Kathi chats with her friend and co-author for Overwhelmed and You Don’t Have to Try So Hard, Cheri Gregory. Today they venture into the office where the hidden shrines reside and keep us from progressing in our work.
Today you will learn:
- About the items we keep that become the shrines that define us.
- How to overcome the shame that traps those items in our office.
- How to release the fear of letting go and claim the woman you are today.
Are you longing for a place of peace from which you can love others well? The Clutter-Free Home: Making Room for Your Life is your room-by-room guide to decluttering, reclaiming, and celebrating every space of your home.
In The Clutter-Free Home, you’ll walk through each room of your house to create organizational zones that are not only functional and practical but create places of peace that reflect your personality. Kathi will help you tackle the four-step process to reveal the home you’ve always dreamed of, and then transform it into a haven that reflects who you truly are meant to be.
Order your copy of The Clutter-Free Home on Amazon today.
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Meet Our Guest
Cheri Gregory is a teacher, speaker, author, and Certified Personality Trainer. Her passion is helping women break free from destructive expectations. She writes and speaks from the conviction that “how to” works best in partnership with “heart, too.” Cheri is the co-author, with Kathi Lipp, of You Don’t Have to Try So Hard and Overwhelmed. Cheri has been “wife of my youth” to Daniel, her opposite personality, for twenty-eight years, and is “Mom” to Annemarie (25) and Jonathon (23), also opposite personalities. Cheri blogs about perfectionism, people-pleasing, highly sensitive people, and hope at www.cherigregory.com.
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Clutter Free Academy Podcast #399
Gutting Your Office
Kathi – Well, hey friends. Welcome to Clutter Free Academy, where our goal is to help you take small, doable steps to live every day with less clutter and more life. I am excited today, because we’re going to talk about something I normally don’t recommend, but there are certain circumstances, where people need to be given a pass. One of those people who got a pass is Cheri Gregory, my co-author for Overwhelmed, I was going to say Cure for the Perfect Life, which it was, but now it’s You Don’t Have to Try So Hard. My future coauthor for our Overwhelmed devotional, Cheri, welcome back to Clutter Free Academy.
Cheri – Thank you so much for having me.
Kathi – My original partner in crime when it came to all things business, writing, everything like that. You have been used as an example many times in Clutter Free.
Cheri – Example of what not to do.
Kathi – No! I would love for you to tell our listeners a little bit about your clutter free journey. Even though you don’t come on here and talk about Clutter Free. Tonya is my main clutter person and all that, but you’ve had your own clutter free journey.
Cheri – Yeah. It’s so interesting, because I was raised by a perfectionistic mother, for whom everything looked perfect on the outside. If you walked into the house, it was pristine. The perfect table setting. Even at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we had little name cards to tell us where to sit. It was that formal. But, especially after she died a few years ago, and we started going through the house, everything behind closed doors was a disaster.
Kathi – I didn’t know that!
Cheri – Oh, yay! I don’t know if you have a name for this, but she was a hoarder.
Kathi – It’s Closet Clutterer.
Cheri – She was a closet clutterer, but the clothing situation was totally out of control.
Kathi – I did know about the clothing situation. Still tags on a lot of stuff.
Cheri – Oh my, goodness. More than you can possibly imagine. More than any human could have worn in lifetimes, but that’s not today’s topic.
Kathi – It is interesting. It really does go to prove that when we go into somebody else’s house, and we think it’s perfect. Here’s the thing: I’m the clutter free person, but there are a couple of closets right now. The thing is, those are working closets and I know why they look the way they do. I feel like every time, somebody’s going to come here and find out about my closet of shame. It’s a working closet. Closets aren’t meant to be beautiful, but it’s good to know that almost everybody, unless they are really, really clutter free (or obsessive compulsive), clutter is an issue for everybody.
Cheri – Well, and I wanted to be so different from my mother, and one of the ways that I told myself I would be different from her, was, “Okay, she’s super neat. I’ll just be super sloppy.” That’s easy!
Kathi – Can we just say ‘relaxed’? ‘Cause relaxed is such a nicer word than ‘sloppy’.
