The Box of Stuff

Somewhere, out in the dark, is a box of materials I used in Cincinnati to make art. In theory, it is the most important of my art supplies. My studio, however, isn’t empty. I am lacking pens and watercolor pencils, but if I dig hard enough, I’d find something to draw with.

artboxOr, I could do it the other way, and say that what is in the box is more important, and I need to get rid of things in the studio. All those “things” are not making me a better artist, but it is making it harder for me to find things I need. I’ve actually purchased things knowing that I had another one someplace, but couldn’t find it.

So maybe it’s time to pare away some of the stuff and keep what’s needed at the moment. Stop buying things unless I know exactly how much and what for. Yes, I may need some of it at some point in the future. But I also have a huge amount of items labeled “for class”–extra pairs of scissors and paints and inks and paper, rubber stamps and things I may or may not need for class. I actually don’t know how to sort those out, because I am still creating classes.

But there are things I must decide on, things that have to go somewhere else.

We’ve all played the game where we pretend the house is on fire and decide what we would save and what could burn to ashes. We consider books and photos, clothing and credit cards. I once had to make that decision. About 10 years ago, the roofers set our house on fire (it was a training issue), and when I called 911, the operator told me to get out of the house immediately, not to take anything.

kiddrawI pulled the cat carriers out of the closet and the cats, knowing that I must surely be taking them to the vet, vanished into the burning house. I paused for a long 15 seconds, and watched smoke pouring down the stairs. I weighed the chance of finding the cats in a smoke filled house, and the cats figuring out that fresh air was outside. And then I realized that nothing would be saved if I stood in the house while it collapsed onto me. I picked up my purse and left the house.

And that was the answer–you will not gather up your clothing and your paintings, your child’s drawings and your first editions. You will pick up your purse and walk away.  In my case, the roof collapsed through my studio and the cats were found in the basement by the firefighters who know where to look for them. All of them survived with the help of oxygen, and all of them are living with us to this day.

So I’m going to do some sorting and thinking and reducing. I think it will be lead to something that needs space.

Quinn McDonald is an artist making room for something wonderful to take place.



27 thoughts on “The Box of Stuff

  1. Great ideas and brava for having learned already from your fire. However, may I suggest purchasing one thing? A roll-around tote to put tools for classes in. That’s where your ten extra pairs of scissors, cutting mats, craft knives, extra blades and the sorts of things you normally take to classes for other people to use. Set that aside and then begin sorting out the rest of the stuff by use. I’ve sorted out all kinds of studios (my own, and the owner of Postmodern Design and my current art partner)–it comes down to what is still even useful (half dried paint; brushes past their prime, glues that don’t work so well can go bye-bye); things you have outgrown (pass along to elementary schools, hospital playrooms and local children) and things you are pretty certain you’ll never use again.
    Things of value change over our lives, but one thing that never changes–save yourself first!

  2. I go through something similar each time we go away on holidays. If I´m taking what I need with me in the bag… why do I have the rest?
    I´ll start another decluttering and organizing series on my blog soon with the goal of having a functional home by the end of the year as I´ll be going room by room at a slow pace. :).

  3. Oh yes, it’s just stuff and can be replaced . . . if necessary.

    Recently there was a huge earthquake in the Solomon Islands and the New Zealand coastline was on tsunami watch and we waited with radios on for a signal to evacuate. I thought about what I would take, looked around at all the things I have picked up on my travels and thought again of the friends I was with at the time . . . not the travelling. It was really strange having a couple of hours to decide. In the end I put the external harddrive I use for backing up my computer as it has all of my photographs on it and a change of clothes ready by the door. I’d miss everything but it is just stuff.

    Obviously the tsunami didn’t arrive and I still get lulled to sleep by the sound of the surf.

