Author Michele Ule asks, “I’m wondering how you’re handling old research, information, old versions of your writing in your home office/computer. Do you toss/give away old books/manuscripts/ideas? I have a filing cabinet filled with odds and ends…”
Have you been wondering the same thing? Does fear, guilt and shame keep you from cleaning it out?
This is the podcast episode for you my friend! Kathi and Cheri Gregory give us the one true antidote to the fear, guilt and shame of the clutter in our office. Cheri has faced down her office clutter fears and lives to tell the tale. She’s not shy about sharing her shame so you can find freedom in your fears.
In today’s episode, you will learn:
- The antidote to fear, so you can bravely reclaim your workspace.
- How to decide what stays and what goes.
- The reason we hold onto all the things, and how to overcome it.
Links and Resources:
To share your thoughts:
To help out the show:
- Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one.
- Subscribe on iTunes or subscribe to our list now and never miss an episode or blog.
Join us for next week’s episode for Part 2 and you won’t want to miss it!
Transcript of this Episode
Read along with the podcast!
Communicator Academy Podcast #185
What to Do with Old Projects
Kathi – Well hey friends. Welcome to Communicator Academy, where our heart is to equip and encourage men and women to become the communicators God has created them to be. Coming right now, from The Red House, where we are at a Red House writing retreat, talking about your hard story with Michele Cushatt and Cheri Gregory. I have Cheri Gregory, my favorite co-author. Hey, Cheri.
Cheri – Hey Kathi! Thanks so much for having me.
Kathi – Well, you know what? Sometimes we plan these podcasts months in advance. We did this one in virtual minutes in advance. It’s because you were talking about my two favorite subjects: Communication and Decluttering. So, if you think you’re accidentally on the Clutter Free podcast today, you’re not. Here’s what I know. I know that the most cluttery people in the world are teachers, which you may be guilty of being. You’ve never been a homeschooling parent, right?
Cheri – Not really.
Kathi – You’ve taught your kids at home, but you would not have called yourself a homeschooler. Crafters.
Cheri – Wannabe crafters.
Kathi – Wannabe crafters and collectors of items to be crafters. So, crafters are just a subset of creatives, and creatives, which you and I both are. It sounds like a very fancy word for people who earn their money by writing. We are cluttery in a very specific way. Not everybody is cluttery in this way. Michele Cushatt, amazing writer, not cluttery. I don’t know how she’s our friend.
Cheri – I admire her so much.
Kathi – Yes. Exactly. But you and I would consider ourselves cluttery people by nature. We’ve both come a long way in the past ten years. What you were talking about last night, with gutting your office, which you know I’m not a big fan of gutting projects.
Cheri – I know. I almost didn’t want to say I did it that way, but I was in a position where I couldn’t do it 15 minutes a day, because I have a book deadline coming up, and I’ve not been able to use my office, it’s been so bad. Let’s be clear. I don’t have small children in the house, and it was Christmas break. It wasn’t like I emptied it all out, and suddenly destroyed my life for months to come.
Kathi – That’s why I’m against gutting in most cases, is because we, as cluttery people, do not give ourselves enough time to restore order after we get rid of stuff. Also, we cannot be trusted to not go through the bags and rescue things. So, you were on a deadline. So you get a gutting pass.
Cheri – Thank you.
Kathi – You’re welcome. Here’s why I want to talk about it, because I had just read a question from a fellow writer. Her name is Michelle Ule and she has written some amazing books. She’s more historical, non-fiction, that kind of thing. But her question goes to all of us. She asked this in a writing group that I’m a part of. She says, “I’m wondering how you’re handling old research, information, old versions of your writing in your home office/computer. Do you toss/give away old books/manuscripts/ideas? I have a filing cabinet filled with odds and ends…” I love that it’s just a filing cabinet. That’s so adorable. “…related to my writing life. How do I sift through and save and toss?” So, when you talked about gutting your office, and you gutted your office on a deadline, I thought, “Okay, let’s talk about this.” Your office, now, is useable.
Cheri – 100% useable.
Kathi – Okay, so tell me what it was like before you gutted it.
