About 7.5 years ago, I learned to knit.  A little over a year later, I started an account on Ravelry.  At this point, I’m guessing that either you knit/crochet/weave/spin and already know what Ravelry is, or that it doesn’t matter what it is because you don’t do those things and don’t care.  However, as a brief summary to help this post make sense: Ravelry serves two major functions: as a discussion forum for all things yarn-related, and as an organizational tool for those who make or use yarn.  

For the most part, I only use the organizational features.  I’ve never been a fan of participating in online discussion forums, and usually when I decide to try it out I just end up getting aggravated at the other participants.  There is one group on the site that I keep being drawn back to though, and it’s called Stash Knit Down.  I’m guessing you have to be a Ravelry member to see anything there, but I linked it for the benefit of anyone who is.

Stash Knit Down is kind of like rehab for yarn addicts.  In all creative arts there is some need for a “stash” – a collection of supplies that you haven’t used yet, and maybe don’t know for sure what you’ll use them for, but they are there to be picked up when inspiration strikes.  One of the best arguments I’ve read in favor of yarn stashes is that it’s like a painter having a variety of paint colors on hand.  You wouldn’t expect a painter to sit down and make a list of the 4 or 5 colors she needs to go buy for just the next painting.  

On the other hand, there reaches a point when the size of the stash becomes a burden, rather than an inspiration.  This point is different for everybody, depending on factors such as budget, storage space, crafting speed, etc.  At some point, the excitement of the possible projects gets overshadowed by guilt at having acquired too much, by obligation to use up supplies that don’t inspire you when there are other things you’d rather spend time on, by the sheer inability to get organized and find what you’re looking for.  Back to the painter, this is the point when she has bought 13 shades of red that no one else can distinguish between, or when she has a full spectrum of watercolors when she only enjoys painting with oils.

Well, I reached this point.  I’m not sure when it happened, but one day I realized that I was wishing my yarn stash would go away, so I could start choosing a pattern first and then shopping for the right yarn.  I joined Stash Knit Down in September 2009, and posted an introduction.  At that time, I was explaining that I only considered my stash a little too large, and that really I had plans for most of it, and no I didn’t intend to stop buying yarn, but I’d just like to use up more of what I already had.  See all the justifications spewing out?  My goal at that time was to have a total of 64 yarns moved to the “all used up” tab of my yarn stash page…by the end of the year…when at that point only 28 were on that tab.  Somehow I was supposed to use up 36 yarns (not just skeins, but yarns) in 4 months.  I am the queen of unattainable goals.

Not sure how much, if any, progress I made toward that goal, because the next time I posted in the group was in November 2011.  Yes, more than two years after joining.  I jumped into a discussion on personal goals for 2012, and set my goal as using up the 12 oldest yarns in my stash.  I even listed which 12 yarns they were, and confessed to cheating and skipping over three of them, because two were in currently in-progress projects, and another one was for a planned project I knew I would not be completing within a year.

As you may have guessed, all 12 of these yarns are still untouched in my stash.  At the same time as this goal, I also signed up for the Elann Sample Skeins Subscription under the theory that getting a handful of tiny skeins of yarn to play with each month would reduce my urge to buy yarn in large quantities.  I actually think that worked.  And no, I never made anything with those either.  I really thought I’d wait and collect them all year, then use the whole batch together in a project.  I still might.  As far as the space my stash takes up, those are making only the tiniest dent, so I don’t feel too bad about holding onto them.

I did stay active in the Stash Knit Down group for a couple of months.  I only posted one other time, but I read a lot of discussions.  My final post in that go-round was to set goals for 2012 in the “Moderate Merino” challenge.  This is the less-strict of the two main challenges in the group.  There is “Cold Sheep” in which you completely give up buying yarn and work strictly from stash, with the possibility of earning badges for consecutive days without a purchase.  I have some quibbles with the rules of this challenge, and I also think it’s more important to learn to be responsible about purchases than it is to completely ban them.  

