How to Manage the Clutter of an Arts and Crafts Hobby

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Speaker 1: This Ad Free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. More. Hello and welcome to another episode of Working Overtime. The biweekly advice focus mod to work things all in the family. I’m your host June Thomas.

Isaac Butler: And I’m your Maureen Stapleton Isaac Butler.

Speaker 1: I want to sing. Yeah. And I don’t know which one to sing because all of those spin offs had the best tunes.

Isaac Butler: So June, what are we talking about today?

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Speaker 1: Isaac Today we have a really fun listener e-mail and it comes from Todd P.A. dorsi, who won me over by making an additional inquiry about stationery etiquette. But the meat and potatoes question that we’re going to chew over in today’s episode is going to be read by producer Kevin Bendis.

Speaker 3: I have a hobby called Fused Glass, so the medium is an important I love to make pieces, which in my case are relatively small, anywhere from eight inches by eight inches to 12 inches by 12 inches. But what does one do with all the work one continuously makes? I have given all of my family and friends pieces over the dozen or so years I’ve been using glass, so that line has played out. I tried selling them on two different websites and it cost more to advertise than any sales I made.

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Speaker 3: At this point, I’m actively not pursuing this hobby because I’m trying to rid myself of what I have and making more pieces would only add to the problem first row and one is at the bottom of a hole. Stop digging. I want to emphasize that this is a hobby. I don’t need the money. Frankly, the only reason I put them up for sale was to get rid of them. I was mostly indifferent to the profit and loss I would like to keep creating, but I don’t want a house full of glass pieces and I can’t think of anything to do with them.

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Speaker 1: Dots So right off the bat, what do you think I said.

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Isaac Butler: All right, June, I’m going to go big here. I want to start with what I think will probably be our most controversial suggestion for the entire episode, because I think, like, why not just start there, right? And that’s this. Maybe Todd should be destroying the fused glass works that he makes or some of the works as part of his artistic process.

Speaker 1: Oh, my God. That is indeed a radical suggestion. But honestly, it strikes me as a brilliant idea and actually probably the correct way to go. But tell me more about your thought process.

Isaac Butler: Okay. So, June, let me explain a little bit. The making of the work is clearly the part of this process that’s most valuable to Todd, not the resulting art. He makes that very clear. It’s so much so that he stopped practicing his beautiful art because he’s overwhelmed by the end result. So I think incorporating destroying the pieces into the process is both a practical and artistic solution.

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Isaac Butler: I mean, obviously, you could just chuck them in a bin, right? Yeah, but why not? You know, chuck them in the bin in some way that’s maybe ritualized or creative, you know, in and of itself. I mean, like, look, I worked primarily in theater for a lot of my life and that is the most ephemeral of art forms. You make the thing in the room with a live audience, and then it’s over. Even if you’re doing the same script, the same blocking, whatever the next night, it’s still actually a different new work of art. And there’s something really freeing and powerful and beautiful about that ephemerality, about the fact that it disappears into memory after it’s finished being created. And I actually think it’s a real way of resisting the commodification of everything that capitalism has forced on us, that, you know, everything has to last forever, you know, or you have to make money off of it, or, you know, you can’t throw anything away. And to me, a lot of that is actually about our anxiety about death.

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Isaac Butler: So my suggestion and this is totally serious, is that Todd figures out some rituals, some way that he destroys the previous work. And it’s not about that work being bad in any way. It is instead about recognizing that being created is actually what the work came on this earth to do. And now, you know, it’s time for it to do something else. And one of the wonderful things about fused glass is, as far as I know from, you know, what I’ve read about it is that actually destroying it could mean that you’re then using pieces of it in another piece, you know. And so it continues to give back and give back and give back over to Eugene.

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Speaker 1: Wow. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? I mean, we were really like.

Isaac Butler: What you really need is John Wilkes Booth to come and shoot all of the pieces of glass is, I guess, what you’re saying.

Speaker 1: Yeah, that would be amazing. Okay, so I think you’ve offered, as I said before, I think actually is the right answer to the question. But just in case, that’s a step too far for Todd.

Isaac Butler: Which I can understand. I can understand we don’t like throwing away things. My daughter, there will be literally a scrap of paper balled up somewhere that has one pencil marking in it that she made when she was five. And she’s eight now. And you’ll be like, All right, I’m throwing this away. And she’s like, That’s really special to me.

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Speaker 1: That is a girl after my own heart.