Cheri – Okay, well, first of all it was like that frog in the boiling water illustration. When I decided I had to do something about my office, I walked in and went, “When did it get this bad?” The answer is, it got that bad after two years of me continuing to be on deadlines for really cool projects, but then never finishing them by putting them away, cleaning them out, whatever. So, there was just lots of things coming in and building up. Literally, I would pop up a folding table. I have to see things. I can’t put things away. If I put them away, they disappear. So, I had, literally, three tables covered with stuff, a desk covered with stuff. Then, I had books, and I live by the coast, so I can’t store books in the garage, or the paper gets wet, so I had a bunch of books that were stored in there. They made it so I couldn’t scoot up to the tables. So, I was literally trying to get my work down on the couch in the family room. That’s not a good place to be productive. Here’s a free tip to tall your listeners. In lounging position on the couch, not a good position for getting work done. So, basically, I crowded myself out with all these good things. None of them were bad. There was no crisis. I didn’t get sick, then everything piled up. It was just an accumulation of really good things that had happened in my life, but I didn’t complete them before moving on to the next thing.
Kathi – You had, maybe I’m underestimating, three quick book deadlines.
Cheri – Yes.
Kathi – You’ve had a bunch of contracts and things that you’ve been working on.
Cheri – For which I am totally grateful. No complaints at all.
Kathi – But you had a project with Amy Carroll. You had a project with Denise Hughes. Then, you’re in the midst of a memoir right now.
Cheri – And we have something coming up.
Kathi – Yeah, we won’t talk about that right now. Fiddle-ee-dee. That’s for another day. So, you’re right. You had all these great things on top of each other, but there wasn’t the time to say, “Shut it down.” So, you got to a crisis, where you couldn’t be productive anymore. Okay, so if somebody is finding themselves in crisis mode, can you give them an idea of what you did? I know this could work for any project, but I’ve seen this happen over and over again with writers. By the way, this isn’t just for somebody that has three book projects, because I know some people are saying, “Oh, Cheri. I wish I had your problems.” We understand. But it’s that freebie you’re creating. It’s the article that you’re doing a bunch of research on. Maybe you’re working on your masters or your doctorate at the same time you’re doing all these things. Also, you are unusual in that, you don’t keep a lot of files on your computer.
Cheri – That’s changing, but you’re right. We can probably talk about that later. I’m finally learning how to use Google Drive. I’ll admit, I have been such a tree killer. I’m very old school, so I’ve printed a lot of stuff. Every version of every manuscript got printed, then saved in case of apocalypse. But, I’m moving to do a better job of organizing my digital files.
Kathi – A lot of people are what you said earlier, “If I can’t see it, it’s not real.” To put things away means, out of sight, gone forever. So let’s talk about the steps you did to gut your office.
Cheri – Wow. When you talk about clutter, and I know this is Communicator Academy, let’s just remind your listeners of the three principles that you talk about.
Kathi – The fear, guilt, and shame. I think why people can’t get rid of stuff, the first thing is fear. “What if I need this someday?”
Cheri – That’s the biggest one.
Kathi – So, you had some notes and things like that, and I’m sure in your brain, you’re going, “What if I want to write on that some day?” So, how did you talk yourself out of that? Or did you? How did you get to a place of saying, “It’s okay to let this go.”?
Cheri – Well, this was the hardest time I’ve ever gutted my office, which I’ve done many times, by the way. Your listeners need to know that this wasn’t a one and done. I think I did the best job this time, but I did a smaller version of this before Sensitive and Strong. In fact, I think I sent you a picture of these four boxes of a chaotic jumble of papers. I said, “Okay, these are all going in the recycling bin. I’m going to sit on my hands until the recycling truck comes and takes them away.” At that point, I realized, if I start going through these, two things: One, I’m going to try to go back and become the person I was when I wrote these notes, and I’m not that person anymore, so I may or may not understand why they were important, but I’m going to put all this effort into trying to go back there. Then, two, closely related, I have enough time to either go back, or go forward. I can’t do both. At that point, I had enough experience as an author, and I was grateful for this, because it also informed the most recent gutting, and it was, whenever I had written a book, and I thought I was going to go through all those files, all those boxes? I’m going to need all these things. I have never actually gone back to them. It’s either in my head, or the Holy Spirit brings it to me when I need it, or I’ve blogged about it. So I go, “Hang on. Didn’t I write a blog post about this?” And I go into WordPress and I find it, and I’m like, “Oh! The most important thing is already in use somewhere.”
