The reasons we collect so much.
As with any process of simplifying we do need to look at the root of the problem which is our mindset about the stuff we buy, own and keep. We have an uncanny knack for hoarding our materials and supplies in quantities that go beyond our needs. Perhaps the thought is that we don’t want to be without something. Perhaps the thinking attached to the items is that we really want to have a variety of colors and sizes. Perhaps the quantities that materials are sold is too much too. I think it is a combination of all of these things. Add to that our culture of consumption, our challenge of passing up a good deal and for me the discovery of a new material that I just "have" to try and tie a fly with.
Being honest with ourselves.
Downsizing requires us to take a moment to understand and evaluate the importance of each item to us and have a moment of honest questioning about why we are holding on to certain materials. Sometimes the reasons are logical and other times they are illogical. We all have probably collected more than we will ever use. I know for a while I was collecting materials out of curiosity. At other times I did because of my desire to learn to use and tie different materials like elk and deer hair etc. Finally, I wanted to have a huge palette of materials for my fly tying creativity. If we want to be more creative and tie better flies though we really have to reduce our options. Much creativity comes from adaptation and not from having a large selection of options.
Some of the reasons we collect.
I don’t know where fly tying materials fall on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but let’s look closer at the big picture of why we buy materials in the first place.
1. We have got to start somewhere. Yes, this is true. We have to have some of the basics when we start. Those basics usually include a vise, a bobbin, hackle pliers, scissors, some thread, hooks, tying materials and feathers.
Somehow we end up also deciding we need to add a second bobbin, or a whip finisher. That is fine. We just don't ever seem to know when enough is good enough.
2. Emotional Collecting You may have seen some of these reality "Hoarding" shows on television. The people on those shows have some pretty serious psychosis going on. We all have it to a small degree. It is hardwired into us as humans to gather supplies for our security and survival. We should be mindful of our purchases and decide if the thing we are buying is for actual use or if we are buying it for emotional reasons.
3. A habit of Spending. How often do you go into your local fly shop or on line to look at materials and end up buying materials? Are you buying out of need or habit? The issue is that we don't establish limits to our needs. We can slowly build our supplies through one purchase here and one purchase there. We fail to appreciate what we already have and fool ourselves into believing that getting that new rooster hackle in purple is good idea. Watch your own habits. Decide if they are serving you or bogging you down with more stuff you will only use a little of once.
4. The great deal. Who doesn't love a great deal on materials? (or anything for that matter?) When we see a great deal we have to do everything in our power not to purchase or we will "lose out". We should maybe decide if we are sold on the great deal or if we really need the item. If we do find a great deal and we do need the item maybe we should consider if we know someone who could also use the materials. Take advantage of the deal but also don't feel you need to go for quantity. Share what you don't need or even split the deal with someone.
5. Bragging rights. Do you ever socially brag about your quantities or variety of materials to others? Do you feel a certain amount of status or see yourself at a level of expertise in owning so many materials? We fool ourselves sometimes with these small insecurities. We want others to see us as equals or even experts. This status cannot be obtained by quantity but rather should be measured by quality.
6. Experimental materials. I am guilty of this more than any other reason. I love visiting the fabric stores, garden centers, craft stores and bead shops. I find stuff in the park and in my wife's sewing supplies. I don't even have to spend money. I've caught myself looking at a carpet end thread thinking about how it will look on a fly. There is nothing wrong with this kind of experimentation to a point. I know I have gone too far though when I start looking for more loose carpet threads to pull.
What happens when we let go?
Removing the excess in our lives actually frees us up. Having smaller quantities makes things more manageable. Having fewer choices also helps us to focus and appreciate quality over quantity. I work now to tie great looking flies. I watch and learn how the materials adhere to each other; connect together and actually work together to create a thing that fish will find interesting enough to bite.
I have discovered an appreciation for the materials I do have. I am less overwhelmed by the choices and feel less regret over materials sitting around collecting dust. I can still explore new ideas and new materials when I want to. I do it now with smaller quantities when I can.
I like having a bench and tying area that is easy to clean up, maintain and that I can pack up easily and take with me when I travel. Finally, having a clutter free space to work and limited supplies helps me to sit down to tie more often. When I tie with limited choices for materials I am forced to look at the different techniques and approaches to tying a fly pattern. My tying style becomes focused, intentional and very much an art.
So how much should we downsize?
Simple answer... “Downsize as much as you feel comfortable.” You have to find that happy zone for yourself. Downsizing takes place over months or sometimes even years. It is a practice in an of itself. I’ve been doing it for years not only with my fly tying materials but with the rest of my possessions as well. It feels good to get rid of excess and it can make others happy too when you pass on your excess stuff to them. I’ve already given away two old vises and lots of feathers and dubbing. Start with smaller containers to restrict the quantities you feel comfortable keeping. I use mint tins from Trader Joe's for a lot of my materials.
Dennis Vander Houwen lives in Colorado with his patient and supportive wife, talented artist son, a cuddly dog, and a very lucky cat. Dennis is an avid minimalist, wood craftsman, curious tinkerer and learner and most notably a deeply focused tenkara angler.