Isaac Butler: I actually have a question about this because you recently moved, so you’ve recently had to deal with, you know, your own desire to keep and accumulate the things you’ve made and stuff. So I have to imagine you have a lot of great advice here.

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Speaker 1: Oh, I don’t know if I have great advice. I think what I really have is an understanding of the pain that Todd is going through. Like when as as you said, I was moving was moving overseas. So it was going to cost a fortune to hold onto things. Also, I was really aware of being overwhelmed by stuff of like just it was, you know, the walls were closing in in a way that’s, I think not that infrequent in New York. And I have this like this is a great opportunity and, you know, just to to feel liberated from stuff.

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Speaker 1: So I tried really hard and I wanted those services. I wanted like those people’s apartments that you go in and like, where is your stuff? Because it’s got so many surfaces is so minimalistic and, and so wide open. And I couldn’t, I couldn’t let go of the stuff. I got rid of a lot, let go of a lot of things, but still held on to way too much. So I feel like I know exactly where Todd is coming from.

Speaker 1: And, you know, not only just in terms of stuff, but in terms of stuff that I’ve made, like a lot of people, I spent 2020 doing weird things. You know, I spent a lot of that year and, you know, sometimes since maniacally making journals like By the Dozen, to the extent that storing them became a kind of problem. And I had to stop giving them as gifts because I felt like I was forcing my friends to perform appreciation. You know.

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Isaac Butler: These are blank handmade notebooks or these are like collage journals chronicling life or.

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Speaker 1: Is definitely the format, but also a little bit of the latter. So that often the journal was just like part of the big presentation. They’re a little strange, honestly, maybe a little ugly, but it’s kind of a journal inside something else. Hmm. Yeah. Or. Sometimes just like a repurposed book, for example. And, you know, I think they were cool. I think they are cool. I love my own work. But at a certain point, despite my knowing very well that I had made them out of internal compulsion and not as an effort to win praise from my friends. When you give someone something that you’ve obviously spent time and resources on, polite people know that they’re supposed to, you know, appreciate it. So they’ll do that kind of, ooh, let me examine this and really admire it kind of thing. And then all of a sudden there’s been this weird look at the giver, not the recipient interruption of the birthday dinner or whatever it is.

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Speaker 1: So, Todd, while I am very clearly projecting, I feel like I have a very intimate, personal understanding of your dilemma. So what to do with it if you’re not quite ready to do what Isaac’s suggesting? I think you should just give it away again. I’m sure your pieces are stunning. It’s not a commentary on your work, but you can donate pieces to charity auctions, donate pieces to places that don’t have beautiful art on the walls. Give your work to a gallery that’s just getting going. That one actually is probably the most controversial of my suggestions. Or just put it outside on the street, outside your home. I will very happily go into more detail on those ideas shortly. But before I do, I want to hear your initial response to the idea that even if you love your own work, you should set it free, you know, as an alternative to ritual destruction.

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Isaac Butler: Yeah, I think, you know, gift economies are ways of giving your work away. It’s actually a very important part of being an artist. There’s a really wonderful book about this by the author Louis Hyde called The Gift that’s been very influential in art making and creativity circles over the past few decades. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. And I will also say, of course, in Brooklyn, we give away stuff all the time. You know, you set some stuff out on the street, you put a sign on your toaster oven that says works and you put it by the lamp post and then it’s gone. Or people will put a box of books out, say, free to a good home or even artwork they’ve made and people take it.

Isaac Butler: So I do think that, you know, part of being a creative person. Is recognizing that the art you make is a gift, that making it was sort of a gift. I mean, this is some very woo woo, but it’s a gift that the universe has given you and then you can give it back. And that’s actually very beautiful. Obviously, I’m going to veto June’s gallery suggestion because I don’t think you should give things to places that are then going to sell it or anything like that. But I do think there’s lots of places that would love to have some of your artwork. And I know June has, as you said, you’re going to go into detail about it. You have some great ideas. So I want to hear about it.

Speaker 1: All right. Let me get to some practical suggestions.

Isaac Butler: So June’s practical ideas.

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Speaker 1: So when I found myself in possession of many, many, many, many journals of various weird kinds, I really thought about renting a table at a holiday craft show, but I felt a bit weird about it if I was doing it for money, you know, somewhat similarly to Todd, I wasn’t making them because I wanted to generate an income stream. No shit on that, but that just wasn’t what was going on for me. I didn’t need whatever money it would raise. And I, I think primarily also worried that it would turn my hobby into a chore. So I decided I would do it to raise funds for a nonprofit that I’m on the board of.

