I have to admit that I am not much of a collector. As a child and teenager I did have a brief stint where I collected frog things -- frog necklaces, frog paperweights, frog plushes. But I grew out of it when I realized that when you collect something just for the sake of collecting it, you end up with a lot of junk. It also has a particularly odd side effect. When people find out that you're collecting a particular thing, you just seem to end up with a lot of it, whether or not it's to your personal taste.
As an adult, I prefer clean, neat spaces with minimal tchotchkes. Too many knick-knacks and my mind feels just as cluttered as the shelves I'm looking at. And don't even get me started on the dusting. I quickly put away my collection of frogs when I realized how long it took to dust each and every piece on cleaning day. (Although I can't help but wonder what the Goodwill in my town looked like, all covered in frog paraphernalia after I donated!)
It seems contradictory to be a knitter and a non-collector. As knitters, we often accumulate a stash of yarn that sits on shelves, fills up baskets and totes, and in some cases, even rooms. But do we need to? I personally have a few rules about how (and when) I buy yarn, and it has helped me keep a relatively small stash. This has especially come in handy when moving, especially during the packing and unpacking phases. While I know that everyone has their particular reasons for buying yarn and fiber, I thought I might share a few of my own.
Always have a project in mind.
I very rarely buy yarn without a project in mind. Whether it's very specific, with a pattern I have been wanting to make awhile, or slightly vague like 'socks', I always know what I want to make with the yarn.
Don't be afraid of a single skein.
One of the interesting things about working for Yarnbox is that I get to hear a lot of what other knitters like, or don't like, about each shipment. One of my personal favorite puzzlements is one of the most common. If we send out a collection of skeins and they are different colors, inevitably I will get an email in my inbox asking what that person is 'supposed' to do with a single skein of yarn. It always baffles me. Sometimes, a single skein is the best way to satisfy your yarn craving with minimal cost. You can make so many things -- a pair of socks, a hat, mittens, a cowl, handwarmers! Never, ever be afraid of a single skein. This is also a great way to 'taste' yarns that are from new companies and dyers without making a huge space or monetary commitment.
Sweater lots cost more than money.
I love knitting sweaters. I would, in fact, consider myself a 'garment knitter', even though I really haven't knit that many garments yet. But if there's one thing I am careful about doing, it's buying sweater lots. Sweater lots cost you threefold -- money, time, and space. When buying for a sweater, I carefully try and consider all of the options. Do I think I have more than two existing outfits that will match the finished garment? Does the color integrate into my wardrobe? Does the finished garment match my personal style? I have to admit that I have a few garments that I loved making and loved the yarn for, but I wear less than I should because they don't really fit the rest of my clothes. This is yet another reason that you should have a project in mind!
Free yarn is never a good idea.
Okay, look -- I'm not talking about the skein you've had on your Etsy wishlist that someone gets you for your birthday. I'm talking about the giant bag of yarn that your best friend brings to your house a month after her aunt who knits dies. You know this bag. Every knitter knows this bag. It is always a giant trash bag, or a big rubbermaid tote, full of who-knows-what. Feel free to go through it. Feel free to pull out a few choice skeins (seriously, just a few). But never -- and I repeat, never -- volunteer to take all of it off her hands. Go through it while she's there. Put what you don't want back in the bin, and send it home with her to be donated. I never volunteer to donate it myself because I know it won't happen. I'll tell myself that I can make a blanket with all that acrylic, or that I'll teach local school children how to knit, or that it will be great to give to someone else who knits. But it won't happen. It will sit in my basement/attic/bedroom/car until the end of time, and eventually I will be moving, and frustrated, and I will have to deal with it in a hectic moment.
Limit your club memberships.
If you like surprises in the mail (and who doesn't), a fiber or yarn club sometimes seems like heaven on earth. You sign up, you get something great in the mail that someone else picks out for you, like a present, and you add it to your stash. But clubs are dangerous! This is why I have a rule -- I am only a member of one type of club at a time. For me, my 'yarn club' is Yarnbox. Obviously this is a bit of a cop out, since I get the boxes for free and I am part of selling them, but that's my restriction on yarn clubs. I am also a member of the Hello Yarn Fiber Club, and that is my 'fiber club'. If you are a member of any club, you know that the yarn adds up fast. More than one club, and you're getting so much in the mail that it's hard to appreciate each surprise for what it is.
Fiber has it's own rules.
For me at least, buying fiber is a little different than buying yarn. First, it isn't already useable in the knitting sense, and it is eternally malleable. So having a project in mind, though handy, is sometimes a little pointless (unless you buy a sweater lot of fiber, in which case you are obviously making a sweater, so please evaluate the third bullet point.) Fiber is one of the few things that I buy because it makes me feel good. If the color, texture, dyer, and fiber all match up into a merry little object of joy, and I have the extra cash in my pocket, I'll purchase. That's why I also try to stick with just a few specific dyers that I love and trust when buying fiber. I know the prep will be right, I know the colors will be true to the pictures, and I know that it will be a pleasant experience during the spinning phase. To keep my spinning stash small, I limit myself space-wise. If the rubbermaid tub is full, no more fiber gets purchased. I am only a member of one club (see bullet point five), and this keeps things small too.
Don't be afraid to re-gift.
Okay, so giving yarn away that you bought as a gift for yourself isn't exactly the same as re-gifting yarn that someone else got you, but it's a great idea. If you have a friend who is a knitter or crocheter, and you're unsure of what to get them for a holiday or birthday gift, go stash diving! If you love it, chances are they will too. Just make sure that whatever you give has been stored well and is still in pristine condition when you wrap it up and hand it over.
Nothing is too precious.
Yarn is, above all, meant to be used. Even if you searched high and low for that Wollmeise, or you scored a bump of sought-after Hello Yarn in a destash, don't put it on a pedestal. Think of the perfect project for that fiber, and get to it! You'll be happier wearing it than petting it, I promise.
Go through your stash from time to time (I like to do this every other year) and take photos. Update your Ravelry entries. Make a pile of yarns that you think would make great gift items and assign them patterns. Make another pile of yarns that you think you won't use or that aren't your 'style' anymore, and gift them or make a quick buck destashing. It's like spring cleaning, and it will help keep the yarn you do love in perfect condition, help you root out any potential issues (like the dreaded 'M' word), and re-invigorate your creativity.
Happy stashing! If you have any other tips that you like, please feel free to share them in the comments!