clutter

Clutter is a demotivating energy sapper. Every couple of months, when my desk gets stacked high with papers, gadgets, and periodicals, and my office floor has accumulated piles of books and packages, I conduct an area sweep collecting the things I don’t have an obvious need for. Mostly I throw them in the trash or donate them.

But I don’t get rid of everything. Some of the things I come across seem to plead for a second chance at being useful: “Save me! One day you’ll be glad you did.” These go into a plastic bin I keep in my storage shed.

What kind of things do I put in my spare parts bin? Anything that seems like it might come in handy one day: toys with electric motors, little speakers, switches, Altoids tins, those plastic bubbles used in vending machines to hold little trinkets, broken flashlights, and extra parts from previous projects. The box is a cluttered mess, but it’s a contained clutter, and it’s actually inspirational. When I poke around in it I dream of possibilities.

These components have come in handy on several occasions. When I made the Vibrobot (see MAKE, Volume 10, page 119) I had all the materials I needed on hand. If the project had required a trip to the hardware or electronics store, I might have never completed it.

Same for the Boing Box (this volume, page 116), a sound effects prop from the 1951 book Radio and Television Sound Effects by Robert B. Turnbull. Because I already had everything I needed, from a wooden cigar box to a spool of galvanized wire, I was able to whip it together in under an hour, and was happily plucking boinging sounds for the remainder of the afternoon.

In both instances I had to modify the project because the stuff in the parts bin didn’t quite match the idea I had in my mind, or the plans as printed, but I believe the things I made were better, not worse, because of it.

It’s been only a matter of months since I started appreciating the benefits of keeping a bin of spare parts, but master makers have long known how essential it is to the creative process. When I visit their workshops, I’ve noticed their stockpiles of stuff with no immediately apparent purpose: parts, scraps, and retired gadgets just waiting for the day when their owner comes up with the idea that calls them into service.

As you look through the projects in this issue of MAKE, think about how you might be able to build them using the stuff you already have lying around. After all, that’s how MAKE’s authors create a lot of their projects. They use the materials they have at hand.

By improvising, you’ll not only avoid a trip to the hardware store, you’ll end up making something more personal and possibly better than if you had followed the instructions to the letter.

Take a photo of your parts bin, and/or your final creation, and post a link to it on our comments board at makezine.com/12/welcome. And feel free to add your photos to the MAKE Flickr pool.