Cheri – It’s a nicer word, but I actually decided I’d be sloppy.
Kathi – Did you really?
Cheri – Oh, yeah. That guaranteed it to me. She was so neat and miserable, I thought that if I was sloppy, I’d be happy, but it turns out, it doesn’t work that way.
Kathi – It doesn’t work that way.
Cheri – Just because I was not just ‘not neat’, I was actually sloppy, it also didn’t mean I got what I wanted out of life. It also didn’t mean I wasn’t like her. I was just as compulsive, just in other areas. I was just as trapped. It wasn’t freedom to just be the opposite of her.
Kathi – Extremes are always a sign of bondage.
Cheri – Have you said that before?
Kathi – I have not said that before.
Cheri – Say it again.
Kathi – Extremes are almost always a sign of bondage.
Cheri – Oh my, word.
Kathi – Because we are trying to get away from an ideal. Cheri always picks up on the things I say.
Cheri – I’m over hear hyperventilating. Do you have to have so much truth so early in the episode?
Kathi – I know how it is for me.
Cheri – It’s so true.
Kathi – It’s the same for food, clutter. When I’m becoming obsessive about labeling every little thing in a drawer, I’m like, “Okay, Kathi, what’s really going on here?” So, to understand that. Or, when something is completely out of control? Those extremes in our lives, we have to pay attention to.
Cheri – So, my office had got extremely unusable.
Kathi – That’s what we’re talking about today. As anybody who has read my books, or listened to my podcast, or been in Clutter Free Academy, you know I am the 15+5 girl. Fifteen minutes of decluttering. Five minutes to take care of it. I believe in doing that every single day. I do believe, in rare instances…. Okay, here’s my huge caveat. I think most people think when they declutter, it’s time to rent the U-Haul, take days off of work, do it all over, go to Pottery Barn, buy all the new furniture, you need a total room makeover in order to be able to function in it. I believe that is a lie, straight from the pit of Hell. However, there are times that our lives get so out of control, or we’ve gone through something, maybe a death, maybe a huge project, maybe a divorce. I don’t know what it is, but there are times when we just need to gut it. I’ll be honest, Tonya leans more towards the ‘gut it’, than I do. She’s someone who rents a dumpster on a regular basis. Her community makes it very easy for her to do that. That is not my situation at all. We pay dearly for everything we throw away. So, you gutted an area of your house. So, explain where it was and why it was.
Cheri – Well, it didn’t start as a gutting. I have a project that I’m supposed to be working on that I’ve not been working on. It’s a book. I had boxes of notes and articles and ideas. You know, the little scraps of paper, the napkins, that kind of stuff. I was like, “I’ve got to go through those in order to start making more progress on this book I’m working on.” Which may or may not have been true, but I believed it at the time. I think there was a lot of truth to it. There’s always the question of, “Am I playing office, or am I actually making a difference that I need?”
Kathi – I’ve never heard this term, Playing Office before, but I identify so deeply with that. When I am creating containers for my Post It notes? That’s when you know I’m playing office.
Cheri – When I’m color coordinating my Post It notes in order, because I can’t work until they look like a rainbow? I’m playing office.
Kathi – And then you have to buy the colors that you’re missing?
Cheri – Let’s go to Staples! Oh, wait. Back on topic.
Kathi – Praise God my closest office store is an hour away.
Cheri – So, I started going through them. I’m not visual. That means, I don’t see how bad things have got until something shakes me up. So, I’m going through these boxes, and I look around me, and I realize that I had not done anything but throw things into my office for probably two or three years. Actually, probably, now that you mentioned death, it probably goes back to when my mom died.
Kathi – Right. Which was what year?