Kathi – So, here’s the antidote to fear: It’s trust. It’s trusting your own mind. It’s trusting that God will bring up, at the right time, what you need. It’s also understanding what kind of author you are. I’m in the midst of, probably, the longest book that I’ve ever read or listened to. It’s called Prairie Wildfires. It is the life of Laura Ingles Wilder, and a lot about her daughter. What is interesting? This book? I love books with deep research, where they’ve gone and they’ve found the letters. They’ve gone back and looked at the newspaper articles. You can find out that Laura Ingles brought in renters because there was a little ad in the local paper saying, “Room and Board”. That kind of thing. So, that stuff fascinates me, but I am not that kind of writer. When I am writing, I’m telling stories from my own life, or from readers’ lives, or things like that. I don’t need a ton of research, because my research is found on Clutter Free Academy’s Facebook page. Those kinds of things. Similarly, I know that you will use quotes from books and articles and things like that, but for the most part, you’re not doing heavy research.
Cheri – I used to feel like, what I had to offer my reader, wasn’t nearly good enough, so, I would literally lay out books and look for quotes that I could cram into my writing to bolster the value. Then I found out that, no, people didn’t really want all those quotes. Shockingly enough, they just wanted to hear from me. Also, too many quotes was interrupting the flow of the writing and it was ruining my voice. And since I don’t write big idea books, in which the reader does expect there to be narrative and scientific research and journalism, I write prescriptive non-fiction, or Christian Living. A single piece of good research that is in a chapter, that is then well extrapolated and interpreted and applied, is enough. If a book has twelve or fifteen chapters, I don’t need the boxes of stuff, or the file cabinet of stuff. I need twelve to fifteen. Honestly? The best ones, for any book I’m writing, will come to mind right now, because I’ve been talking about them. I’ve been podcasting about them. I’ve been blogging about them.
Kathi – If you’re having to go and find quotes for the type of non-fiction we write? They don’t belong in the book. When we rereleased The Cure for the Perfect Life as You Don’t Have to Try So Hard, you’re already shaking your head.
Cheri – I took out fifteen thousand words. And they were all other people’s words.
Kathi – Yes.
Cheri – And the book is better. Now, it’s not like the original was bad, if you own The Cure for the Perfect Life, it’s still a great book, but that was my insecurity. That taught me I could trash stuff.
Kathi – At the time, I thought I must be doing this wrong. We all learn. So, that’s the fear. When it comes to getting rid of stuff, it’s the “I don’t trust my own thoughts, my own gut, and I don’t trust God to bring it to mind.” Guilt. Let’s talk about the guilt. “I should keep all this. I should be able to use all of this.” Then, we’ll go right in to shame, about the money we’ve spent, but let’s talk about the guilt first.
Cheri – You know, one of the things that I did a couple of years ago was, I got rid of over half my books. Many of them had been given to me by somebody. In my family, and yours, too, that’s like the great gift. When I was growing up, we would open up all our gifts, and then there would be the last gift, and it was the carefully chosen book that our parents had got for us. That was like, the best gift you could get. We got lots of books, don’t get me wrong. We didn’t just get one a year, but they were the best gift ever, so the idea of giving away books? We’ve talked about this before. You’ve pushed me hard, and I’ve pushed back. I’m like, “I declutter everything but not books.” Finally, I was like, “My house is bursting at the seams with books.” Then, what was really hard, was, some of these beautiful books…
<<bell rings in background>>
Kathi – If you heard that bell, that was somebody getting their five hundred words.
Cheri – Yay!
Kathi – Yay! We love that.
Cheri – We have to stop and cheer for them. So, but the way I read printed books, is with a highlighter. Eight different highlighters, and I’m a note taker.
