I am hereby declaring the Monday after New Year’s Day to be PROJECT JUBILEE. A jubilee is a festival, but traditionally it referred to emancipation, forgiveness of debt, and pardoning of sin. We’re going to take this day and clear the decks of old projects. You are now free, officially FREE, from obligations that Past Self tried to assign to you.
There are real obligations that should be upheld. We are obligated to respect other people’s boundaries, follow the law, care for our bodies and our personal surroundings, return books we’ve borrowed, and accept the consequences of our action and inaction. Universal laws apply to us. That being said, we tend to feel a lot of guilt, shame, defensiveness, and stuckness about our unfulfilled commitments, most of which are figments of our imagination.
You never have to finish a book that bores you.
You never have to “catch up” on reading old magazines.
You never have to test every recipe you save.
You never have to finish every craft project you start.
You never have to repair anything you aren’t using.
You never have to use all the materials you chose.
You never have to make anything just because you chose the pattern.
You can rip out yarn and use it for a different project, or give it away.
You can THROW AWAY incomplete cross stitch projects – the materials are only a couple of dollars.
You never have to make a quilt, crochet an afghan, or knit a sweater if you don’t want to.
You don’t have to finish projects you chose for yourself. You also don’t have to do projects you promised you would make for anyone else, especially if they were planned as gifts. Nobody wants a gift that felt like a depressing burden to create. Nobody wants to feel tainted by the funk of procrastination. Nobody wants to be emotionally linked to guilty or pressured feelings. Do a favor for everyone involved, release yourself from the project, and just get together and do something fun with that person. You can explain the concept of the Project Jubilee. Or, of course you can skip that, because your chosen person may never have known that you obligated yourself to that project. Let it go. Maintain the relationship, talk, laugh, spend time together, and let the mythical handmade gift fade back into the ether.
A couple of people have promised to make things for me that never materialized. I don’t mind. It’s true that I’d feel better off if I never heard about these plans. Then I’d never be the wiser. I’d never know what I was missing. If one of these kind folks did make something for me, while working in secret, I’d be elated! It would be a massive surprise. Promising a project in advance eliminates that potential for surprise. It also expands the risk of disappointment.
Past Self had a lot of fantasies about Present Self. Past Self thought we’d like things we never really did wind up liking. Past Self was terrible at estimating how long things would take and how we would prefer to spend our time. Past Self always thought we would be more interested in anything boring, messy, or difficult. Past Self loved to dump the debt, cleanup, and healthier behaviors on us. We can forgive Past Self, move past it, and try to be kinder to Future Self.
The illustration for this post – take a look at it. Cute, isn’t it? I inherited it from my Nana. In the same closet was about 80% of a child’s sweater in peach yarn. I was the only granddaughter, and I’m pretty sure that sweater was meant for Past Jessica 1979. Judging by the pattern on this tea towel (and its cultural insensitivity), it’s significantly older than that. Perhaps having five children and eight grandchildren had something to do with the small stash of unfinished projects. I don’t judge. If the tea towel had been finished and used, it would surely have been worn to a rag and thrown away by now. If the sweater had been finished, I would have worn it and outgrown it within a year. Finding those projects made me feel a strong family connection; what I really inherited was the desire to start making more things than I could finish. Or wanted to.
How do we evaluate our incomplete projects? I once finished a knitted toy for a child who wasn’t even born until I’d already been stuck in the pattern for a few years. The child for whom it was originally intended had long outgrown it. I didn’t realize it would take weeks of work. I also knitted about half a sweater for myself before losing 25 pounds. That one I ripped. We can pause and ask:
Would I have chosen to start this project from scratch today?
Do I feel excited about working on it RIGHT NOW?
Can I finish it by the end of the month?
What is my track record of finishing projects?
Would I be better off if I shifted my focus toward something else, like my finances, my health, or my living situation?
I changed my relationship toward unfinished projects. I looked around and realized that my crafting was taking over my living space. I decided to quit starting new projects or buying new supplies, materials, books, or patterns until I was done with everything I had begun.
It took 10 years.
I wound up giving away all my knitting and crochet stuff. I gave away some cross stitch kits, still in the package. I let go of the fantasy that I would ever make the time to learn to weave or make lace. Instead, I reached my goal weight, ran a marathon, wrote some books, and learned to play the ukulele.
I could get up and acquire everything I need to start a new project, today, because I still have all the skills. What I’ve done is to let go of the clutter, the guilt, the looming deadlines, and the shopping trips. I’ve gained peace of mind, extra closet space, and room in my life for fresh possibilities. I declared my own Project Jubilee, and now I pass it on to you. How does freedom taste?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.