Spring Cleaning, Book Mama Office Style…


Hey loves!
It’s SPRING! I keep thinking I “should” do a 4-day juice cleanse… that’s what I usually do at the start of each spring. But I’m not in the mood. If chugging glasses of green stuff doesn’t make you feel giddy right now either, I’ve got another idea:
What about a piles cleanse? As in, those piles of paper you’ve been shuffling around your office for, let’s be honest, too long now. You know what I’m talking about, right? The secret (or not-so-secret) piles stacked up on your desk, in the kitchen, or, God forbid, next to your bed.
I’ve had a L O N G relationship with piles. By nature I’m an organization nut who would answer a Proust question—”Office Depot or Disneyland?” with a definite DEPOT.
My closet is color-coded, and so are my files. I use the best software available—Evernote is my external brain and I have thousands of notes and notebooks stored there, tagged to find anything in an instant—and my team and I use Asana for our project management system (thanks, Team D!), where we juggle the 1,001 details of managing five businesses: The Boyfriend Log, Carmel Writing Retreats, The Beautiful Writers Group, YBBBP, and BookMama.
Did I mention that I have hundreds of Voice Memos saved and labeled? Good God. Every year at New Year’s, I get that anxiety to GET THE PILE FILED. CHECKED OFF. DISCARDED. Gotta start anew! Fresh, fresh, fresh. 
And yet, still… the piles. I can’t seem to get rid of the last one. The one with Post-It notes housing book and blog posts ideas, snippets of a conversation to tell a friend, a song and book to order from Amazon. There’s that insane pasta sauce recipe I MUST make for company, with that vegan-sugar-free-chocolate fudge recipe that brought a recent wedding shower to its knees. And where to put the napkin from a romantic dinner with my guy in Hawaii, and the thank you note from an agent raving about our mutual client who just hit the lists?…

Some days I make serious headway on my pile, but similar papers always rush in to replace what’s left. It doesn’t matter how fast I rip through its girth, its drawing power intensifies, mocking me as it swells like something out of a horror film.

A hippy-dippy New-Age healer teacher of mine back in the 80s—a guy named Dennis Adams—used to say: “Nature abhors a vacuum. When you clear your kitchen counter, a new bunch of stuff will fill its place quickly.” I took that to mean he was saying I’d never fully get rid of my piles, and yet still, I dream…
Want to hear something really scary? I once caught myself daydreaming that our house would burn down so that the blasted pile would be gone forever. It was just a fleeting thought, but it made me wonder if piles create a sort of mental instability. I’m pretty sure they do.
Tony Robbins teaches that we’ll never get “it” all done. Being fully caught up is a fantasy, he says. “Focus on the big stuff first,” he says. “Then the little stuff takes care of itself.” I find myself stuck somewhere between reality and fantasy on this—tackling big things semi-regularly, but still addicted far more to the bright shiny objects of getting as many small “to-do’s” crossed off as possible, stuff like… “water the plants,” “call the groomer,” and “buy a new label maker.”
Last December, I committed to being DONE already before 2015 rolled in. I carried my last pile in a BIG box from my house to my car and drove it 400 miles to Carmel-by-the-Sea where I was teaching a writing retreat. Surely I’ll have time to go through my PILE before the gang shows up; I can’t come home to this pile ever again!
Feeling like a delinquent hiding illegal substances, I hid my box in the way back of my trunk, and then lugged it into The Vagabond Inn when I arrived in this seaside town the night before, under the cover of darkness.
Too tired to wrestle with the pile, I got a good night’s sleep and handled about 1/100th of it in the morning. I’d planned on spending another four hours on the piles–surely that would be enough–after I took my little Merry dog out for a quick walk to the beach.
Only thing was, when we got to the water’s edge, a pod of 25 dolphins were surfing the waves with Humpback Whales not far off behind them. Naturally, I was mesmerized, as was the crowd, larger than any I’d seen on this beach in all of my decades walking this shore since childhood.
The piles could wait a bit longer. After all, I’d be here for five days and don’t work past 10 pm during retreats, so I could go through everything little by little each night.
Alas, some part of that pile made the trip home, but I digress.
Sometimes I wonder if I just really love my piles. There are, for certain, treasures to be found there. And, dopamine and serotonin hits for discovering them (or rather, re-discovering them) and tending to them.  Recording them, filing them, checking them off as I toss another paper into the recycle bin. All that gives me a decidedly first-world high. Immediate gratification of an irritatingly delayed kind.
Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin (our Beautiful Writers Group celebrity guest for July) writes in her new book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Day Lives, that what we do every day matters more than what we do once in while. Maybe that’s it—so easy to see I missed it entirely: rather than tackling my pile inconsistently, I need to tackle it EVERY single day! Or better yet—create good habits that keep the pile from forming in the first place. Doy.
“Um, I’ve got this irritating habit,” I mumbled at Carmel when I’d gone through a portion of the box and made my way downstairs with an overflowing garbage can to see the six delightful souls who’d joined me there stuffing their faces with our chef’s just-out-of-the-oven cookies. “Do any of you have piles of paper you just can’t seem to get rid of?” They laughed. Nearly all did. Except Orna and Matthew—a married couple working on a relationship book. They’d coincidentally just filed the last of their pile right before coming to the retreat.
The little brats. I wanted to pull a Lucile Ball and tweak their ears and run back upstairs.