Kathi – You’re an interactive reader.
Cheri – Yes. Very. So, lots of annotating. Well, if the book really hits home with me, I’m naming names. I’m like, “So and so did this to me and I’m still resentful about it.” I’m naming names. Well, I can’t donate that book to my local church library, especially with my husband being the praise and worship pastor. So, what I realized is, even an actual book, not just workbooks, I turn books into workbooks. I literally, and I twitch just saying it, but I had to throw some of these books away. I was done with them. I was not going to go back.
Kathi – Here’s the thing. You used them up.
Cheri – I did!
Kathi – And that’s a clutter free concept. Use it up. If a book gets used by one person and absorbed, it’s not a waste.
Cheri – I thought I would need to keep it, because someday I’m going to look back and those notes are going to go into this book. It’s like, “No, I’m not that person anymore. Whatever I learned from that book is part of me now.” That goes back to trusting that the Holy Spirit. The thing is, the Holy Spirit probably isn’t going to remind me of what I wrote in that book. The Holy Spirit is going to grow me further.
Kathi – Right. Exactly.
Cheri – New ideas will be born.
Kathi – You’re not stuck in that place where you wrote that note in 1997. It’s so interesting. In my new book, The Clutter Free Home, one of the passages that is getting highlighted a lot is, “You don’t need to keep books as trophies. We get it. You read.”
Cheri – You said that to me once. I’m like, “How rude!” That’s when I went and cleaned out half my books. I was like, “She’s so right.”
Kathi – So, let’s talk about the shame. Here’s the thing. I don’t want to talk about the shame of the books that you’ve bought. We all know that $14.99 book is like, I can’t give it away. I want to talk about the notebooks from the thousand dollar conference. Right? We’ve all been to those.
Cheri – Conferences.
Kathi – I kept notebooks from conferences that you and I went to in the early ‘90s. I keep those decades. I had spent so much money on it, I couldn’t get rid of it. So, what do you do with those books? That’s my question. What do you do with those notebooks?
Cheri – You open up the three rings, and you take everything out from them.
Kathi – You let it burn!
Cheri – You put it in the recycling. Again, it has taken time. It has taken time to move from the shame to gratitude. Gratitude for, “I was there. I trust that there was transformation while I was there in the room. I trust there was transformation as I took these notes. I trust that whatever I need, it’s in my heart. It’s in my head. It is coming out of my hands, even if I’m not recognizing that this came from 1997. That thousand dollars was well worth it because of what I did today.” I’m going to have to trust that my character has been transformed. There are habits that I have. I can’t necessarily draw that straight line. Here’s the thing for me. You know, on the Strengths Finder, I’m an input gal. Of all humans, I am the one that has the hardest time letting go of this, but when I do? Hey, I’m the kind that makes custom covers and spine things for them, and lines them up on her shelf. When I get rid of them, I don’t ever think about them again. There’s no regret. There’s nothing but freedom. I don’t even think, “They’re gone!” I just don’t see them anymore, so they can’t make me feel ashamed.
Kathi – It’s trusting that what you’ve been through is retained in your cells.
Cheri – Oooh. I like that.
Kathi – Yeah. And that you’re going to grow from there. Okay, you guys, we have so much more to talk about, because we have some practical things that we want to share with you as well. So, come back next week. We’re going to talk again. Cheri, this has been so good. Thank you. I always say that the hardest thing for people to talk about is their clutter. People would rather talk about their intimate relations than their clutter, because there is so much shame around it. I love that you are just open and you’re saying, “I’m growing too, so let’s figure this out together.” So thanks for coming in, Cheri.
Cheri – Of course. There is so much freedom in getting rid of this stuff.
Kathi – And thank you, friends, for joining us. You’ve been listening to Communicator Academy. I’m Kathi Lipp. You’ve been given the best message in the world. Now, go live it
*see show notes in podcast post above for any mentioned item
Meet The Guest
Meet Your Hosts
Author, Speaker, Communicator Academy Creator and CEO
Author, Speaker, Mastermind Coach