Creating Space

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Dear Frances,

I don’t know if it’s the warmer weather, the heavenly spring light, or just plain ol’ spring fever–but I’ve got such an itch to reimagine and rearrange spaces around here! It can be hard to say goodbye to the way we used spaces in the house during the child-rearing years, but… it’s time.

Right now I’m knee deep (almost literally) in a sewing space decluttering and reorganizing project. It’s one of those “one thing leads to another” situations that started with moving things out of the boys’ old room to make way for a queen-size bed. Goodbye bunk beds! (I felt surprisingly unemotional about letting those go. Probably because they haven’t been a good fit for my 6’4″ boys for a long time). But the Ikea Billy bookshelves from their room seemed to be just the thing I needed to organize my sewing space (aka dining room). Someday I hope to move my sewing space to the loft directly above the dining room (and less visible from the entryway), but until we find a home for Ben’s drum kit, I’m stuck in the dining room. Having those new shelves inspired a full declutter project I’m still working through. I used Karen Brown’s 2023 Sewing Room Declutter Challenge videos for inspiration–and highly recommend her approach. It’s very doable and encourages you to actually reward yourself with sewing! I’ve been stitching more than ever and now have a list of projects that I’m excited to work on! It’s fun to be reminded of all the supplies you have (but haven’t seen for years!). Creativity follows order for me, apparently.

I’m also imagining all kinds of things for the kids’ rooms. Paint choices, furniture, bedding, and a better place for the attic access that is inexplicably in the ceiling of Chloe’s old room. This project is more emotional. Even though it’s long overdue, it’s hard to paint over that blue paint in Chloe’s room in favor of a more sophisticated neutral. And even though Chloe and Jonah have well and truly moved out, it seems strange to me that when they come and visit, they will stay in what could be described as a “guest room”. They will not be their childhood bedrooms any longer. I am trying to keep one room a bit more “Ben” since he’s still in college, and this is still his home. But the truth is that he will only be here for a couple of weeks this summer. It’s a fine line to upgrade, but not erase. But let’s face it, it’s high time the Adventure Time poster came off the wall.

And then of course, there is the outdoor space. Like the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, I’m inspired to get my fingers in the dirt and plant all the things! I am having to curb that compulsion, since despite the rainiest winter EVER, California is still in a drought. We need a new plan for the backyard before we get too excited. But due to the incessant rain this year, the once dead grass has greened up and that makes a big difference in how it feels to spend time out there. The “green” is 90% weeds, but let’s not split hairs. There’s a lot we can do to make that space “good enough” for now. Lots of weeding, maybe some colorful throw pillows, and cheerful annuals. For many months of the year, my favorite place to be is out on the patio in my swing chair, preferably with some knitting and a glass of wine. So doing what I can to refresh that space is definitely a priority.

I’m being pretty literal about creating spaces (as is my way), but I’m sure that you find a more philosophical way to interpret this topic. What kind of spaces are you thinking about creating?


Dear Kristin,

I love this topic! My whole goal in life right now is to create spaces of all kinds–spaces in my house, spaces in my head, spaces in my calendar … I want all the space!

I’m making progress, albeit slow progress, on getting the attic cleaned out and cleaned up. I manage to fill up a couple of boxes a week, even if those boxes don’t make it all the way to the Scrap Exchange (the beauty of being an empty nester is that I can stack them up in one of the boys’ rooms until I make the trip). In other decluttering news, I’m feeling good about Jack’s room, having cleared out a bunch of the stuff he left behind when he moved into his apartment. 

There’s still some low hanging fruit to be picked from around the house–old sheets that haven’t been paying their rent in the linen closet, clothes I haven’t worn in years that could be living their best lives elsewhere, the downstairs closet with its array of boys coats and jackets that no longer fit the young men they once belonged to. These are all twenty-minute jobs that make me feel like I’m really getting it done!

The calendar feels a little more spacious than it did a month or two ago, when I had lots of magazine articles to finish up. I’ve just turned in my most recent Quiltfolk articles and don’t have any looming assignments for a while (nor am I looking for any). I’m going to Iowa for the Iowa Quilt Festival in early June, which is speeding into view faster than seems possible. (How is it even April?) My fiction writing life is super busy, what with the Story Guild project, but that’s my job. It’s a little strange having a weekly writing deadline for novel chapters, but I’m getting used to it and do my best to remember that there are much, much worse ways to make a living (understatement of the century).

That leaves creating space in my mind. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that the best way to do that is by filling it up. But in order to feel spacious, my mind has to be filled with the right things–art, books, music–as opposed to, say, too much online chatter. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve more or less stayed off Instagram, and the only other place I check in is the Quiltfiction Club on Facebook, which is always a lovely place to be. I’ve developed a new habit whenever I find myself poking around the Internet, which is to say to myself, You could be reading a book. I like books, and they’re usually better than the nonsense I find on the interwebs.

