The Intervention

Mal | Color study,Here and Now,Home,Organizing,Simplicity | Monday, July 6th, 2009

Mom's kits

I’ve written about my mom and her fabric “collecting” in the past. Recently, she asked us for help in creating a functional sewing room in her basement, including purging the fabric she doesn’t intend to use. Naturally, I made arrangements to take time off of work and be there with my sisters.

Fabrics in their natural state

Although she has hoarded for many years, she has never actively sought help, so I was both nervous and relieved as I made the long drive to my parents’ house. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m going to spare you some of the details here, but…

Beginning of Day 2

At the end of Day 1, we were all feeling pretty good about the progress we’d made. Then, after she went to bed, we found a few more of her hidden stashes and uncovered more than twice the amount of fabric than what we had sorted and folded during the entire first day. Let’s just say the task felt pretty daunting at that point.

Folding station

Here’s a folding station. The task of sorting and shelving was pretty monumental, and at any time during the weekend, we had 3 folding stations going at once. I’ll probably put up a tutorial on the folding process, since it’s what I am using to stay organized in my apartment, too.

Mostly, my siblings and niece worked at the folding tables, while I sat knee-to-knee with my mom and talked her through everything. (This is a downside of being a therapist, I guess — when no one else can handle the talking, it falls to you.)

Sorting with mom

I literally spent 3 days handing her fabric, talking her through each stack, and carrying it to her shelves or the giveaway pile. It’s important to note that we went through the entire collection 3 times, each time purging more, until everything she wanted to keep would fit onto the massive shelves.

Bags of fabric

Here’s one of my macho brothers hefting industrial-sized trash bags of fabric out of the house. We estimate that these bags each weighed around 150 pounds, and we filled about 5 of them.

Filled shelves

This is what she was left with at the end of the weekend. It doesn’t account for all of her flannels and other fabrics; we didn’t sort through her books/magazines/patterns; we collected all of her in-progress projects into one place but didn’t get them really put away; and we haven’t even touched her batting and notions. Oh, well. It was a good start.

Pinks, Reds, Yellows

The shelves look nice, but little empty spaces like the one you see above make me very nervous. I hope she doesn’t go out and binge on red-and-white fabrics just because there is room left in that stack. Although we did a good job of clearing things out this weekend, I think we all realize that we are a long way from resolving the underlying behaviors.

Closer up on shelves

Still, I hope she feels as clear-headed and inspired by looking at these shelves as I do when I look at the photos. I love my mom, and I’d do just about anything I could to help foster her creativity and peace of mind.


  1. I don’t know who I’m more in awe of – you for going through it or your Mum for actually gathering that amount in the first place!

    I understand the pain and difficulty of learning to sort and purge. It’s been an ongoing process in my house over the last few years and we could have really used some therapist help with it at times!

    Comment by Stitchalicious — 6 July 2009 @ 5:49 am

  2. Wow. She’s like a fabric store. I hope this isn’t me in 20 years. Some days I feel like I could easily fall to this problem since I love to buy and hoard but don’t spend much time SEWING! :)

    Good for her for reaching out to you and your sisters for help.

    Comment by Me? A mom? — 6 July 2009 @ 6:49 am

  3. Wow, I love it. I’m sure this is such an inspiration to her and that she appreciates it more than she could ever tell you! Great job on all the hard work and patience I know it must’ve taken.

    Comment by Shannon — 6 July 2009 @ 7:16 am

  4. I’m like your Mom I guess. When the piles get too big I put stuff in big plastic tubs and store it somewhere. The guest shower is full as well as the shower in my office and more tubs in the walkin closet in our bedroom and the sewing room closet and the walls all around the sewing room. I definitely need to purge. My excuse??? No time and I love to buy fabric. I just can’t use it as fast as I buy it.

    Comment by Dayna/Scottie Acres Boutique — 6 July 2009 @ 8:16 am

  5. wowza. what a load! emotionally and fabrics!!!
    it’s great you guys are helping out, but your right, it doesn’t stop or solve the underlying issues…
    good luck and sending support your way.

