Tips for De-Hoarding

The label “Hoarder” isn’t usually something that most of us want to admit about ourselves, but I bet I’m not the only maker who has an issue with “stuff” accumulating in the workshop. I have been looking around the workshop (and in the mirror) and realize that some signs of Hoarding have crept up on me. I’ve been thinking about ways to counter the tendency, and I hope that my experiences can help other creators to tame this troublesome tendency.

To help determine if Hoarding is an issue for you, consider these signs:

  • Do you have tools in your shop that you haven’t used in years?
  • Do you have materials in your shop that have more than a year of dust?
  • Do you have consumables (finishes, paints, etc.) that have gone bad, but are still taking up space?
  • Do you have paths between the “stuff” that you have to navigate, like a maze?
  • Have you ever gotten injured because you bumped into or tripped over something in your workshop?
  • Do you have rodent problems? (Yes, excessive “stuff” leaves lots of room for critters to hide and nest)
  • Are you unable to finish projects because you don’t have enough space?
  • Do you have to rearrange your shop before you can make something?
  • Do you have duplicates of tools, because you had to buy a new one when you couldn’t find the one you already had?
  • Are you ashamed to let anyone into your shop?

Some of the items in the list above can be just signs that you need to organized, but if reading that list makes you uncomfortable, then consider the following things you can do to regain control over your situation.

Things you can do to counter Hoarding

1) What goes in, must go out (outflows have to match inflows). Be aware that we tend to take things into the shop and those things may never leave. Remember that a workshop is a place for work to be done, and that means that the work leaves the shop when you’re finished. Taking finished workpieces out of the shop is not only rewarding, but that’s one of the main reasons for having a dedicated workspace. Similarly, if you’re thinking of getting a new tool, think about which tool (or tools) it can replace (and take them out of the shop).

2) Everything has to have a place. This is not just about being tidy, but realizing that if you’re going to bring a new tool, supply, or other item into the shop, it’s going to have to go somewhere. If you don’t have a specific place for the thing to go, then it’s going to end up in the way, most likely. If you don’t have room, maybe you should leave it at the store. Before you think about bringing a new item in the shop, imagine where it will live, and this can sometimes help you to think twice before acquiring that item.

3) Make time to clean up. When we’re done for the day, make time to manage the stuff instead of just leaving it lying around. Putting things away will make the space more useful, but it will also make us more aware of all the stuff that is taking up space. Being able to find things later is also a benefit because we won’t buy duplicates for items that we already have but cannot put to use because they are misplaced.

4) Use your scraps and off-cuts. Don’t just put them in a pile, on a shelf, or in a drawer. Turn them into something useful. If they keep piling up, then make a point to plan a project to use them. If you aren’t using them, then throw them out or give them a new home.

5) Don’t store lumber. That’s right, this is a workspace, not a storage space. It’s OK to have lumber in the workshop for current projects, but storing lumber beyond the projects you’re currently working on takes up space and doesn’t help you get any work done. If you are someone who harvests raw lumber, then you do need a place for it to dry before you can use it. In that case, make a separate space for the lumber to pass the time needed before you can use it. Don’t let it take up space in your workshop.

6) Don’t store consumables. Most consumables, like paints, finishes, glue, etc., has a limited shelf life. Buy small quantities and keep only as much as you need to complete current projects. It may cost a bit more per ounce to do it this way, but throwing away unused (and expired) products will probably offset any savings you might have had up front. Write the date on paints, finishes, glue, etc. to know when it’s too old to use–and when it gets old, get rid of it.

7) Don’t store fasteners. It’s OK to have some fasteners around for current projects, or for things that you use frequently. But don’t turn your workshop into a hardware store. For the fasteners that you use, make sure you keep them well-organized so that you can find them and put them to use when you need them.

8) Don’t store sheet goods, ever. Sheet goods take a lot of space, and unless you have an immediate need for them, don’t keep them around. Use what you have, and reclaim the space that sheet goods are taking. You’ll be glad you did.

9) Fix it or pitch it. If you’re like me and you keep things around that you plan to fix “someday”, then either get busy fixing them, or else find a new home for them. If you haven’t fixed something already, then figure out WHY and either overcome that obstacle or let it to. It may no longer be worth saving, as it may cost more to repair than a replacement would cost. If it’s truly valuable, then find someone who will appreciate the item for what it’s worth, and if not, recycle the parts (not on your shelf, but in the recycling bin or the scrap yard).

10) Make it easy to get rid of the waste. Workshops produce waste as a byproduct of making stuff, and it needs to go out of the shop. You need a way to safely dispose of expired consumables (paints, finishes, etc.), sawdust, cleaning and finishing supplies, etc. Most cities or counties have a place to take hazardous household items. Find out when and where, and schedule the time to take them for collection. Have a bin for recyclables and take these items out of the shop at regular intervals.

11) Rent (or borrow) tools you rarely use. You may or may not save money in the long run, but you’ll definitely save space. Your local home center might have a rental department, and there are often stand-alone rental stores. Some rarely used tools can be “borrowed” from a local auto parts store for free. If you borrow from friends or family, be responsible and return the items in a timely manner, in at least as good condition as you borrowed them. A “thank you” note (or token of appreciation) is a good idea, as well.

12) Set a time limit for storage. Despite our best intentions, we sometimes fail to make use of things that we truly intended to use. Mark items with dates for when you plan to use or get rid of items, and once that date expires, get rid of the it. If you have something that’s been taking space in your shop for years, then it needs to go. Items sitting idle are a sign that your attachment to them is not realistic.

13) Avoid being overly sentimental. We all have things that we acquire for which we have an emotional attachment. The stuff we have can remind us of a time, place, or person that was special to us. I don’t want to downplay the importance that our stuff can have, but ask yourself if the item is really making us happy. You might want to keep one item to represent that person/place/time, like keeping a hand plane that your grandfather used when he was starting out. But do you really need to keep his box of rusty fasteners? Can you take a photo of an item, so you can revive the memory later, instead of keeping the item itself? The memory should remind us of the joy that it represents, and not be taking up space that we could be using to enjoy our current moments.

14) Know WHY you’re keeping things. Having gone through the list, look at anything left that you are storing and ask yourself why you need to store it. If you can articulate a reason, then fine, but if you cannot, then get rid of the item. If the only reason is, “I might need it someday”, then maybe it’s something you can let go of.

15) Set a De-Hoarding goal, and reward. As part of your commitment, make a goal for getting rid of a certain amount of stuff in a certain amount of time. Establish a reward for yourself, and if you meet the goal, celebrate with the reward. (Avoid rewards that are going to clutter your shop, of course.) Involve a trusted friend or relative to help hold you accountable.

I’m not perfect. Actually, I’m far from it, and it’s because I’ve been struggling with too much “stuff” that I even gave it this much thought. If you find this post helpful, then I’m glad that sharing these thoughts made a difference for you. If you have any suggestions for me, Please post them in the comments. I’d love to benefit from your wisdom.

In the meantime, I’ve still got plenty of work to do…


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