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Clutter Free Academy Podcast #400
Gutting Your Office – Part Two
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’ve invited back to the program, Cheri Gregory, my coauthor of Overwhelmed, You Don’t Have to Try So Hard, just every good caper I’ve been a part of, Cheri has been a part of it. Cheri, we were talking last week, about your office. Your office was out of control.
Cheri – Totally.
Kathi – I’m not a big believer in closing the windows, locking the door, ‘We’re not emerging from this space until it’s spic and span’, but just recap for us, why you needed to gut your office.
Cheri – Well, I’m in the midst of a book that I’m on a hard deadline for, and I had several boxes, big stacks of research and notes and things I might be able to use for the book. One day I was just going to go through them, and it started taking longer and longer, and as I was doing that, I looked around and suddenly realized that I had massive amounts of stuff in the office that were equally unusable. I was either going to spend the rest of the year going backwards in time to figure out what they were, and how I might use them, or I could get rid of the majority of it, and move forward and live my life. The office had got to the point where I had been using pop up tables to hold more and more stacks of stuff, and I wasn’t using my office. I was actually working on the couch. Can I just say that laying back on a couch is not productive place or position to get work done?
Kathi – The only time I could ever do that is if I’m just free writing or watching massive amounts of Netflix. Otherwise, not so much.
Cheri – So, it needed to be done. And let’s be clear. I don’t have small children at home. It was Christmas vacation and nobody was relying on me for carpooling, food, anything. It was the perfect window of opportunity, and it was a great way for me to end 2019. There was something very symbolic about getting rid of the leftovers of the decade, to be honest.
Kathi – Let’s be honest, though. Let me ask. Were you gutting your office to avoid working on this big project?
Cheri – There definitely was a percentage where that was true, and I had to be okay with that. I had been avoiding cleaning it to make it useable. I was like, “No! That’s playing office! No! That’s procrastination.” So, my motives were absolutely mixed, but I’ve been reading a great book, which I know you’ve read and recommended, and I didn’t get on the bandwagon early enough. It’s called Atomic Habits and he said, “Too often we try to start habits in high friction environments.” He’s talking about practicing Environment Design.
Kathi – Yes. I love that book.
Cheri – “We try to follow a strict diet while we’re out to dinner with friends. We try to write a book in a chaotic household.” I was like, “I’m trying to write a book in a chaotic office, and it’s not going to work.” So, what he ends up saying, here, is, “Whenever you organize a space for its intended purpose, you’re priming it to make the next action easy.” You can see in the margin of my book, it says, “Do this in my office.”
Kathi – So, you’re optimizing the environment to make the next action easy. I love that. So, by the way, you get the stamp of approval for gutting your office from the Clutter Free Lady. Okay, now, I want to know, and my audience wants to know. How did you do it? How did you go in there and make the hard decisions? Was it getting rid of stuff? Or was it organizing it?
Cheri – First of all, there was a ton of it that had to go, but last week, I told you the weird obstacle that I figured out, as to why I used to carry all my stuff out to the kitchen table to work, is that the kitchen table has a flat surface to it. I do a lot of work on my computer, but I do a lot of jotting down, Post-It notes and stuff like that. Realizing that I had that five foot table with that textured surface, and it’s not a comfortable surface to write on. The writing I end up doing is hard to read and it just feels strange to me. So, I literally went to Staples to buy a brand new table with a flat surface. Turned out that all the tables they had had that squiggly surface. So, long story short, I ended up at Home Depot looking for, and finding lightweight, thin board with a very flat surface. It’s called hardboard. Not cardboard, but hardboard. It cost $12.99 which was way cheaper than the table I was going to buy. They cut it, I put it on the table, but of course, to put it on the table, I had to take everything off. So then, I only put back on the table, the very few things I needed, leaving myself a huge working space. Then, my goal was to get rid of the other pop up tables. So, you know, my system tends to be, with any kind of project, even if it’s planning Thanksgiving dinner, or whatever. It starts as a piece of paper. It becomes a clipboard. Then it becomes a binder. But the problem is, being a person that loves starting projects, I don’t always love finishing them. So, they might become a binder, or a series of binders, or a two inch binder. I’ve realized that I have to start, quarterly, going through everything and going, “Which projects here got started, but are just never going to get finished?” And now I need to undo the binder and get rid of the contents, or shift the contents. I made this big old binder with, I don’t know, 21 Lessons for an e-course, then realized, “Nah, I’m never going to do that.” So, I just took the things that were good and put them into my blogging binder. Well, that still got rid of a ton of stuff. It was a lot of elimination. There was so much paper, because my fear factor, when I’m doing a book, or any kind of project, where I’m waiting for the deadline to pass, I’m constantly printing out versions of it, so that if the entire world crashes, the internet crashes, I still have the last known printed pages. Well, once the book has been on the market? There’s no need to keep the drafts. So, I did a lot of recycling.