Speaker 1: But as it happened, the holiday craft show didn’t happen in 2020. And I was distracted in 2021, and now I live in another country. So it didn’t actually happen. But I still think it’s a really good idea. It isn’t a long term commitment. It’s one day you’ll meet art oriented people from your neighborhood, and you can also do some of your own holiday shopping while you’re there. You can consider it a fundraiser for a cause you care about. And if your work is actually a little expensive for that kind of setting, maybe intentionally sell it below market price. That will make people who are drawn to it, but who can’t usually afford it really happy. And if by some almost impossible happenstance, you don’t sell even one of them, I mean, you’re no worse off than you are. No.

Speaker 1: So what else you got, Isaac?

Isaac Butler: I was just thinking about. I don’t know what the Todd version of this is. Okay, but I’m going to tell you about something that happens in my neighborhood that’s really magical. There is a woman in Boerum Hill who paints the rocks and bricks that are often by trees that have been planted in the sidewalk. You know, there’s often a couple of rocks or brick. She’ll paint them in these interesting, whimsical, you know, patterns. They kind of look maybe a little Eric Carle ish, and she leaves them in interesting places and children find them as they walk and they love them and they’re fascinated by them. It adds, you know, like a little just a little sue sort of magic to the streets of Brooklyn for particularly kids who love to hunt them and walk on them.

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Isaac Butler: You know, sometimes when I was having trouble getting my kid out of the house when she was younger, I’d say, let’s go on a hunt for painted rocks. And she gets super into it. I don’t even know the woman’s name. I mean, I know it’s a woman because I saw she posted on a forum at some point, but like, I don’t even know her name. You know, it’s a largely anonymous art practice, but she has figured out a way to make the world, you know, around her, in her neighborhood, just a little bit more colorful, interesting, whimsical and magical. And I think there’s maybe some that it’s hard with glass, right. But maybe there’s some way to strategically distribute your art in your community. They can do that.

Isaac Butler: Another one that I remember, there’s a guy named Ellis. Did you ever see any of Ellis’s drawings on the sidewalk? Who, after an assault, he was a graffiti artist. He was assaulted once. And then after that, he began this project of outlining in chalk the shadows left behind objects in the street when streetlights would shine on them. So, you know, you go to bed and you’d wake up the next morning and there’d be the ghostly outline of a bicycle or, you know, street lamp or whatever. And then it would be signed. Ellis And, you know, it’s just like little things like that that you can do to just make your local community feel more creative and interesting.

Speaker 1: Yeah, I’ve never seen Ellis work, but there’s something similar in my neighborhood where sometimes people will put mattresses out to be picked up that New York sanitation workers truly are not only New York’s strongest, but New York’s dealing with the craziest things just. But people do at least put them in plastic. And I think it’s a she often just draws basically the same kind of caricatures of humans on them. It’s both kind of opportunistic, but also pretty flying. And, you know, there’s a kind of communal version of the Stones and rocks thing that you were talking about in the village where I grew up, someone provides people, mostly old people. I think my mom did it for a while with rocks and paint, and then they hide them in public areas and make kind of a sport of the finding of them. And I agree that’s a very cool thing. I have another idea and we’ll get to it after the break.

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Isaac Butler: Hey listeners, it’s Isaac Butler again. Not going to take too much of your time, but just wanted to say we of course always want to hear from you about any questions, problems, issues you yourself are having either with your creativity or the show. You got a guest you want us to talk to, kind of guest. You want us to talk to you. A problem that you are having some way that you’re stumped in your own creativity. Shoot us a line at working at Slate.com or give us a call at 304933w0rk. All right. Back to the show.

Speaker 1: Okay. One other thought that may be a little naive, so I’m curious to hear your response depending on the kind of work you make. Not so much for journals or, you know, taxidermy or something, but definitely something attractive and cheery. I think reach out to places that serve people who are going through tough times. You know, federally qualified health clinics, in other words, low income health and dental clinics, shelters for the unhoused domestic violence refuges.

Speaker 1: They rarely have a budget for artwork, and the people they’re serving have just as much, if not more need of seeing beautiful things as everyone else reaching out to those places in your area and see if anyone’s interested, or probably more likely pay a nephew or a young person $15 an hour to call those places and offer them your beautiful art. And again, I realize that fuse glass might not be suitable for all premises, but it’s surely okay for many of them. What do you think, Isaac?

