Thursday, June 16, 2011

Me and My Stuff - May's BJP

Too many piles? Too much stuff?

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, BJP,Me and My Stuff, detail
Most of us, after we’ve lived in the same place for a number of years, begin to accumulate a few too many things. Right? Do you know what I mean?
  • drawers stuffed... full, all of them totally full
  • closets stuffed full, piles on the floor, shelves stacked to the bottom of the next shelf
  • boxes, OMG, the boxes…
  • piles of papers around the computer
  • piles of papers on the tables
  • too many beads to keep track of them all
  • take a class, buy all the stuff… yep it’s all still there
  • did I mention shoes?
  • did I mention clothes that don’t fit any more?
  • books? Oh dear, don’t get me started on those!
  • attic? Stuff from the old house; lots of stuff… boxes on boxes on boxes… been there, untouched, for 13 years now
  • photos
  • paint and paintings
  • greeting cards
  • beadwork, quilts, artsy stuff I’ve made
  • artsy stuff others have made
  • family treasures passed down from relatives
The quantity of stuff I own began to depress me when my Mom passed away in March. She had so little by then, the best of her best. It took only a few hours to clear out her room and find homes for her few special things.

I started to think, What if….? What would my poor husband do with all my stuff???? I started to wish it would all go away, giving me a clean slate, empty shelves and drawers, like when you got your first apartment. I read an excellent book about hoarding (Stuff, Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee), and got more down about it, although I’m not as bad as many the authors described. And for a while I actually went through some things and lightened my load a little.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, BJP,Me and My Stuff, detail
OK, so what better topic for my May BJP than Me and My Stuff? No problem gathering stuff… little scraps of this and that I’d saved because I might use it someday, things people have given me over the years, like the white, plastic horse from a box of Cracker Jacks. By the way, the pink line of beads is me. You can see, I'm surrounded by my stuff...

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, BJP,Me and My Stuff, detail
As I began stitching, I assumed the stuff would pile on top of more stuff and it would all look jumbled and chaotic, not pretty, not fun and not happy. To my great surprise, it’s just the opposite.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, BJP,Me and My Stuff
Many times I write poems off my work (a technique I describe in One Bead at a Time, which you can download for free from my website). I write a list of words and phrases that pop into my mind as I look at my beading and workspace. Then I circle the word or phrase that seems the most compelling to me. Next I write: “I am ____________,” filling in the blank with the circled word/phrase. This is the first line of a poem about me. Using as many of the words/phrases as I wish in my poem, I quickly say whatever comes to my mind. It’s a way of letting our visual journaling, our beadwork speak to us about who we are.

This is the poem I wrote about Me and My Stuff
I am parts of old projects
unfinished business
tufts of the past
holding me back somehow.
My work is trying to tell me something.
Unbidden, in its joyful, little-girl colors,
it seems to be a key
to starting something new.
What about the white plastic horse?
What memory am I saving in my stuff?
Lots of stuff, pretty stuff, piles of stuff
laden with memories
I am afraid of forgetting.
Ah-ha! Writing this poem and looking at my piece, gives me a giant ah-ha!!!! The stuff is about fear, fear of forgetting. For me, ALL my stuff is about fear of forgetting! Isn’t that interesting? I love knowing this. Because now I realize it doesn’t work. The memories are either there, or they’re gone, or they’re fading. The stuff may jog my memory for a while, but there are no guarantees.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, BJP,Me and My Stuff, detail
For example, the woven “flower” in the center of my piece was given to me by somebody, maybe a student, maybe in a class, maybe mailed to me… I don’t recall who or what were the circumstances anymore. I do recall who gave me the horse, but the when and why of it are lost memory.

So why not let go of the stuff, knowing that some memories will remain for a long time, others will fade? It’s life. It’s aging. It’s OK.


  1. Excellent post! I think many of us are in the same rocking boat.

    Kathy V in NM

  2. As usual, you amaze me Robin. I recently moved and divested myself of a lot of stuff. Now I feel a need to keep letting things go. I don't need 3 spinning wheels, I don't want stacks of boxes of fabric, every time I go to knitting group I bring a few skeins to give away. I wonder what all this letting go says about me?

  3. Anonymous2:30 AM

    Excellent post about "stuff" Robin! The piece turned out beautifully!