Kathi – Here’s what I’m beginning to realize, after working with you and Michele. You guys are probably much more tactile than I am. I always thought that I needed to see all the things, but really the question I have now is, “Is there any reason for this to be off my computer?” That’s what I have to do. I’m in a weird situation. I live in two different houses. Trying to cart stuff back and forth is just not going to work. So, sometimes there are things I have to have off my computer. I know that Michele uses a paper planner. What do you use?
Cheri – I use my Google Calendar.
Kathi – Yeah. Everything for me has to be in my laptop. It has to be backed up all the time. So, one of the questions you can ask yourself is, “What needs to live off my computer?” You may need to be the binder person, and that’s okay. Just know that. Just know what kind of person you are. Don’t go and create binders, because you want to have real projects. Okay, so let’s talk more. So, you started to create the environment you wanted. You go the tables out. How did you start making decisions about getting rid of stuff?
Cheri – Remind me what are the three questions about Clutter Free?
Kathi – Do I love it? Do I use it? Would I buy it again?
Cheri – Okay, so in this case, I had quite a few things I had printed out, free on the internet. “Surely I’ll need this when the time comes to do this.” Well, if I had loved it, I would have done something with it by now. I’m blowing an inch of dust off the tops of some of these things. Do I use it? Obviously no. Would I print this out again? Would I make this binder again, knowing what I now know? No.
Kathi – I think, oftentimes, when we’re going through stuff like that, if it sparks excitement for you? Like, “Oh! This is exactly what I need!” then you get to keep it.
Cheri – Most of it sparked dread. Like, “Oh, no! I haven’t got to that yet!” And at that point, it was like, “Yeah, and I’m not going to.” Thunk.
Kathi – Right. Okay. And see? Paying attention to our bodies. Paying attention to our emotions and what comes to the surface is really good.
Cheri – Here’s something else. I found a few of the things that I thought I was looking for, that I thought were going to be the magic thing that I need to make the current book work. I would find them and go, “Oh. It’s not doing for me what I was thinking it would.” And what that did, was it really gave me faith that, “I probably don’t need anything.” I’ve got a few writing coaches, Susy Flory and Ginny Yttrup, who have both told me, “Cheri, you have everything you need. Trust yourself.” I know that ‘trust yourself’ really means ‘Trust what God has already put in you.” Let’s be clear. I really don’t trust myself, but I was still trying to do that one last hunt for that one key thing that was somehow going to make all this easy. What it made me realize was, “No. I’ve got enough. I’ve got what I need and there is no magic other than doing the hard work, now.”
Kathi – It’s so interesting. So often, we’re looking for the new tool. The new idea. The new thing at Michael’s. The new thing from Costco to make life that much easier.
Cheri – The secret ingredient.
Kathi – Right. And we already have everything we need. Every once in a while, there’s something new that comes along and revolutionizes everything, thank you Instant Pot, but you gave away your Instant Pot.
Cheri – If you ask me if you should get an Instant Pot, I will say, “Only if you need a really big doorstop.”
Kathi – Okay, and I love my Instant Pot.
Cheri – Because you use it. I never use mine. Absolutely. Let’s be clear. I did find a few things that I was, like, “Oh, yeah. This could be kind of cool.” But I found nothing that was going to be that final puzzle piece. I think that’s what I was looking for. I was looking for that one missing puzzle piece. As if my book in progress is a finished puzzle that is missing just one piece. The other thing I know, and I can tell you this right now, because it’s now been more than a week, that is, once everything got into that dumpster and the recycling truck came and took it away? Talking to you right now? I can’t think of anything that was recycled. I think we are always afraid of the regrets. Or the regret of the one thing we could have used. Part of doing this is predeciding, “I will have no regrets.” And if I think of something, or I remember something, I will remind myself that clinging to that regret or memory is, once again, not trusting that God is in control of all of this, and will bring back. Sometimes, it’s “Will I remember what I need to remember?” Especially since I do have Alzheimer’s on both sides of my family. That has an extra panic level to the fear. It’s not just fear, it’s true panic. It’s another opportunity to trust that if there’s something I need to remember. Something that really needs to be said, or put in a book, or whatever, the Holy Spirit’s going to bring that back. It’s not all up to me.
Kathi – How did you actually get it out of the house? Did you have garbage bags? What was you process for actually getting it out?
Cheri – I used paper grocery bags, because those you can’t overfill. So much of what I was getting rid of was, in fact, paper that needed to go into our recycling bin. So, I would make it my goal to fill one up to the point where I could carry it without hurting myself, and then I took it out and put it in the recycling bin.
Kathi – Did you pile up a bunch of bags? Or, when a bag filled up, you took it out?
Cheri – Oh, one by one. Oh, yeah. For me, that was a reward. To take it out and hear it go ‘thunk!’, then slam the lid down.
