Making Things Can Save Your Life

Stress, lack of sleep, longer work hours, more demands from more parts of your life, tons of time in front of a computer. So many things to do and so little time. I’m one of those people suffering / dealing with all of these and I’m guessing you’re one, too. What do you do to deal with it? A lot of us try exercise, which is incredibly important.

These two have become good friends of mine and they were the happiest sewers I've ever seen!

These two have become good friends of mine and they were the happiest sewers I've ever seen!

Another thing you can do is to reconnect with the things that humans used to do much more often, just a few short decades ago. Make art and craft projects. Together, in person with other humans. It may sound silly, but making things by hand can have special mental and physical health benefits. It can keep your brain sharp and sharpen it. It teaches you mindfulness, focus, patience. When you craft something new, you use a whole different skill set than in your daily routine. Your brain gets exercise from focusing in a different way, solving problems (how do I execute this project, step by step), and feeling tangible results (often hard to achieve in many of our lines of work). You even develop and practice your fine motor skills (they’re not just for little kids).

And socializing with people can be so refreshing and energizing. How often do you connect with your friends more by phone and social media than in person? Before moving to Cleveland, I admit that most of my in-person interactions were at work and only rarely did I see friends outside of work hours. That was because I either spent all waking hours at work, or later because I lived on a farm and was physically isolated from most people. It never occurred to me that it was odd until I started spending more time with people and gained a new appreciation for the joy of just sharing space with people who share some of your interests (not that random dude sitting at the bar looking at you weird - no one needs that sharing).

So, back to making. One of the great perks of making things is the tangible results. When you’re done, you can show and tell about it. You have something cool to show that people can understand, touch, and recognize that you did it. They can be impressed and really boost your ego with their response (we all need some positive feedback about how wonderful we are sometimes). Not the same as when you say I work in accounting, or HR, or insert so many other jobs and say “I worked on some reports and filed some papers, and made some phone calls today.”

And it opens your mind in ways you probably don’t expect. I ask a lot of our students why they are taking our classes, what they hope to get out of it and how they feel after the class. The responses are pretty consistent. Usually they sign up for a class because they’re looking for a new experience or to learn a specific skill they’re curious about. They hope to learn the skill, have fun, and just try something new and different from what they’ve done before. A common comment after a class is, “I can’t believe I made this.” It sounds cheesy, but it’s a very natural reaction when you first figure out how to make something that seemed so mysterious before. They have a newfound appreciation for how things are made in this world. Conversation starts to turn to pondering pricing, sourcing, how things in stores are made and why prices vary so drastically for what seems like the same items.

Wallet Makers.JPG

That’s when I know the class was a success. Students feel great about their accomplishment, they’re empowered to make more and think more, and they have opened their eyes to new things they might not have ever considered without learning how to make their project. They quickly start thinking about cost and quality of different types of materials, the cut, the construction, quality of stitching, the earth-friendliness of production, and the human-friendliness of production. Making something has improved their personal well-being and improved their appreciation for the world and people around them. Sure, everything is not all perfect and peachy-keen, but it’s one step to something better, one student and one project at a time.

And for the people who keep coming back for more, that make something new continually, I asked a few of them why they keep making things.  Everyone said because it’s fun and relaxing. Some of the other responses follow. It’s nice to have space to think, to be free to explore and try new ideas. It’s better than sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen. It just feels good to produce something tangible and it’s exciting to show people what I made. A sense of personal validation through tangible creation. When I make it myself, I know the level of quality (or lack of quality) and that it will last longer. I like being able to make it exactly how I envision it.

For me, it’s the challenge of creating something worth showing someone, worth teaching someone. And it’s therapeutic. I joke that my yarn habit (and before that my fabric habit) is cheaper than therapy.  Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but the focus needed to work on a handmade project is often all I need to set my mind right again after a rough day. And a glass of wine or a tasty seasonal craft brew.

So, when was the last time you set aside a few hours of your schedule to try something new and different just for you? Sometimes a spa day or dinner date just isn’t what you really need at the moment to give you the relaxation and satisfaction you seek. Instead you might actually find more therapeutic results from trying a craft or art that is out of your comfort zone. It can be easier, more fun, and less painful than you think. And the self-worth and sense of accomplishment that comes from tackling something creative that seems challenging to you is so good for your brain and emotional state.

So, try making something, get some exercise, and get to sleep!

In my happy place. Don't talk to me, I'm counting.

In my happy place. Don't talk to me, I'm counting.