Cheri – Four years ago, now. So, I still had all the leftovers from writing Overwhelmed together. I had all the leftovers from writing Exhale with Amy. I had all the leftovers from writing Sensitive and Strong with Denise. I had legitimate leftover things, where I was like, “Oh! These could be blog posts.” Then there were things that didn’t go in those books that might be used for future books. You don’t want to throw all those good things out. Then I had binders from speaking engagements. I had a lot of things that were finished, but I hadn’t completed them. So all of those were waiting for me to just bring them to an end. When I looked around, I had literally set up multiple tables, because I’m a piler, not a filer. If I put something in a drawer, or a file folder, it doesn’t exist anymore, so I have to have things out in the open. I’m also a spreader outer. I have to see them for me to know they’re there. I literally had no free surfaces I could work on. I would have to move them off of one table in order to have a small amount of free space to work. Then, and this is the weird thing I discovered, I realized one of the reasons I wasn’t working in my office, and I didn’t see it as work space, is I have this five foot table. It’s plenty of workspace for me, but it’s one of these pop up tables from Staples. It has a textured surface to it, so if I’m using pencil and paper, or pen and paper, my writing goes all wiggly squiggly and it feels weird. We all know, you want a pen that feels good when you’re working with it. I was like, “Oh! I didn’t even know that was an obstacle to me.”
Kathi – For some of us, we can say, “Oh, well, I can’t write my book because the table goes wiggly squiggly.” But that’s not it. That’s not what was going on for you. It was saying, “I don’t know why I don’t want to work in here.” And you start to discover. You know, it’s interesting. You talk about piles of research and things like that. Why not just throw them all out?
Cheri – Gasp! Where’s a paper bag?
Kathi – Right. So, why wouldn’t you just throw those all away?
Cheri – Well, let’s see if I can do this from memory. The big three from Clutter Free. Fear, guilt and shame. So, fear is…remind me?
Kathi – What if I need it some day?
Cheri – What if I need it some day?
Kathi – I was going to say, that’s probably the one that trips you up the most.
Cheri – That’s the biggest one. You know, on the strengths finder, my number one strength is input. So, I love gathering information. I love gathering stuff. This is why I did do the deep gutting this time. I don’t think I’ll have to do it again, because at this stage of my life, I realize I really don’t need it. I really won’t use it again, but these are things I’ve been accumulating for four, five, six years, thinking I would use them. When I was putting them in the bins, which is the easy thing to do. Should I keep it or not? It’s decision fatigue, right? So rather than throw it, I kept it, because that was the easier thing that I thought meant no regret. It was no regret in the moment, but when I was facing an office full of things that hadn’t been thrown away? I wasn’t kind to my future self when I did that.
Kathi – It’s so interesting. We’re here at Writing at The Red House. We’re at a writer’s retreat that Cheri’s teaching, and Michele Cushatt was teaching at. It was so interesting, we were having a discussion. Michele was talking about how she has her office set up. She has her dictionary right here, and her thesaurus right here. I started to have shame. I don’t keep a dictionary on my desk. I don’t keep a thesaurus on my desk. Ergo, I must not be a real writer. I must run out and get a dictionary and thesaurus. Then I realized, “Kathi, you have and use a dictionary and thesaurus. They’re on your computer.”
Cheri – You also have one of the most advanced vocabularies of anybody I know.
Kathi – You’re very, very sweet.
Cheri – It’s true.
Kathi – So, we keep these things around. If I was a real crafter, I would have this. If I was a real writer, I would have this. If I’m a good mom, I would have this. So we keep little shrines around to our better selves.
Cheri – Shrines! That’s what my entire office was. It was a shrine to the conferences I had attended. It was a shrine to the memorabilia from this era of my life, and surely some of it would it into a book. Really, listening to you, my belief was, “I have to keep this.” But I didn’t question why? When I finally had enough of it, I think this is one of the possible benefits of a deep gutting like this. What happened was, I started going through those bins, thinking I was just going to go through a few piles, and I got sick and tired of it all so fast. I was like, “This is dumb. I can’t.” Part of it was realizing, these are notes and research from several years ago. I’m not that woman anymore. I can either try to go back, try to remember why I took those notes, try to become the person I used to be, but really, I have enough time to go back or move forward. I can’t do both. So, the reason it became a wholesale gutting, I realized, “I have to move forward. I have to get rid of all of this.” It’s all got to go. I will never have time to go through it.