Kathi – Yes! It’s a good feeling, isn’t it? It’s an amazing feeling. Okay, what did you do with the stuff like, the coffee mug? Or the things that, “Maybe I would use those.” Maybe there would be some value.
Cheri – I filled up the trunk and back of my car, and I drove to the Goodwill with some lovely things that I hope somebody else really enjoys.
Kathi – Okay. Did you have guilt about that? Did you have shame?
Cheri – No. I’ve done that so many times. The first time I did it, when we were early working together, that was much harder. Especially after all the disasters we’ve had in California; all the fires we’ve had. Knowing, for certain, that there are people in need, and when things sit in my office or house not being used, that’s not stewardship. So, I’m being a slave to that. It’s part of that shrine mentality. I just trust that somebody else is going to use it. And should I end up short a coffee mug? I’m pretty sure somebody’s going to give me another one someday.
Kathi – Well, you’re a teacher. It’s required, by law, to give you coffee mugs.
Cheri – Hopefully they’ll put Godiva chocolate in it, when they do.
Kathi – I love it.
Cheri – Or Ghirardelli. It has to begin with G.
Kathi – Okay. ‘Cause: Gregory. I love it. Okay, did you organize in the midst of decluttering? Or did you declutter and then organize?
Cheri – That’s a great question. What I was constantly looking for was, “What is my actual work flow?” That’s going to be different for everybody. That determined what was on that large five foot table of mine. I have a little thing that holds binders and I have a certain number. There are the projects that I’m currently working on. There was a Red House binder, ‘cause I’m here this week, then there’s an Overwhelmed Retreat binder, ‘cause after here, I’m going to be speaking at a women’s retreat. It’s on my calendar to dismantle those binders, and store the contents, when I get home. That’s the one thing I wasn’t doing, giving myself time every quarter to bring things to a real end. So, now, when I’m sitting at my table, I have this rolling cart that has all my office supplies I could possibly need. I’ve got a place for my computer. I’ve got it on a stand, so my neck is in a good position when I’m using it. I have a large amount of free working space, and then I’ve got those binders right there. Everything else is on bookshelves.
Kathi – One thing I’m going to ask you to do, I’m going to totally put you on the spot.
Cheri – I will take pictures.
Kathi – I’d love for you to take pictures, but I also want a content list of what’s in your rolling cart.
Cheri – Oh, sure! I can do that.
Kathi – I think that would be really interesting to say, “What do you actually need when you’re sitting there doing that.” So, there was mostly decluttering and some organizing. Sometimes you need to organize a little bit to make decisions.
Cheri – I would organize and let it sit there while I was doing some other decluttering, and then I’m like, “No. It’s not going to work that way.” I did go on Amazon and look for several things. I looked for a riser for my laptop. I’m like, “They want twenty five dollars for that?!” So, I’m literally using a Sterilite shoe box. That’s what I put it on. I’m not going to pay twenty five dollars! Now, if I use it this way for the next 3-6 months and it’s really working for me? Then I might consider investing in something a little more permanent and classy looking, but I could tell that was playing office. That was going to be trying to buy in order to become, and I’m like, “No. I can figure out a hack that’ll get me working on this book, rather than spending more money and discovering, “Ah, it’s not quite the right thing, but I don’t have the time to return it.”
Kathi – So, figuring out what you need for the interim and figuring out what you need to invest in. Those are the two different things. Cheri, this has been so good. How’s your office now?
Cheri – You know, it’s so empty looking. I forgot what a wonderful feeling that is. I forgot how much the creativity is able to flow when there’s more space. My life verse is Psalm 18:19 and the verse before it says, “He brought me out into a spacious place. He rescued me because he delighted in me.” One of the things that I forget, but keep coming back to is, “I am afraid of spacious places.” To me, they feel empty. I’m terrified of emptiness, so I cram and overfill. But spaciousness can also be so incredibly freeing. It means open. It means there’s room. It’s restful. So, when I look at it now, I think, “Oh my goodness. How did I cram so much stuff into it?” Now there’s so much more room to breathe and move and get done what needs to be done.
Kathi – I love it. Thank you for sharing your gutting experience. Guys, you know what? You may need to do this. You may need to hunker down for a day, a half a day, whatever it’s going to take, but do it because there’s a purpose there. Not just because the room is driving you crazy, but because you need it to function. Create the space that you need. Then, get right back on to the Clutter Free Program so that you can keep it up. Here’s what I know. When you gut, you say, “Oh, I worked so hard on that, I’m not going to have to touch it again for six months.” You’re going to get right back to where you were. Cheri, thank so much for being on Clutter Free Academy.
Cheri – Thanks so much for having me back.
Kathi – Friends, thank you for being here. You have been listening to Clutter Free Academy. I’m Kathi Lipp. Now, go create the clutter free life you were always intended to live.
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