By Rachael Herron
I’ve got to come clean with you.
I’m known as a minimalist knitter. I’ve written about it in this very magazine.
But here’s the truth: I’m a maximalist who would love to be a minimalist but probably never will be. My stash is still on the small side, with all yarn reserved for specific projects (please don’t make me prove that—I can’t justify the cashmere except that it’s cashmere).
My intention is always to finish a project before starting the next. (Okay, I’ll wait till you finish laughing.) As Jamin Canty of the Knitmore Girls says, “Ooh, shiny! What old project?”
Yep, my biggest problem is startitis. I know you understand this. There’s nothing like the lure of a new pattern. You see it sparkle before you, linked in a friend’s Facebook post or as you scroll Pinterest while you wait for the coffee to finish brewing.
This is the sweater you need. It’s the sweater you’ve always dreamed of. It’s cabled, with a hood—just enough detail to keep you interested, and simple enough to be able to watch Netflix at the same time. (And let’s face it. If you wear it, you’ll probably end up living in an Irish castle. We all feel this, right?)
You hear the other projects calling, but you shove a bit of Romney fleece in either ear so you can’t hear them (yes, it’s a little itchy) and rush to the yarn shop. Later that night, high on the vinegary scent dye fumes, you cast on. Heaven. You love the project for a while. You’d marry it if you could.
Then you see the new best sweater on Pinterest, and the old sweater suddenly feels dowdy. Why did you pick this color? You’re bored.
In order to write this piece on how to let knitting projects go, I decided to see how many unfinished projects I owned, as a self-proclaimed (wannabe) minimalist knitter. I keep each project in a bag. I gathered the bags up from their hiding places and dumped them on my office floor:
The bags of doom.
Fourteen. Holy crap.
They include an almost-done handspun Romi shawl that I can’t remember where I am in the pattern and don’t have enough yarn to finish. Aughhh. Also in the inventory: a handspun shrug, completed except for the edging; two sweaters complete except for one sleeve; two blankets (really, Rachael?); and worst of all, a handspun sweater that I was spinning yarn for as I went. I don’t think I have enough of the wool I bought in New Zealand to complete it. That one hurts.
But I couldn’t let any of them go. I saw worth in all of them. Like a preschool teacher watching her students, I was proud of all of them, even the ones who weren’t soft and cuddly. They were all perfect in their own way.
And each is imbued with the sunk-cost fallacy—the idea that because I’ve spent time and money on each, I should keep spending time (which is money!) on it.
I groaned. Then I groaned again.
Then I made up my own metric for keeping and tossing. Maybe it will help you.
Do I still desperately want to wear this item?
Will it fit me if I finish it? More importantly, will it suit me?
Do I still love the color?
Do I love the way the yarn feels?
Am I holding onto this merely because I’ve invested time and money into it?
Does it delight me to hold it?
I know, that last one smacks of Marie Kondo, and in some circles just saying the name of the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up can earn you a whack on the nose and a time-out in the corner.
But when I asked readers how they decided to let something go, that last answer was their highest and most common metric.
Ayse Sercan said, “I have a finite number of hours in my life to knit. I want to spend them working on things that delight me and satisfy me. If a project is doing neither, it's time to say goodbye. Unless it's from 2,000 yards of lace-weight handspun, in which case I will kill myself finishing it.”
Tawnie Ashley answered, “I stop a project when it begins to feel like work. All the projects I’ve finished truly have love in every stitch. If I’m exhausted or losing interest in a work in progress I know it’s no longer coming from my heart and set it aside until I feel inspired or it calls to me.” Antonette Needham agrees: “When I no longer love holding it when I'm working on it.”
Knitters knit because we love to knit.
As soon as I get resentful about what I’m holding, I tend to put it down, but it’s a vicious circle: I tend to get resentful when I have startitis. If only this weren’t taking so long to finish, I’d be able to start knitting the n ew New Greatest Shawl in the World.
This is a problem.
So, how do I personally attack a problem?
With a mindset shift. It’s hard but doable.
I looked at every project on the floor in front of me. When I asked myself which projects I still deeply loved, when I trusted the answers as they rose in me, I managed to let two projects go (a barely-begun crocheted blanket—what was I thinking?—and a cotton tank top I literally started in 2004).
Progress! I was so pleased with myself!
Until I realized I’d let go of less than ten percent of my projects.
But you know what, that’s okay, and here’s why: I have twelve projects, none of which will take much time to complete (except that one blanket, but that’s acceptable). I love every single one of them, desperately.
The idea of finishing each brings me great joy, as does the sudden realization that I won’t “need” to buy yarn for the rest of 2018, which has only just begun. (I also won’t “need” to go to Stitches West. Try to stop me. You see the problem.)
But I’m comfortable with each project. They now hang in tidy bags on the back of the door. Until each bag is gone from that hook, I’ll try to rein myself in.
The bags that remain.
So I have a new Knitter’s Mission Statement that arose from this new mindset shift:
I hereby solemnly swear only one thing—To hold the yarn and projects I love in my hands as long as I love them. If I stop loving them, I allow myself to let them go without guilt.
And I promise not to shove any more unfinished projects to the back of the closet without at least rereading this article first. Next year, I’ll update you on how I did. And when I do, hopefully I’ll be wearing the Best Sweater in the World while holding the next best one on my needles.
Rachael Herron is the bestselling author ofSplinters of Light, the Cypress Hollow series, and the memoir A Life in Stitches. She's a proud New Zealander as well as an American, and she wishes she could knit and play ukulele at the same time.