Kathi – Okay, so what did you do about the guilt, though? The guilt that says, “I spent so much money on this book, (these supplies, those conferences, the tape series or cd series, or whatever it is). I spent so much money on it, I need to keep it forever.”?
Cheri –I think the antidote for that kind of guilt is gratitude. Gratitude for what I learned. Gratitude for what I did get from it. If you go to a conference, the binder’s a shrine, right? How many times have I opened those binders? Probably never. But I’ve always said this with my mouth, “If I got one good idea. If I got one insight.” I’ve always said this as a teacher. I’ve said this as I’ve gone to writer’s conferences, when I would go to parenting conferences, sermons. One useable idea is worth the cost of admission. So, the gratitude that says, “Okay. I was there. It changed me in some way.” And part of that is trust. Trust that God used that and I don’t have to remember what it was. I don’t have to know what it was. I just have to trust and be grateful that the Holy Spirit is at work in my life.
Kathi – When we have shrines, we put our trust in the shrine instead of God.
Cheri – I don’t want you to say that again. No. Go ahead.
Kathi – That’s who I am. I’m putting my trust in, “I went to this conference, so now I can call myself a real writer.” instead of understanding “No, God has called me to be a writer.”
Cheri – So if you had a dictionary and a thesaurus, it would be a shrine.
Kathi – It would be a shrine. It would be. I would be looking for external validation that I am what I want to be. Okay, so, this whole shrines thing is opening up big things for me, guys. This may be a book. I don’t even know. My brain is going.
Cheri – And we were in the room where it happened.
Kathi – Wow. Okay, so let’s talk about shame. Guilt is usually ‘so and so gave it to me’. “I’m a bad daughter if I give that mug that my mom gave me, away.” “I am a bad writer if I don’t read every book that somebody sends to me.”
Cheri – I’m a terrible friend if I don’t keep every book that Kathi Lipp has written on my bookshelves. Or, are we going there?
Kathi – By the way, guys. If I ever give you a book, or sell you a book, I always say, “No book report required.” I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me.
Cheri – I’m joking. I have all your books. If I give them away, it’s as a gift.
Kathi – I have all your books, too. It’s good. How do you deal with that guilt and shame of “If I don’t keep this, I don’t value the relationship.”?
Cheri – These days, I think the fact that we can digitize things is really helpful. As I was gutting my office, I found some beautiful things. I found a letter. The first thing I ever had published was a story I wrote about a horse. It was published in a little local newspaper. One of my dad’s friends, who was an executive at the local medical center, he hand wrote me this beautiful letter on University Medical Center stationery. He said that God gifts to sensitive, perceptive people. He used the word sensitive.
Kathi – Oh my, goodness!
Cheri – He said he was putting it in his Soli Deo Gloria file. To God Be the Glory file. He wrote me this when I was thirteen.
Kathi – Chills.
Cheri – I took a picture of it, and if people want to write you and tell me I’m horrible, they can, but I then recycled it. I don’t need the piece of paper to know that it happened and to receive it. I’m going to remember those words for the rest of my life. In the past, I would have been, “Oh no! I’m a horrible person.” But I found a whole stack of these kinds of things. It’s like, “No. I don’t need to keep the thing to be grateful or to have the relationship.” Now, if there are people in our lives who, when they visit us, they expect to see the thing on display like in Gilmore Girls? That’s what councilors are for.
Kathi – I think about that. It’s serving a shrine, again. It really is. When we put food at a shrine.
Cheri – It wasn’t a gift in that case.
Kathi – It’s an obligation.
Cheri – Yep.
Kathi – Yeah, so, if you receive something and it turns from gift into obligation, you need to reexamine that, and you probably need to have an honest conversation, at some point, with that person. Unless they’re your parent. Then, just drag it out, ‘cause that’s what you have to do. Okay, so I want to come back next week and talk about the nitty gritty. How you actually go rid of the stuff.
Cheri – We can go there.
Kathi – Okay friends. This has been great. Cheri, thank you so much. You’ve been listening to Clutter Free Academy. I’m Kathi Lipp. Now, go create the clutter free life you were always intended to live.
*see show notes in podcast post above for any mentioned items