  4. Robyn
    Truly stuff does not define us and you have made a great piece. I too have been finding that I can release stuff or as Flylady say I dont want to live in Choas (cant have anyone over syndrome). I find paper is my bug bear and patterns which i print and copy and look at but never use.

  5. You really hit the nail on the head - let go of some of the stuff and you will still have some of the memories. I am spending the summer going through closets that hold stuff that never sees the light of day. I'm trying to make the spaces friendly for the stuff I actually use. What a challenge!

    Your piece is wonderful. And I love the white horse - from where ever it came (LOL).

  6. Robin, I love you :) You put into words and imagery (and beading!) so much that makes sense to me. This is a fantastic post. I love how your conclusion was about not forgetting. I do some of that myself, I think.

  7. Brilliant post, Robin. I think you captured what most of us of a certain age and a certain stash size are going through. I'm slowing divesting myself of my stuff. I lost weight last year and am going through my closet, finding cool stuff that fits (yay!) and getting rid of stuff that doesn't (yay!). It's a process but needs to be done. My daughter-in-law is learning to sew and I'm anxiously awaiting a time (soon, I hope) when we can spend some time online via Skype and pick some (lots) of fabric to send her. Your piece really sums it up nicely... just perfect!

  8. I had an accident last fall with a serious head injury and my very first thought when I regained consciousness was "I could have died and left DH with all my stuff in the barn to deal with" (not to mention the stuff in the house..) It is indeed scary when we realize just how much we accumulate... mightslyGerry Krueger

  9. Anonymous11:10 AM

    I know what you are saying. We downsized last year and gave away truckloads of things. I have been going thru more sewing things lately trying to finish projects and decrease my stash. Not buy, but use what I have. It is satisfying and freeing.
    Thank you for your posts. I enjoy them immensely. jane

  10. Totally love this post and your BJP!

  11. This is by far my favorite of all your pieces this year...why? Because it hit a big nerve! I too have accumulated a large stash of fabric, paint supplies, paper craft supplies and most of all my beading stash. My Sister and I had this very conversation just two days ago...must be in the air. Thanks Robin, you are always right on target!!

  12. Well, I think it turned into a vibrant, fun piece! Having recently moved house we have had a HUGE clearout and yet we still have so much stuff.

  13. Oh Robin...I think you've spoken for a lot of us. And at age 63, I now have 40 years of accumulated "I might use this someday stuff." I can't even work in my studio because the feng shui of it is SO awful. Perhaps we should all have a huge online sidewalk sale.

  14. Great post. I am forever thinking of ways of decluttering and it always amazes what you hold on to. I read somewhere that you tend to keep things because it was 'a gift', yet its tucked away and never looked at. So you should feel 'free' to do with it what you wish and if that means 'regifting' or passing on to a charity shop or whatever, you should. Also anything which gives 'negative vibes', should definitely be thrown out (or whatever other disposal method you have); as this can make you feel 'down'. Then if its something you've stashed away longer than 6 months - don't even re-open it, dispose of it!

    If your not sure, put it in a box, (for the time being). Then if in 6 months its not been needed - you've guessed it - get rid of it.

    Oh, just wanted to say, thanks you for your ebook, it looks great and as I'm new to bead embroidery I know I'm going to really gain from your vast experience.

  15. Your piece speaks to me of pure joy! The joy of letting go, the joy of using previous forgotten pieces, the joy of acceptance of who you are and the joy of making firm decisions. Now it's time for me to clean up my act!! Easier said than done, of course...

  16. I love this post, having just lost my Mom in May I can totally relate. We have so little stuff that is important, but the memories are precious.

  17. Yes, I'm there, too! Stuff ties us down and hems us in, is a weight we carry, but only once we're aware. Very apt post.

  18. It's a lovely piece. I also have too much stuff but can't part with it. Thanks for commenting on my blog.

  19. Great post, Robin! What a happy sunny piece you made of your "use-'em-someday" bits.

    It can be really fun to review the "stuff" and then use it in something.

  20. Anonymous4:42 AM

    Ahh Robin!! I know I have too much "stuff" but get lost in the past memories and find it difficult to part with things.
    Hopefully I can start downsizing, you are inspiring!
    Just to let you know your book and bits I ordered arrived. Thanks :) Anne Tyrrell Australia

  21. I love the contained chaos of it!
    the wonderful bright cheerful colors, scattered with happy abandon.
    I reminds me of paintings by my uncle John A Kurtz, full of color meaning and thought.

