look in my stash to see if I've got some yarn that would be suitable before I buy anything, and write out a shopping list of needed yarns complete with specified gauges, amounts, and colour, which I keep in my planner for reference. That way when I'm out somewhere and see a sale-priced perfect yarn for a planned project, I can get out my list and take advantage of the sale by buying exactly what I need. I never buy yarn to "use on something someday", but always for a specific project that I will be knitting in the near future. I also try to buy yarn from places that will accept returns or at least exchanges, so that I can take back any whole skeins I have left over when I finish a project.
I'm not going to try to tell anyone how big their yarn stash should be, or claim my yarn stash management style is ideal for anyone other than me. As She Who Possibly Owns More Yarn than Anyone, AKA Bonney, says in the interview linked above, "I'm not hurting anyone." I have to agree, especially given that immediately prior to beginning work on this post, I watched a video of six U.S. cops throwing two black men against the wall and beating them for having crossed the damn street "against the lights". (Or so the cops claimed. I wouldn't be surprised if the two men were innocent of even that.) In a world as messed up as ours, having a too large yarn stash is so far down on the list of this world's many ills that it barely even registers.
However, I would suggest that it is a good idea to be a little mindful and disciplined about one's yarn buying and stashing. After all, a little mindfulness and discipline goes a long way towards making nearly anything we do more rewarding and successful. It's one reason why I don't share what I call "crazy knitter" memes on this blog's Facebook page. All those cartoons and captioned photos about how funny it is to have a house bulging with yarn and unfinished projects and spending the kids' college funds at the yarn store got old pretty fast. (I especially detest those regressive, sexist memes about knitters hiding or lying about yarn purchases from their husbands.) Extreme behaviour and excess may have some entertainment value, but it's no way to live.
One of the factors to be mindful of is the environmental issues involved. We do have a responsibility to consider the environmental impact of what we buy, and to keep our purchasing habits within reasonable limits. Over consumption is destroying our planet and posing a serious threat to the long-term survival of the human race, and textile production in particular is very harmful to the environment. I recently read in a horrifying article about industrial dyes that one can tell what the trendy new colours are by looking at the current colour of the rivers in China. We absolutely need some textiles to survive and live functional lives, but as responsible citizens of the world we also need to avoid buying things we don't need and won't use. If you have more yarn than you can ever realistically expect to knit within your life time, it's time to rein in your yarn buying habits.
The financial cost is another aspect to consider. Yes, it's your money and your hobby, and I get that simple possession can be a pleasure in itself, but most of us are on a finite budget and have to set priorities. If you are buying more yarn than you can ever use, you might want to consider whether that money wouldn't give you more real pleasure and benefit if it went towards something else: debt repayment, your retirement or child's education fund, a trip, a charitable donation, or even a book, a good bottle of wine, a nice dinner out, or a present for someone you love, and to set some limits on how much you'll spend.
Then there's the storage issue. It's not fun to have every available space in one's home crammed with stuff, to have drawers so full one can't easily open or shut them, to have things fall on one's head when one opens a closet, to have to take ten things out of a cupboard to get to the one thing you need -- and then to have to put all those ten things away again. You might think you enjoy having that yarn around, and maybe you do love having it as much as Bonney clearly loves hers, but just how relaxing is it? How much would you enjoy visiting a spa that was as cluttered and full of stuff as your place? If you've got more yarn than you have places to put it, you should probably consider buying less yarn and even reducing your stash by selling or donating it to people who would put it to good use.
And if you're actually out of control in terms of how much yarn you buy and stash, if it's gotten to the point that it's impacting your ability to pay your bills and/or making your home unlivable and the people you live with angry and unhappy with you, and you can't seem to resolve the situation on your own, then it may be time to seek professional help. There are counsellors, medication, and online resources out there that will help you get your problem under control. The Anxiety and Depression Association's web page on hoarding might be a good place to start.
Having said all this, I hope I didn't come across as too much the joyless scold. My purpose here isn't to try to dictate the size of anyone's stash, but rather to suggest some guidelines and insights. We all have different comfort levels of stuff, different budgets, and different knitting speeds. If your ideal stash size and life goal is "enough yarn to lie naked under" as Bonney is doing above, go for it.