I tried to hate them for being so organized. But it was impossible. If you know Orna and Matthew, you know they’re too smiley and grateful and lovable to take your anger out on.

As if knowing this, Orna took action. She’d been watching me try to perform a burning ritual to rid me of this craziness, only to feel my frustration at how long it actually takes to feed a fire scraps of paper by hand. Orna stole my trash can, dumped it in the recycling bin before I could register what was happening, and took this triumphant photo.
Ahhh… One less basket to lug back home.
Here’s to better habits. And those who help us shoulder the weight of the pesky ones that persist.
Hoping you can find humor in your madness today.
Yours, Linda

P.S. If you’ve got PILES of book ideas, we’ve still got 1, maybe 2 spots open for our April 27th retreat, which is unusual–maybe the spot’s been waiting for you?!:) Fill out this registration form and we’ll schedule a Skype or phone call to see if it’s the right fit for you. (By the way, I’m REALLY good with bringing order to other people’s piles of book notes, and promise to keep yours a safe distance from the fire!)

P.S.S. Have you got piles? How do you handle them? Or maybe you just want to vent:) Leave a comment and tell us about it! xo

Mar 26, 2015   /   16 Comments

16 responses to “Spring Cleaning, Book Mama Office Style…”

  1. sylvia says:


    Hilarious post – loved it … I’m a sister pile fighter :) Recently, I burned and recycled everything from old high school yearbooks to my own wedding invitations to letters from old boyfriends. How long and for what reason was I keeping boxes full of this stuff?? Love the releasing. I hope, at some point, to work with Orna and Matthew … and with you … so the photos warmed my heart. XO

  2. Laurie Adams says:

    Aargh (strangle sounds)!! My piles are KILLING me!! I have packed some piles from city to city, I’ve even saved boxes of piles from my late husband that I just don’t want to go through, page by page, don’t feel like stirring up the grief. You’ve struck a nerve, Linda. My pile phobia is a real block to my creative process as well. I’m exploring the idea of creating space in my life for relationship and writing and friends and learning, and to maintain space to just be… I can see where I can benefit from extending this attitude to my desk.

  3. Linda! You’ve inspired me – again! I had forgotten about that ritual and how hard we all laughed (we were the laughing retreat after all) when Orna, in her usual take-charge fashion, just grabbed the trash can and chucked the rest of your pile into the fire! I remember leaving Carmel all jacked up on inspiration – ready to write and determined to clean and purge. Well, it’s almost a year later and here I sit; writing my tush off, but surrounded with piles of unread books, half written thank you notes, and an unimaginable list of emails to answer. The bubble over my head reads: Where’s Orna when I need her?
    Mama to the rescue! You’ve lit a fire under my ass. (Pun intended) That’s it! After reading this, I resolve to finish those notes TODAY, and crack one of those books open this weekend!
    Thank you for the reminder that we’re all more alike than we can imagine, and of that glorious week in Carmel where magic happened.

  4. Alice Lundy says:

    Piles! First, Linda, I love the twists in your post. I didn’t think a story about piles could pull me in, but you did. I cried when you got to the seals and whale. I remembered that Carmel view. Anyhow, my parents would say my sister and I come by piling naturally. When I moved in with her it was going to be temporary. So, I just didn’t look at the boxes of stuff accumulated in a life of 35 years with her now-deceased husband. Piles, ok. Boxes, galore (which means over 100!)? Oh, hell no! But, who am I to say?It’s her home, and her husband’s boxes of a life they shared while he collected things that she complained about for years. Until he died. Now, you know what’s in those boxes? Grief. Sometimes those boxes almost choke me and I want to turn into Super Sister Organizer! I remind myself that’s not why I’m here. I remember what’s inside those boxes and go about tending my own piles.

