Preparing for the New Year: Artistic Self-Care

Preparing for the New Year doesn't mean making resolutions. It DOES mean taking time to think about your why--even for your craft projects. #crafting #resolutions #newyear

While you might not equate self-care with learning how to handle unfinished projects, you might want to consider the toll of not finishing things. Last week, we learned about the difference between resolutions and solutions. This week we’ll learn that preparing for the New Year might mean culling and sorting through our projects.

I opened the drawer of my mobile craft dresser and shifted the contents. “What?!” I exclaimed to the empty house, “I still have this?”

This, a 10X13 inch cross-stich project I’d started 28 years ago, had nestled in that drawer for at least the last 11 or 12 years. I started the project as a newlywed back when we lived in southern California and loved all things Southwest. Before I finished it, our two daughters arrived on the scene. My discretionary craft time went out the window in the hustle and bustle of working and caring for infants and toddlers.

When we moved further north, to Reno, our decorating style moved, too. I started other projects—more Debbie Mum and less Southwest. I fell in love with yellows, forest greens, checks, and birdhouses. Quilting caught my fancy, and I spent hours cutting and piecing a grandmother’s fan quilt for my first project. (We can talk about my propensity to tackle the wrong-sized projects as starter projects later on).

Although I started hand-quilting the finished quilt top, my craftiness got interrupted by other projects—sewing dresses for the girls, sewing curtains for the house, writing poetry and short stories, knitting, and decorating our tiny house. I had just finished decorating (it takes me a notoriously long time to decorate) when we packed the family up and moved to Montana.

I replicated the décor from Reno in Bozeman—cold winters and months of snow required cheery yellow walls, after all. The cross-stitch sat in plastic crate on a shelf for 11 years before I moved it to the plastic drawer.

The Problem with Unfinished Projects

Believe it or not, psychologists have actually studied the effect of unfinished things on people. Back in the 1920s Bulma Zeigarnik researched the effect of completion on memory. An incident in a restaurant watching waiters fueled her study. She wondered why the waiters seemed able to remember complex orders.

She found that people remember what they don’t complete.This has great implications for study skills. Set interruption times throughout your study sessions, make sure you don’t finish studying and you’ll remember more.

The other implication doesn’t sound so good, though. When you don’t finish things (whether tasks around the house or craft projects), they weigh on your mind. They nag and nibble and add a sense of dissatisfaction or unease to your life.

Finishing those projects, on the other hand, can lift the cloud and give you immense satisfaction—especially if the project has lurked in your closet for ages. Can I get a witness to oops-I-started-but-didn’t-finish phenomena?

The Crafty Gal’s Project Categories

I categorize my projects two ways: started and finished. Of course, ‘started projects’ have three different stages. Stage one involves vision and purchase. I envision how the finished project will look, where I’ll hang it or place it, or who I’ll give it to. But after that, I discover I don’t have time to do anything else. This explains the 196.5 yards of uncut fabric in my closet. These projects don’t take up a lot of emotional energy, because I didn’t really start them.

Preparing for the New Year doesn't mean making resolutions. It DOES mean taking time to think about your why--even for your craft projects. #crafting #resolutions #newyear

Stage two occurs when the project makes it through stage one and I actually begin. I might cut something out, start cross-stitching, knitting, or quilting. At some point before I complete the project, something happens to take away the starting-the-project-glow. We move. I decide to decorate the house differently. Other things take priority during a new season. These projects languish in closets and the corners of my mind.

The third stage of started projects remind me of the last two miles of the marathon I ran. Agonizing, but since I’ve come so far, I might as well finish. The quilt I started in 1996, for example, took ten years to complete. I hand-quilted the entire thing in about four months by simply putting a reminder in my Palm Pilot to quilt for 20 minutes each night.

Deadlines and Doing

Don’t get me wrong. I have completed hundreds more projects than I have let languish (if we don’t count the 196.5 yards of fabric). For eleven years I spent two months each fall cutting and sewing in every spare moment to make period costumes for a full-length play each of my senior English classes put on. I felt highly satisfied when I loaded the completed costumes in my car and drove them to the dress rehearsals.

When our eldest daughter got married, I made five bridesmaid dresses, my dress, and remodeled my wedding dress for our daughter to wear. Deadlines make me get things done. But rather than resolve this New Year’s to ‘finish all of my started projects,’ I need to take a more realistic, practical approach.

Despite finishing some projects, I realized that my unfinished projects almost outweighed the joy of the ones I did finish. I’m preparing for the New Year differently this year when it comes to my craft projects.

The Practical Approach to Sorting and Finishing Projects

First, I need to evaluate the why behind each project. For example, I have two really cute school-teacher wall hangings that I started to quilt. I wanted to give them to my husband for his classroom when he taught elementary school. He no longer teaches elementary school, so I no longer have a reasonable why. On the other hand, I have the southwest cross-stitch project that would look beautiful in our house hanging next to a few pieces of pottery my students have made.

If a project has lost its why, I need to bite the bullet and get rid of it. No, not destroy it, but find a new home for it. Does anyone want a cute wall-hanging for an elementary classroom? You’ll need to finish it yourself, but I’ll send what I have started!

When we moved from Montana six years ago, I actually gave away a lot of fabric—it no longer appealed to me. I figure the rest of it will serve as my retirement nest egg for projects. Determine to feel no guilt for project abandonment. You may have learned an important lesson about starting projects (know your why before you buy).