    Comment by V — 6 July 2009 @ 8:19 am

  6. Oh my………

    That’s inspiring- seeing all the pretty organized colors, purging, admitting there is a problem, but I can also imagine the daunting feeling hanging over something like that to even get started.

    I have the fabric I have because my aunt has brown boxes filling her garage. Luckily though, when I said I was taking a class and needed some- all my aunts opened their doors. I’m working really hard on making things with what I have before accumulating anything more. I only buy something if I cannot in any way substitute something I already have.

    Thank you so much for the organization inspiration, congratulations on all the hard work you’ve accomplished so far and definitely sending positivity to you for the future goals.

    Comment by Liz — 6 July 2009 @ 8:37 am

  7. Kudos to your mom for asking for help. That is a very hard step to make. It’s great she has family around who are willing to pitch in!

    Comment by Leigh — 6 July 2009 @ 10:37 am

  8. A fabulous job is done. The result is fantastic. Keep it up. Check it regularly and the problem maybe under control. Your mom is lucky because she realized that she needed help and you were there to provide it. Wish you all lots of luck and a lot of creativity.

    Comment by Elizabeth — 6 July 2009 @ 11:59 am

  9. My mother’s side of the family (all except my aunt) are terrible packrats. It’s to the point where stuff is piled up against the walls of most of the rooms and whenever I visit my family home or or relative’s houses I’m scared I’ll brush against a pile and it will topple over and envelope me. My nanna I can understand – she lived through the depression, and hoarding every little scrap must be a hard habit to break. But I think an intervention is in order for the rest of the brood.

    That being said I can fully understand how hard it is to part with your stash, no matter what it is or how trivial it seems to other people. “It’s just fabric, geez!” “They’re just silly old clock radios, why do you want to keep them?” I really think you were the best person to sit down and go through it all with her and I love the idea of going through the whole stash more than once just to whittle it down even more.

    When I purge, my internal dialogue is “have you picked it up this year? If not, then clearly you don’t need it, clearly it’s not something you go to use, it goes in the OUT pile”.

    Comment by Holly — 6 July 2009 @ 6:00 pm

  10. I’m with you on feeling nervous about that shelf with a large space in it.

    Most hoarders/extreme clutterers will see this as a space which NEEDS to be filled. If your mother can be encouraged to fill this space with fabric already in the home, that would be a major victory.

    I worked as a professional organizer for a few years with a special interest in “chronic disorganization” (aka “cluttering,” “hoarding,” “packrat behavior”). Probably the best recent book on the subject is “Buried in Treasures” by Frost, Steketee, and P___ (can’t remember his full name ATM). Although the book is aimed at the self-help for the clutterer, others (family, friends) affected by the clutter can gain insight into this behavior and learn ways to help by reading it.

    My MIL’s house was down to narrow paths in 2003 when DH and I began the Great Declutter. MIL needed to use a rollator / wheelchair in the house, and the paths weren’t wide enough for her to do so, much less for her to do so *with* the help of my FIL. Given the clear and present risk to her health and safety, as well as the H&S of my FIL, DH and I worked one weekend a month for five YEARS. It would have been soooo good to have help from his three siblings, but his two sisters are clutterers themselves and his brother travels too much for his job for us even to ask him for help. He helps in other ways, never fear.

    I’m happy for you that your sibling group, or at least some of it, worked with you in this Great Fabric Venture. The mutual help and encouragement are essential to success.

    However, unless your mother is undergoing counseling and/or some kind of clutter-related therapy, the chances of backsliding are approx. 98%, according to Steketee & Frost. I say this not to discourage you from the work, but to encourage all of you to urge your mother to seek help. It CAN be overcome, but the emotional needs which give rise to the behavior must be satisfied to achieve a lasting success.

    Groups like Messies Anonymous and the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization provide insight and help both for clutterers and affected family members/friends.

    Best wishes with this very important work.