So in December 2011 I outlined the situations in which I would be allowed to purchase yarn in the upcoming year, as well as some goals about managing the existing stash.  I promptly forgot about ever returning to the group, until I wandered over there in November 2013.  During those nearly 2 years, I had acquired a total of 93 skeins of yarn.  Most of these were gifts or greatly discounted (a full third of them came from a friend’s yard sale, and it was more like I bought a project bag from her and she stuffed it with free yarn).  So there was no guilt about the incoming yarn, but a great deal of guilt about the fact that only 25 skeins had been used up during the same amount of time.

It’s no longer challenging to not buy yarn.  I can easily walk around in stores or browse online and walk away without buying anything.  However, I now need to put serious effort into reducing the stash that already exists.  A thread in Stash Knit Down that I found really useful was called “The Big Picture”.  The idea was to evaluate your stash.  What do you have a lot of?  What do you not have at all?  What do you actually enjoy knitting?  What should be in your ideal stash?

In the best scenario, I’d have been able to pull all the yarn out into view and look over it and rearrange it while pondering these questions.  However, my yarn has been stashed away (pardon the phrase) since we thought we’d be moving, and I have yet to get the house organized enough to find space for a craft room.  So instead I took advantage of the fact that I’d done a decent job listing my stash on Ravelry, and looked over the photographs instead.  Here’s a summary of what I discovered:

What I Don’t Want:

  • Plain acrylic.  I have some that is for a specific planned project, and I have no objections to synthetic content in a special yarn.  However, I really don’t enjoy knitting with acrylic enough to need a bunch of it in solid colors and medium weights.  Mom does use it for her crocheting, so I’ve been working to transfer it out of my yarn tubs and into hers.  This doesn’t solve the “getting yarn out of the house problem”, but it does take the pressure off me to use it.
  • Random single skeins.  I mean, having a few single skeins of really nice yarn is not a problem.  However, I have a weakness for mystery grab bags which has resulted in a large portion of my stash being single skeins that I would not have necessarily chosen to purchase individually.  I made a first pass through the yarn stash listings and tried to find patterns to use up these single skeins, unless they were singles from a brand I really like and have lots of in my stash.
  • Truly uninspiring yarns.  There are a few yarns in my stash that I do look at and think “I have no desire to ever knit this”.  More often it’s just “I love this yarn, but haven’t figured out what to do with it yet”, so the ones I really don’t want to knit really need to go to a new home.
  • Crochet thread.  This probably falls into the category above (and a little into the one above that).  I got a lot of crochet thread in some grab bags years ago, and given that I don’t love crocheting as much as knitting, and my hands cramp up doing it even at a much larger gauge, I don’t foresee ever using this.  I’m going to keep a couple that are in interesting colors, in case the urge ever strikes, but the plain whites and creams need to go.
  • Sweaters to unravel.  Between rummage sales and cleaning out old clothes from the house, I ended up with two giant 110 qt Sterilite tubs full of sweaters.  Realistically, I’m not going to want to sit and unravel, re-skein, weigh and log all this sweater yarn.  I’m probably not even going to want to knit some of it.  So a couple of days ago I sorted through the two tubs, and reduced the “to be unraveled” sweaters to a single tub.  26 sweaters to be unraveled, 13 of which are already at least started.  Then I kept five to wear, and bagged the rest up based on whether I was re-donating them or offering them to family first.

What I Do Want:

  • Nice yarns for which I have a plan and am excited to either own the resulting item or give it to a specific recipient.  
  • Nice yarn for which I don’t have a plan yet, but know that it’s in an appropriate quantity for the type of project I would make.  I have a bunch of sock yarn and lace yarn in my stash, and while I’ve never knit either so far, when I do get ready to try it I know that the amount I have stashed will be just enough to make something without a lot of leftovers.
  • Kitchen cotton.  I adore making washcloths, scrubbies, market bags, etc. and I also adore giving gifts to people (even those I’m not terribly close to).  Having a lot of kitchen cotton handy makes it possible to do this whenever the urge strikes.

Many people have been more specific about what they do and don’t want, in terms of fibers and colors and yarn weights.  I think I would have to get the existing stash more organized before I could really address those issues.  I have a lot more specific goals about the reduction of the stash, and a lot more to say about the process of doing so, which means this will probably be my other major project this year alongside the general decluttering.