Next, impose a deadline. “I will work on the wedding dress for an hour every day between now and Christmas so that Sarah will have a beautiful dress to wear at her wedding.” Yep. I’m remodeling the dress again—this time for our youngest. After the wedding, I plan on tackling the cross-stitch project for 20 minutes each evening while I watch television.

And last of all, celebrate when you finish a project! I plan on celebrating my sewing project at our daughter’s wedding. And I’ll celebrate again in March when I finish the cross-stitch project. Maybe I’ll splurge on professional framing for it.

What Do You Need to Let Go Of?

Think about the artistic or craft projects in your life. Do you have projects taking up space (but physically and mentally) that you need to cull and stage? Go for it! Self-care means learning to analyze the clutter in our lives and learning to release it.

Examine your why, set a deadline, and celebrate when you finish. In fact, I’ll celebrate with you! Post a photo of your project and tag me on Instagram or Facebook when you finish. I can’t promise chocolate, but I’ll oooh-and-ahhh and give you a virtual high-five.

Self-care involves purging projects from your life if they take up too much mental space. #purge #NewYears Click To Tweet

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  1. I’ve been in a season of purging as my husband and I hope to sell our home and downsize soon, Anita. So I’m resonating and relating with what you’ve shared here today. It’s amazing how long we can hang on to “unfinished projects”–much to our detriment! Thanks for sharing that interesting research as well as encouraging us to move on when we need to! Pinned and tweeted!

    1. I spent an entire summer purging the year before we thought we might move…and then when we did move, I discovered I had a lot more to purge! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Very liberating perspective!
    I just finished a project I’d been piddling away at for two years–a family cookbook. This fall I decided to put a number of other things on hold so I could attend to that and be DONE with it. Now I’m very glad to have it finished and they should arrive in the mail in time for Christmas!
    Michele Morin recently posted…Celebrating Christmas in a Season of LossMy Profile

  3. Anita,
    I finally had to lighten the load and that included purging unfinished projects. I’m embarrassed to admit that I never finished my children’s cross stitch stockings….they are now 30 and 26 lol. It’s kind of become a family joke….oh well. Lightening the load is such a cathartic activity. We can’t take it with us when we go….so maybe it should go before we do? Great post.
    Bev xx
    Bev @ Walking Well With God recently posted…Our God Does More Than Just SeeMy Profile

  4. Thank you for this wise reminder to know when to let go of a project and move on. Your post brought this question to my mind – If projects have gone unfinished in my life, perhaps they were ones I should have never started at all. Even good projects may not necessarily be the best ones intended for me. I’ll be thinking on this all day 🙂 Blessings!
    Joanne Viola recently posted…A Christmas Wish ListMy Profile

    1. I’m getting MUCH better at NOT buying things in the first place. I ask myself if I realistically have time to complete it in a few months–if no, I don’t buy (and this is really hard to do when things are on SALE!).

  5. I have a stack of unfinished craft projects so this advice is useful! I like the idea of considering the why to decide which ones are worth carrying on with and then setting aside regular time to do them.

    1. I finished making a flannel duvet cover for our bedroom yesterday–it only took four hours of actual work (and 8 hours of wondering whether I’d have time to finish it before winter was over). Some projects need chunks of time, and others need snippets of time (but they all take time 😉 ).

  6. If a half-finished project is visible (a partially painted wall), or it’s supposed to meet a need (a curtainless window with blinding sunlight blazing in), I feel driven to finish. But half-finished projects that are tucked away out of sight don’t bother me at all. “Life” happened and I couldn’t finish them, but they’ll wait for a happy rediscovery, like your cross-stitch project. I will not feel guilty about them just because some study says I am supposed. to. 😀 On the other hand, I have gotten rid of more and more projects through the years because my tastes changed, they didn’t seem worth the time it would take to finish them, they were for a gift that would no longer fit the recipient, etc. That’s definitely freeing, both physically and mentally. If we have to downsize when my husband retires, I’ll probably have to let go of a few more things then.
    Barbara Harper recently posted…Not the Messiah They Were Looking ForMy Profile

  7. I have SO many unfinished sewing, quilting, knitting and cross stitch projects. This past year my goal was to finish off a few projects and also start some new ones that I would finish before the end of the year. So far I finished a complicated afghan I’d been working on for a year. Finally figured out what was wrong with the pattern I was using and I decided to free hand the caboose to finish off the set I crocheted for my littlest last Christmas. I also knitted myself two pieces, which is a first in years, a poncho/scarf and a fitted tunic sweater. I also made some progress, but didn’t finish, all the piles of fabric waiting to be made into cloth napkins and place mats. I’ve loved finishing things!
    I’m currently trying to decide if I would gift away some unfinished cross stitch projects or save for grandchildren. (I’m only 35, so I’ve probably got a few years yet for that one 😉 )
    I do still find having too many undone projects overwhelming but I’m also really enjoying finishing things and getting them off my mental to do list.

  8. I knew I had to read this one as soon as I saw your title, Anita. 🙂 So good. We all need encouragement to let go of unfinished projects. Life is too short to be holding on to things we don’t plan or need to finish, and we surely don’t need to let it clutter up our physical and mental spaces.

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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