We’re so happy to have Nadia Arbach with us for a three-part series on decluttering your sewing space! Nadia is a UK-based professional organizer, creativity coach, podcaster, sewist, and so much more. You are going to love getting to know more about her — and her decluttering tips for sewists! Let’s get started!
Welcome, Nadia! Please tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’m Nadia Arbach, a professional declutterer specializing in creative workspaces. When I first opened my business, Clear the Decks!, in 2015, I worked with anyone who needed decluttering services. Then I realized I LOVED working with creative people, especially those who had sewing rooms! As a quilter and sewist myself, I really connected with my creative clients. I also fully understood the clutter that can come with fabric, patterns, and sewing tools. So I started a podcast called ‘Declutter and Organize Your Sewing Space‘, which I’m currently turning into a book; and I’ve developed online self-study courses to help creative women make the most of their creative workspaces. I also coach creative women who need a push to get their creative work done! You can find me at http://clearthedecks.co.uk.
How did you first begin sewing?
My mom taught me how to sew. She was always making dresses for my sister and me, and I followed in her footsteps at around age 10. I also ‘officially’ learned to sew in Home Ec class in Grade 7 when I was 12, but by then I already had some experience. And I got into quilting in 2010, when I worked at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and we had a fabulous quilt exhibition. Now, most of the sewing I do is quilt-related.
What is one sewing skill you haven’t tackled yet, but are hoping to learn?
I’d love to do a successful full bust adjustment! (I’ve tried many times but still haven’t cracked it!).
Tell us about your sewing space — is it neat and tidy all of the time?
I’m so glad you asked this question. My usual answer is yes. This is because my sewing space is my dining room table, which means that it’s needed every day for family meals! I have all my fabric neatly stored in a glass-fronted cabinet that I bought and refinished, and I love how it looks. And my tools and notions are stored in three plastic carry-cases with compartments. It’s a far cry from what it used to be: I admit that before I became organized, I would stuff my fabric into bags and throw them in the closet. I could never find anything!
The reason I’m glad you asked the question is that recently, my sewing space was definitely NOT neat and tidy. The students at the primary school where I work put on a performance and I volunteered to make 70 costumes. It took a month, during which everything was in disarray. My dining room table still had to be cleared every evening, but the dining room itself, plus the living room, were absolutely chock-full of bags of fabric. Costumes were draped everywhere, and thread was all over the floor. So I guess I’d say that my sewing space is usually neat and tidy, but when there’s a big project going on it can get really messy!
How did you decide to become a professional organizer and coach? And more specifically, how did you decide to work exclusively with the sewing community?
As I mentioned earlier, before I became organized, I would stuff things in bags and throw them in the closet. One time, my landlord called and said she would be dropping by in 10 minutes, and my entire sewing table was piled high with dozens of projects which were falling all over the place. In haste, I threw a bedsheet over the entire thing to mask the mess. I was so embarrassed when she showed up, although she was polite enough not to mention it. I decided I needed to get organized.
It was hard to declutter, but I spent a long time working on it and now I’m definitely not going back to that state! I ended up enjoying it so much that I thought that I could do it for others. So I opened up a decluttering business and started working with anyone who needed decluttering. But then I realized I enjoyed working with creative people the most. As a creative person myself, I totally understand how clutter can come about in a creative workspace, whether it’s a sewing room or some other kind of creative area. So I niched down, and now I exclusively serve creative people who need decluttering help. I also became a creativity coach so that I could help people who needed even more personalized assistance in achieving their creative goals.
What do you think is unique to sewists when it comes to clutter and creativity?
I feel like one of our unique traits is the urge to overbuy beautiful things like fabrics because they are just so beautiful and inspiring. Because we’re creative, we see so much potential in the materials available to us. We love buying fabrics because they’re inspirational, but sometimes we don’t get around to using them. Sometimes we can amass more beautiful items to work with than we could actually use in 10 lifetimes! Seeing potential in things is such a wonderful part of our creative minds – but following it blindly without thinking about the space we have available or the specific projects we could use the items with can lead us to amass way more than we can handle.
What are some items you think are essential to an organized sewing space?
Before talking about items that are essential, I think the important thing is that the principles of organizing are followed. Basically, these are grouping like with like, decluttering any multiples of items, decluttering anything that no longer serves you or that you no longer love, and storing the remaining items together (like by like) in containers or furniture of appropriate sizes. I hesitate to recommend any specific items in terms of what to buy to store things in. Instead, I recommend figuring out which items you are keeping, and then working with the space you have to store the rest. Containers that allow you to see things easily are pretty useful, as is taking the time to label all of your containers.
Sometimes, we don’t even realize the role of clutter in our creative process, how do you suggest someone assess their workspace to understand their level of clutter?
Here’s an easy test: if you sit down at your workspace, is there immediately enough room to do what you’re doing? Or do you have to move stuff out of the way? If you have to move a few things and they all have specific places to live and you’ve just been a bit lax in putting them away, that’s fine. If you’ve got a bunch of stuff impeding you and it’s because there’s nowhere to put it, then you know there’s a clutter issue. And if you can’t even sit down at your workspace, you’re likely to be extremely frustrated at the level of clutter. Likewise, you may have a very long list of projects you want to work on. But if you’re so overwhelmed by the choices that you find it hard to even start, that’s mental clutter. It can be as hard to overcome as physical clutter.
Here’s another even easier test: if you walk into your creative workspace, do you feel stressed and tense, or do you feel uplifted?
5 FeelGood Facts about You:
Favorite color: Red
Favorite beverage: Earl Grey tea with sugar (no milk!)
Favorite music to listen to/show to watch/podcast when working: Right now I’m watching Glee, but I also have a soft spot for Poirot.
Favorite fabric designer: I love Japanese prints from Nani Iro, but my real favourite fabrics are vintage or repurposed from old clothes.
Favorite thing you ever made: My childhood dresses quilt – made of all the scraps my mom saved from making our dresses in the 70s and 80s!
Discuss: How do YOU feel when you walk into your creative workspace? Let’s chat in the comments!
Make sure that you join us for the next installment in our series with Nadia Arbach, where she will share the 7 habits that cause clutter to build up. Will you recognize yourself in any? According to Nadia, just recognizing which habits you need to work on is half the battle won! Stay tuned!
Want more advice on decluttering? Check out 7 Behaviors That Lead to Clutter According to Professional Organizer Nadia Arbach and More on Decluttering with Professional Organizer Nadia Arbach.