Other things that create good space for me: 1) Writing in my journal; 2) Drawing; and 3) Hand-sewing. I’ve always loved to draw, and this past week I’ve given myself small drawing assignments once a day. They don’t take long, but I find them totally absorbing. As for hand-sewing, I’ve been making half-square triangles while we watch baseball at night. I’m using all upcycled fabrics (from my stash and old clothes and pillowcases), and they’re all in neutral or light colors, but I’m using red thread to piece them. I have no idea what I’ll do with them; I’m just enjoying the process. I’m sewing with my right hand (I’m left-handed but totally ambidextrous), which keeps things interesting.

As always, I’d like more time to do nothing (that is, nothing but read, write and make stuff). I have friends for whom doing nothing is their idea of hell. It’s heaven for me, so I’ll keep doing my best to create new spaces whenever and wherever I can.

  • Robin Leftwich

    I need to create space in the garage. Between 2 cars and a lot of stuff, it’s a mess! Hopefully soon!

    I like the idea of creating space in my head that’s what I really need. I’m trying to read more actual books and just use my kindle at night. I’m getting more used to again feeeling the pages. And it’s especially fun reading the 1930s books from our Quiltfiction book club in the books I have found from used book stores!

  • Lynn Schmidt

    I find it I don’t need more room (I probably need less). But I’m just tired of looking at them. I need to change them up. Maybe fresh paint it rearranging of activity areas?
    As far as my sewing space, it actually stays cleaner when I am sewing as I try to keep one project going at a time. And I have a little baskets set a separate the projects into. When I’m not sewing, I just keep going in there and dropping stuff on the table to deal with later. Then when I go to, so I have to first clean off the pile on the cutting table.
    My mind is very cluttered, but coming into spring and summer is my patio time which is definitely books and a glass of tea or wine. Anxious to hear how you girls redo your spaces. Maybe I’ll get some good ideas.

  • Tracie

    I love creating space, and Frances, I love how you make space by filling your brain with good things. My favorite kind of space is an empty day on the calendar. It brings the kind of joy that only an introvert can appreciate.

  • Heather Bayne

    Don’t stress about your backyard. Mow a simple path through the middle and then just let it grow into a wild meadow. The insects and wildlife will thank you. The plants will also develop much deeper root systems so be able to withstand the drought better. Let the ‘weeds’ show how beautiful they can be if left to their own devices.

  • Chris

    For 2 weeks in April our village allows residents to drop off large items.
    We just disposed of some old fencing that was “stored” behind the garage.
    This is very motivating! I will be looking in the garage and basement for additional unneeded or worn out items.

    Not sure about my sewing area. When I tidy it up… I find it hard to restart my projects.

  • Julie

    the sheets! i love getting cotton sheets from the op shops (thrift stores). i figure if they gave no wear, no pilling, then they’ve been washed dozens or more times and are a good investment. usually for backings, EPP with sheets leaves me with holes in my fingers.

    i live in a very tiny 1 bedroom granny flat, and use a hodgepodge of low storage cubes and suitcases and laundry basket for my fabric. doing my head in! but costco no longer carry the shelving unit i want 🙁 I need everything on one shelving unit in my bedroom so i can make a curtain front for it and not have to see it all the time. i’d love a spare bedroom to sew in, but i also love my little flat. decisions, decisions.

    after covid, i’m finally going back to physical libraries and bookmobiles and enjoying the feel of real books. reading on the phone is annoying, because i read fast and you can hardly fit any of the book at a time on the phone screen. however, i still use audiobooks online for quilting.

    i’ve just finished two single bed quilts for my grandaughters and am enjoying their warmth while i work out the labels. has anyone got great ideas for labels? i rarely see the panels of labels here in australia, my printer isn’t set up for fabric printing and my embroidery ain’t what it used to be!

    i’m enjoying the autumn her about as much as you’re enjoying the spring. pumpkin soup and toasties instead of spring salads.

    love hearing about both the coasts over there, thank you!

  • Laurie Navin

    Aghhhh,… I was going to get caught up with all your blog posts before I made a comment, but I can’t wait!

    I was just at the Iowa Quilt Festival (May 31 – June 3) and got to hear Frances read from her book, “Birds in the Air”. I felt so giddy!! It felt like meeting a movie star or rock star. Actually better, because I don’t really care about movies or music. ; ) I bought both her books and read the 1st three chapters before going home the next day. I’m loving it. I stopped at my daughter’s house on the way home from Winterset and she asked how the retreat was. I told her it was the best week of my life. (Having daughters & grandchildren are wonderful too, but this week was the best quilting experience.) So, I guess I “Created Space” for my hobby this week by taking time to do something I love to do.

    Thank you to The Quilting Life ladies for introducing me to Kristin and the Simple Handmade Everyday podcast and thank you Kristin for introducing me to Frances. And introducing me to Gretchen Rubin. I listened to her Happiness Project book and started it over as soon as it finished.

    • Frances

      Laurie, it was so nice meeting you this weekend! I actually told Kristin this morning that I met someone in Iowa who read our blog. Thanks for coming to the reading and thanks for showing up here. I’m glad that the Quilt Festival was such a great experience for you–it was for me, too!

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