Did you know that consumption used to be a disease? Yup…that’s right…tuberculosis (called consumption because it literally consumed people from within). Think turn-of-the-century books, like Anne of Green Gables…it was one of the “romantic” endings for minor characters, and a source of great drama in love stories. Today, consumption has yet again been labelled as a problem, but for reasons that are more social than physical. I’ve just been reading a book by the author of “Affluenza,” all about how our consumer lifestyle isn’t so great for our mental/spiritual wellbeing (I didn’t love the tone or writing style of the book, but it makes some very valid points). I’m not a spiritual person, but I do believe that using consumption as a measure of personal value is more than just silly; it’s downright unhealthy. I am not a fan of “things,” probably because I’ve never had a large living space, and adorable knick knacks quickly turn into clutter that doesn’t have a place to be. (This may not be the only reason, as my sister and I have had very similar living experiences throughout our lives, and she’s a packrat…) I just don’t like to possess things that I don’t need or won’t use, and it bothers me to have stuff just hanging around.

Why does this belong on a knitting blog? Well, because I count stash as stuff hanging around. I love knitting, and I love yarn. There are some absolutely gorgeous fibers out there that I would love to have. But I don’t want to just have them; in order to enjoy them, I would also have to use them. A beautiful yarn for a perfect project makes me happy while it’s on my needles. I like to make pretty and useful things. But, if I let too many things build up “on hold” or in the stash without a purpose or not in active use, they begin to weigh on me. Then I begin to feel pressure to rush in order to get to the things that are waiting to be dealt with, and I can’t enjoy the process as much. Life is so hectic, and it seems we’re always playing catch-up. Do we really need to make that part of our knitting, too?

I posted a while ago that I am at something of a crossroads in life at the moment. For now, it seems best to stay the course come what may, but the possibility that change would be better has led me to do a lot of introspection lately. I used to spend a lot of introspective time; I wrote copiously and filled many, many journals during my undergraduate years. But graduate study doesn’t leave time for thinking deeply about anything but the thesis, and I’m afraid my relationship with myself has weakened in recent years as a result. The past few weeks, then, have in some ways been a welcome reason to become re-acquainted with my own inner workings, even though stress is the main cause for my actually taking the time to stop and think about things.

One theme that I find myself dwelling on is the question of what it is that I seek to accomplish in my knitting. I have found myself feeling like I am “behind” in my projects, or that I need to “catch up” on my blogging, and I’m not sure I like this change. Knitting is a process, and it’s something that I do to stop and slow down, to be productive and creative rather than costantly rushing for the finish line as I am required to do in the rest of my life. And yet, in some ways I have left that slowness behind since I started reading and writing blogs. As we all know, everything moves super fast in the world of technology, and it seems to me that our precious, timeless hobby is getting caught up inadvertently in the rush. It’s so easy to look at others’ progress and wonder why our own work isn’t moving along faster. It’s hard not to be tempted to go to every retreat and knitting conference out there (or to feel left out if you don’t or can’t). It seems like everyone that has a blog also has an online store of some kind, and it’s hard not to buy, buy, buy, because the fiber is beautiful and you want to support the people in your community. When everyone is working on one particular pattern and you seen one gorgeous version after another flash by in cyberspace, it’s hard not to put your own designs on hold and jump on board.

I really love the community of knitters out here on the web, and I’m glad to be a part of it. It’s especially nice to have people that can understand (and share!) my obsession with fibery things, as I don’t have a knitting group or any knitting friends in the area. There are many, many things that I value about the blogosphere, and I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all bad. But there are some less positive things that I have noticed about my own habits since I joined this cyber-family, and I doubt that I’m alone. (I’ve seen a few similar posts out there lately, the most notable being by Lainie of Red Thread Studio)

One new development is that I tend to work on my own designs less and am more inclined to spend time working on projects from patterns. This isn’t all bad. I have really enjoyed the patterns that I’ve been using, and I learn something new from each piece. But the title of this blog is “knitting freestyle” for a reason. I like working without a pattern, and it’s very important to me that I not squelch my own creativity in favor of someone else’s. It’s so easy to just follow a pattern rather than think one up, but isn’t knitting really about making something original?

Another thing is that I am coming very, very close to crumbling on the stash rules. There is so much great yarn out there, with so much potential. But there are only so many hours in the day, too. If I’m not knitting faster than I’m buying, then I am just accumulating. Is it just me, or is there something deeply sad about yarn sitting in a closet for years waiting to realize its potential?

I also have a horrible temptation to sign up for every knitting retreat and fiber festival out there, regardless of cost or location. It would be so nice to meet people face-to-face that I have come to know online. And yet, people are losing their homes because they don’t have enough money to pay the mortgage, while I’m sitting here contemplating running off to a knitting retreat halfway across the country for a weekend that will cost more than half a months’ rent. This is simply nuts. Sure, I guess I can afford it, and I really want to support the people I know that run these events, but is this the best use of my money? What about the energy cost of travel? Is a weekend of knitting worth contributing to global warming? How do you strike a balance between making new friendships and fostering community and living a financially and ecologically responsible life?

I know, you came here looking for a quick, fun post and some pictures, and here I am getting all serious on you. I have a tendency to be a kill-joy sometimes. I also have a tendency to go on…and on…and on once I get on my soapbox. Sorry!

I really don’t mean to say that patterns, stashes, and retreats don’t have value. But I don’t think that these things are the core of what makes this a good hobby, or even the things that necessarily build a good community. People build a community. Buying patterns and yarn and attending conferences may be ways that we help to support one another, but I really don’t think that they should be the focus of our interactions. I am here because there are people (you!) out there that are doing great things that I want to get to know, not because I want to find the best deal or get the latest hand-dyed fiber. I don’t want to get caught up in all the consumption and lose sight of the bigger reasons that we’re all here, surfing the net, talking about our knitting lives. I’m not sure exactly what all of this means for my blog, my projects, or my life at the moment, but I do know that I have no intention of letting affluenza (or consumption of any kind) gallop away with me, and I hope that you’ll make sure you’re not carried off by it, either!