Isaac Butler: I think that’s a great idea, Todd. Finding a way to give little bits of joy to the world through your art. It’s incredibly rewarding. But the actual process of finding the places to do that with huge pain in the ass, outsource it to a family member, outsource it to a cousin, a nephew, the, you know, the kid who walks your dog, whatever. Let them do the pain and talk as part of it. And you you go and just spread your light and joy.

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Speaker 1: Okay. One thing I will add to all of the above, if you do end up giving pieces away or, God forbid, maybe following Isaac’s cockamamie advice and destroying them. Do keep a record of your work. Take photos, make notes of the techniques you used and how you felt about the piece, what you learned from making it. The more you de-emphasize what you do with the finished piece, the more you can focus on the making of it. So make those reps count when it comes to making even more beautiful art next time around.

Isaac Butler: And in fact, I’m going to go one further, Todd. We here at working would love to see photographs of your work. So if you have a couple of photos lying around or the kind of work you do, just email it to us at working at Slate.com. We’d love to see it.

Speaker 1: Okay. So I want to leave Todd’s situation just for a moment to talk about some general consequences of making things. It takes up space in our often cramped homes. We spend money on supplies. We use supplies that have an environmental cost, even if that’s just in sending them around the world. If we share our homes and finances with the people, all of those things affect them. Isaac Any tips for negotiating the allocation of space, time and money to creative hobbies?

Isaac Butler: Tips not exactly. Service? Definitely. I mean, it depends on where you live. You know, how big your house is or whatever. But at least in New York, everyone I know, their living space is just filled with the detritus of their hobbies, whether it’s hundreds of books on shelves, guitars hanging on the wall, a room with recording equipment tucked in your closet. You know, many aspects of the hobbyist life have gotten smaller and more portable thanks to computer and phones. But if you’re making an actual thing, an actual physical space, eventually you’re just going to run out of room. It’s a whole thing. My wife and I talk about this all the time. It’s a major component of our relationship and one of the things our relationship is always working through. There was a period where she inherited a lot of furniture that was important to her because it had been in the family for generations or whatever. And then meanwhile, there already wasn’t enough room in our apartment for the books that I had bought.

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Isaac Butler: And so like what goes into storage? What goes where? You know, it’s just something that if you live with another person, you just got to be open about the fact that it’s their space too. You got to be open to that idea. And part of loving another person is figuring out how to share space with them. It’s a constant back and forth, though, and probably will be for the rest of your life. So enjoy that.

Speaker 1: That’s very true.

Speaker 1: As you know, Isaac, I just moved to another country. By the time this episode airs, I think slash hope that our possessions will be on a boat making their way to us. But I have to say that for the most part, I haven’t missed anything, you know, maybe other than pairs of trousers, which I somehow forgot to hold on to. And I basically only have the falling apart pair of trousers that I was wearing on the day that the movers came. But, you know, that was easy to solve by ordering a couple more pairs from Uniqlo at the same time. I just could not embrace the minimalist lifestyle, so I’m sure I will be very, very happy to see all the stuff that I love so much that I paid for it to be shipped across an ocean when the truck pulls up and delivers it all.

Isaac Butler: You know, I like this idea. I have an idea now, though, for a twist on Marie Kondo, where you send your stuff on a boat and then we sink the boat and then you claim the insurance money, right?

Speaker 1: We have to be very careful. I just. I don’t want this to be used by an insurance company after the fact. I’m just very relieved that we pay the extremely high insurance. For our stuff on top of the extremely high cost of sending it. As we wrap up the show, the main thing I want to say to Todd is that whatever of these options you choose, or even if you decide that everything we’ve said is nonsense and you come up with your own different solution, which please do let us know. Don’t let the product get in the way of the process. If you enjoy making something, the storage or distribution of it should not spoil your creative fun. Keep on making, Todd. Keep on making.

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Isaac Butler: And yes. And please, once again, when you’ve made the thing, take a photo or two and send them to us working at Slate.com. We’d love to see your work.

Speaker 1: That’s all the time we have for this episode.

Speaker 1: But let me leave you with one last piece of advice. I think you should subscribe to working where ever you get your podcasts.

Isaac Butler: Not only that, if you’d like to support what we do, please sign up for Slate. Plus today at Slate.com, Slash working. Plus you’ll get bonus content, including exclusive episodes of Slow Burn and Big Move Little Mood, and you’ll be supporting what we do right here on working.

Speaker 1: Big thanks to Kevin Bendis and to our series producer Cameron Drews. We’ll be back on Sunday with a brand new episode of Working and in two weeks we’ll have another working overtime. Until then.

Speaker 4: Get back to work.