    Comment by Cynthia H. — 6 July 2009 @ 9:37 pm

  11. Wow, what a massive job! I went through some of this when we moved 2 years ago, and it was hard at first to let go of my fabrics/books/etc. But I was motivated and went through 3 purges in the process of packing to move and then unpacking. I think I still tend to hold on to too much, but I’m trying to use it or lose it. I still love to buy fabric, but I realize that I really don’t need to, and I try to be selective. I find it best to just stay out of the fabric store in the first place!
    Congratulations to you and your siblings for tackling such a tough job. I’m glad your Mom realized she needed some help. I know it must have been hard for everyone. Good luck with the rest of the job. What a wonderful gift to give your Mom! I know she appreciates it more than she can tell you.

    Comment by Sharon — 6 July 2009 @ 11:37 pm

  12. When you are finished with her fabric, will you come and help me! LOL

    Comment by Patty — 7 July 2009 @ 6:48 am

  13. This was a huge effort, and a real testament of your family’s love for your mom. Take time to congratulate yourself on a beautifully organized room!

    Comment by Kara — 7 July 2009 @ 11:37 am

  14. Your mum has truly impressive collection of fabrics and now it arranged so beautifully, makes me want a wall of fabric in my home.

    Comment by Fioleta — 7 July 2009 @ 2:16 pm

  15. I can certainly relate to the fabric collecting. The end result looks wonderful. What gorgeous colors all stacked up waiting for the perfect project. Nice photo and an inspiration to do a bit more organizing of my own stash-lol.

    Comment by Lisa @celebrate CREATIVITY — 7 July 2009 @ 4:20 pm

  16. WOW! I am impressed with the amount of fabric your Mom has! And I thought I had allot of fabric! It doesn’t even come close to what she has after purging!

    My question, what are you going to do with the bags of fabric that you purged? Please tell me you did not throw it away!!!

    I also love the storage system that she has! Those beautiful shelves! I can only wish!

    Good job that you and family did for your mom! I wish I had family that could come over and help me control the mess in my sewing room! Oh well, I can dream.

    Comment by Patty Ojeda — 7 July 2009 @ 5:35 pm

  17. Oh my, I’m thinking mom should open up a store!! :>)

    Comment by linda — 7 July 2009 @ 10:07 pm

  18. Oh what inspiration! I thought I had a lot of fabric. I am in the middle of my craft room re-do and now I think I will re fold all my fabric to be uniform! What an amazing transformation.
    Great job!.

    Comment by carrie — 10 July 2009 @ 9:44 am

  19. how fun to see such great results! i love that folding method as well. it’s so effective and orderly.

    Comment by amandajean — 11 July 2009 @ 7:47 pm

  20. I want a mother like that, then when she wants to purge I CAN HAVE HER STUFF woah. I totally relate to her. I’m like a crack addict with fabric

    Comment by Mu Mu Design — 14 July 2009 @ 7:27 am

  21. I understand having a mom who doesn’t like to let go of sewing/craft stuff. I am that way too. I know it must have been hard for her, I have trouble getting rid of any fabric (even the stuff I deem ugly!). Hopefully the nice organized result will inspire her to use what she has. Good work!

    Comment by Jennifer — 20 July 2009 @ 12:14 pm

  22. As I was beginning to attempt to make some sort of organization of my huge stash of fabric today, I decided to search the web to see if there were any good suggestions. Oh my, I was so surprised to read your information! Of course the organization of fabric, nice neat stacks all color coordinated, were impressive. But most of all, my eyes were opened. I have been hoarding fabric for as long as I can remember. I began putting it in totes several years ago but can make no sense of how to separate it so I can actually find what I’m looking for. Well… I have no idea what I even have!! I began organizing my other craft supplies this past year…..purging my yarns, crochet supplies, bead stuff, counted cross stitch, plastic canvas…. you name it. Donated all to Goodwill. I have been a crafter (and hoarder) for 40 years now! I even inherited stuff from my mother when she passed away 17 years ago. I finally donated the boxes of crochet threads when I realized I had not even opened them in all these years. But I was afraid that as soon as I got rid of them, I would need them. I must admit that I decided I would much rather knit than crochet. And when I crochet, I wanted to use yarn, not threads! I also decided I no longer enjoy anything to do with plastic canvas.