  22. Stunning piece, true words!

  23. What a great thing to do with "stuff". So whimsical! So beautiful!

  24. Robin I love this piece the most so far it reminds of luscious, mouth watering candy! it made my mouth water just looking at it! and so much going on it. Gorgeous.
    Analisa in Dubai

  25. I have to comment on your Stuff-BJP-piece once again. Obviously, what particularly impressed me about the piece, are the two rig-rag (not sure whether this is the correct word, but you know what I mean) snippets you integrated. I loved rig-rag even when I was a little girl, and still do. So, when I read your facebook post a few minutes ago about all the clutter and stuff weighing us down, I suddenly, in a flash, remembered a dream I had last night:
    I was happily going through some of my stash, and to my surprise found lots and lots of the most colourful, lovely rig-rag in one of the boxes. I was overjoyed, and guess what: I had completely forgotten it was there! Well ... this was only a dream. However, in real life I do own an assortment of rig-rag, even some glittery, some multicoloured, and I love it. (And I know exactly where it is :))

  26. Anonymous8:28 AM

    This just strikes me as an incredible joyful and joyous piece. The pink line winds through the 'stuff' but is never dominated by it. Perhaps now you have your head round it it never will...

  27. Robin, I have lots of "stuff, junk and things".
    Some days I pick a time and go through clothes, or closets and fill the box to take to the charity store.
    Other days, I go through cabinets.
    Not so much with my beads, etc.

    We've been going to alot of estate sales lately. I now have a box that we morbidly refer to as the Dead Box -- it houses all of the odd little things that I pick up to use in a piece of art. That way I know where all the odd things are and can go straight to them.
    Just today, as we were walking through a wonderful house, I said, "well, I wonder how people will be looking through MY stuff...."
    be well. You make me smile when I think of you and your art.

  28. such a beautiful piece, and an insightful that's why I hang on to all this stuff! here I thought it was because I see everything as "potential art supplies!" thank you for sharing your journey...

  29. Oh boy, nail on the head as usual! My son who I have only seen twice in the last 34 years is moving to Australia and will be staying with me for a few months. I am so happy - but wait, where am I going to put all my stuff? Merde, it is everywhere! So yes, a big tidy up is in progress which is long overdue and has been weighing on my mind. Of course, I won't be parting with everything but...

  30. It's a very pretty piece. I've been longing to get back to beading. I don't want to do jewelry and I want a purpose to work for. I don't know what I'll do but it was good to see your work again. Stuff. It isn't all memories. Some of the old stuff gets mixed up and makes new memories or just a good feeling. When the feelings get sour though, it is time to go through the stuff. I got rid of loads and loads of books. I gave some of my beads to my granddaughter and have taught her some beadwork. I'll gladly give her more beads but not all of them. I am not ready for that. Someday when my eyes just won't let me do more I'll give her everything. I feel blessed I have her to give them to as that means they aren't just more stuff taking up space in my house. They are my gift to her in the future - her inheritance in a way.

  31. Anonymous5:29 PM

    This is the first time I have felt compelled to respond to an article/blog like this! I sit here with tears streaming down my face - why? - because, boy oh boy, does this ever describe me and hit home! It was kind of freeing to know that others feel the same way and it really is OK to let stuff go. I turn the big 5 0 this year and was also thinking to myself 'what if something happened to me (accident etc.) and my daughter or husband was left to go through ALL of my 'stuff' ... I wouldn't want to do that to them! I am going to make a conscience effort to sell/give/share/throw away many of my unused or needed items this year. Thank you for sharing your work and your thoughts! Kelly

  32. I so enjoyed reading your post. Years ago we sold our 3 bedroom home and got rid of a lot of "stuff". Somehow it finds a way to creep right back into our lives. Love your BJP!

  33. Wow, I really liked your work it is amazing. I was looking through recent websites and I just had to stop and see what you wrote. I also came across this new website and I think you would really like some of the work.They arent as beautiful as yours but they are pretty.
    You should check it out.and thank you for your beautiful art.

  34. Just happened upon your blog and love your bead work/play. I have no intention of getting into beading (too much to do as it is) but I enjoy embellishment to some extent and your blog is full of neat ideas. Your comments on "stuff" are so true. I live with a hoarder (frequent in Tunisia--what if you can't find it in the stores anymore?), so I have developed a hard line of "use it or lose it". Sometimes it works!
    Thanks for sharing your creative work and your thoughts.
    best, nadia


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