  4. A friend I met several years ago at Art Unraveled recently moved to Warren, OH, and after a couple of years, moved to Columbus, OH, to a smaller house. She sorted and tossed before leaving Phoenix. And she sorted and tossed before leaving Warren. Once in Columbus, she did more sorting. She got me doing the same thing even though I’m not planning to move. But all the supplies that I may or may not use, all the fabric, same story, are in better homes. I had a lot of supplies left from being a vendor at Art Unraveled the last 3 seasons and had a liquidation sale in my garage last September. I kept some but most were sold or donated to groups that could use the supplies. And I still have lots of “stuff” that I wonder if I’ll ever use. I’m not a life coach or have a business of my own but work part-time up here in Flagstaff. I don’t have a lot of time to do everything I want to do and/or to sell everything on Ebay. But I’m giving it my best shot. I know you will enjoy the process of sorting and donating and resifting. Every group that got my art supplies, and each person that got some of the pens, paints, and papers, was very happy and grateful. And know what? I still find color pens in places i didn’t know I had. Or yarns I didn’t know I had.

    And after sorting all the receipts for taxes prep, I am even more driven to stay out of art supply stores and office supply stores.

    Keep up the good work and I look forward to hearing how it all turned out and a new photo of your reorganized studio.

    Marrianna in Flagstaff, AZ, USA

  5. CLUTTER!! IT is the …oh what is that word? I had it here just a second ago…where did I put the darned thing…move this book, under this file…open this drawer..AHA – BANE!!! Clutter is the BANE of my existence.

  6. Quinn, you made my morning! “the roofers set our house on fire (it was a training issue” – I got SUCH a picture in my mind of you standing there as a “training Issue”!
    Just the way my mind works!

    • The roofer had not trained the workers in how to apply the torch to the shingles held in their hand, to melt the tar, so the workers applied the torch to the shingles on the roof, heating the wood under-roof to the point of smoulder and then fire. The fact that they left a cannister of propane on the roof didn’t help the matter. I consider most mistakes training issues!

  7. I was thinking about this yesterday while working in my studio. I felt that there was too much stuff. Too much stuff to choose from for a project, too much stuff to weed through while looking for a particular piece of something, too much stuff to store and organize, too much stuff piled up because there is no place else for it. Too much! It is hard to make art when there is too much stuff in the way. But it is quite difficult to get rid of some of that stuff, isn’t it?

    • It’s painful, difficult, and frought with decisions. I just KNOW that when I get rid of something, I’ll need it next week. My plan is to think through the direction I want to head in, and strip some of the other beautiful, useful, items that don’t follow the chosen path and give it away. But so, so hard.

  8. We are always in a choice mode, aren’t we? This morning, when I was reading my journals to find information for a post, I held a journal filled with my writing, a collection of quotes, a list of dreams and the plans for the dreams. The notebook was completely filled, there were even scribbles in the margins. The other journal I had was perhaps 20% filled, and so I reached for that one to write in. I wondered then, if there were a compelling reason to choose between the two, would I choose the first, filled with wisdom and dreams and plans already recorded, or would I choose the book with empty pages, with plenty of pages for me to record my new learning, my new dreams, my new plans?

    I’d want the notebook with new potential.

    Easy to say, when I have quite a few of my journals in my possession, carried with me from one part of the country to another. But it was an interesting moment of realization.

  9. I’m in the process of cleaning out and decluttering because at some point this year I will have to move out of my house that I’ve raised my kids in and enjoyed for 20 years. I can tell a difference in the amount of stuff in my studio already, even though a random observer could not. I am finding the process cathartic. Also, I find that I have no problem getting rid of stuff if I can give it to someone who might enjoy it and use it, like my adults with disabilities where I work, or good friends. Giving things away to others seems to be the key of letting go for me. Here’s to lightening my load!

  10. Thanks for sharing your lesson from the house fire. You are so right. I think that question serves more as a reminder of what we should enjoy NOW rather than what we would take. Totally hear you on needing to have a clear out… I work better with less.

  11. Did I ever tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog? Thank you again, Quinn, for your wise lessons and well-thought words that make me smile, think and (sometimes) act!

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