    I do however enjoy many crafts and even at age 64 do not wish to part with the stuff. At the same time, I do not want my 4 children nor their spouses having to deal with all this “stuff” after I’m gone. So I will either have to really get busy using it or give it away! I just bought a nice new embroidery sewing machine and really do enjoy sewing for my children and 9 grandchildren. But I have way too much fabric.

    Not only do I plan to organize the stuff, but I promise, after reading your posting, to get rid of most of it. I know I will never, ever use it all. And I’m sure there is someone out there who would use it NOW! I don’t even want to take pictures of it and sell it on Ebay. I’m just going to haul it to Goodwill and be done. Then I plan to take the time to organize what I decide to keep so I’ll know what I have.

    This has been an eye-opening experience for me. Reading your information may just have saved me from deep embarrassment should my family be forced to someday deal with all my accumulations. Oh…and I also have developed a love for scrapbooking. Don’t worry. I have ALL my stuff soooo organized. And I’m in the process of making scrapbooks for each of my 4 children and their families (from events this past year) for Christmas gifts. I guess I enjoy too many crafts and have too many interests in life! I also enjoy golfing and am a Master Gardener. But your writing has inspired me to get in gear here and get more organized! Thanks so much and God bless you and your siblings for being so willing to help your mother. I’m praying she will use up the fabrics she now ready access to!

    Comment by Sherrie Johnson — 24 July 2009 @ 2:18 pm

  23. [...] This post was Twitted by artquilting [...]

    Pingback by Twitted by artquilting — 26 July 2009 @ 6:39 pm

  24. Thank you for a great blog and a lot of inspiration. Well done, you seem to be a very supportive and loving daughter, your mother is very lucky to have you. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know about this project:

    If it’s not too late, they distribute fabrics and sewing materials among poor women in Iraq, thanks to the initiative of a US soldier, and you can send a flat rate box to him.

    Just a though!
    Best wishes with everything.

    Comment by Beatrice — 19 September 2009 @ 1:39 pm

  25. This is just stunning in every way – the sheer volume of fabric, the overwhelmingness of the task for you all, the patience you expressed, your devotion to your mother. Kindness and compassion are never wasted, even if she does fill up the little spaces. Well done!

    Comment by Erin D. — 5 November 2009 @ 5:42 pm

  26. I can completely relate to this. My mother is a hoarder. I grew up in a household where I was mortified to bring anyone but my very, very, very closest friends into the house. My sister came to visit for two months to help her clean out the house. After she left, my mother re-bought some of the stuff my sister convinced her to get rid of. I don’t know how you talked your mother through it, but I sure wish I knew how to talk my mother through it! I live in a small apartment too and am CONSTANTLY getting rid of things for fear of becoming a hoarder. I love my mother, of course, but this is a very hard issue to deal with, one that most people don’t understand in the slightest. This is a very inspiring story. Thank you for sharing!

    Comment by Rebeccca — 29 May 2010 @ 12:09 am

  27. There is so much fabric in your mum’s house. The room looks great, well done for helping her out.

    Comment by Cross stitch — 7 May 2011 @ 3:01 pm

  28. Folding tables that are based from hardwoods are the best, i always buy folding tables that are very durable and hardwoods are the best. ‘.’:*


    Comment by Hong Rabel — 5 October 2012 @ 8:05 am

  29. Holy Moly!!
    What a stash! I’m new to sewing and have turned into a Pinterest/blog/google/yahoo..Searcher. I LOVE it.. I’m stationed overseas with the Military and have such limited resources. Thank you so much for making you webpage available.. BTW I love what you have done with your mom’s stash, I’d never be able to do that, I’d be taking all the stash on to my house. I’ll never have to much fabric. Once I move back to the States…I might.

    Comment by Delene — 25 May 2014 @ 3:29 am

  30. Holy Moly!!
    What a stash! I’m new to sewing and have turned into a Pinterest/blog/google/yahoo..Stalker. I LOVE it.. I’m stationed overseas with the Military and have such limited resources. Thank you so much for making you webpage available.. BTW I love what you have done with your mom’s stash, I’d never be able to do that, I’d be taking all the stash on to my house. I’ll never have to much fabric. Once I move back to the States…I might.

    Comment by Delene — 25 May 2014 @ 3:30 am

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