  5. Orna says:

    Oh Linda, thank you for the reminder of all the fun and laughs we had in Carmel last year. Yes, we had eliminated our pile before that trip…alas, they are back. Not huge, but here… there…everywhere. Oh well. It sucks not being perfect!

    Thank you for reminding me that a ritual is a ritual and SYMBOLIC! None of us need to actually burn the pile.

    Spring Cleaning will happen at some point, whether it is actually Spring or not. All in Divine timing.

    Big giant hugs!

  6. Emily says:

    Piles…oh my! My mom gave me the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo for X-mas this year. I can fully attest to the life-changing part. It was the inspiration I needed to deal with my piles of piles and piles of boxes I’ve been toting around for decades. Her approach addresses all of our possessions and centers on JOY. Truly amazing and highly recommended! I’m already committed in April, but aim to make a dream a reality and be at one of your retreats soon!

  7. Linda Sivertsen says:

    Thanks, Emily! Hadn’t heard of that book, but went to order it the minute I got your comment:) Maybe it can help me avoid the build up in the future! xo

  8. Linda Sivertsen says:

    They’re BACK? Oh no! Ha. Say it ain’t so! God that was fun… loved reliving it myself. Hugs to Matthew! xo

  9. Linda Sivertsen says:

    Whoa. 100 boxes? That makes me want to go clean out my garage! (In truth, I LOVE cleaning out my garage, but there’s always more to toss.) I think you’re right about the grief. Life is a lifelong process of letting go, or so it seems. Miss you! xx

  10. Linda Sivertsen says:

    That WAS the laughing retreat for sure! So glad about the fire under your ass. You crack me up, mama! You’re blogs and IG posts are HILARIOUS. Can’t wait to help you sell that book. Get organized and finish it already, mama! :) xo

  11. Linda Sivertsen says:

    Laurie! Your writing is soooo beautiful that I’m sure holding onto that stuff has helped you to hold onto him and write from that real and raw place. But maybe now it IS time to let some of it go. At least enough to help you move the energy away from blocks and back into flow. Do it! :) xx

  12. Linda Sivertsen says:

    Thanks, Sylvia! I hope to work with you, too! Burning & recycling yearbooks and wedding invites? That’s some major take-charge action. Proud of you! I recycled something like 1,000 old business cards the other day (and about 20 old wedding invites, too) and smiled through the whole process. My thinking: I don’t want my kids to have to wade through all this crap! Lordy. xx

  13. Laura says:

    Marie Kondo’s book is a charming, joyful read that inspires action! And, it’s blowing up book lists/recommendations all over the place. Plus, you can read it in a day. As a big ‘list-maker’ and paper organiser, I tacked a huge 3 inch ring binder last week that was full of paper…which turned out to be emails. Emails dating back to 1999 when I first moved to Japan. Back in the days before Facebook, before Google…when we wrote an email every 1-2 weeks and sent the same one, letter style, to 20 people. Not the 100+ emails we are sending daily now.

    I’ve moved this binder to various places overseas (Japan to Singapore and then to Jordan and then back to Singapore where it’s sat on the shelf for some reason?)! I think I thought I could use some of the material for some writing idea…One night last week, I sorted out all the emails and trashed the duplicates, the emails from people I no longer remember/keep in touch with and the ones that didn’t say anything. I sorted them into years (much smaller piles already) and then scanned them in years to my email address. So, I now have a PDF of those emails if I ever want to remember what I wrote in the Y2K days. Which is doubtful but hey, emails take up less room than binders when packing. Then, I tossed all those papers and now have an empty 3-ring binder. The rush of energy I got from that exercise has been immense. I’m tossing stuff left and right now. Letting go of some ideas and focusing on others. I mailed a few to my Mom and old friends for old times sake. Read, smile and toss. That whole exercise took about an hour.

    It was lovely to re-read some of those letters and smile at the things we once worried about. It’s touching to see the enthusiasm of a 20 year old and a reminder of where the years go – not in one huge event or birthday party but dinners, errands, dates, groceries, trips, work, etc. I think you feel lighter and more creative when you have less stuff! Best of luck with that ‘pile’ problem!

  14. Linda Sivertsen says:

    Hey Laura… so good to hear from you! Okay! Bought the book and I’m obsessed… been a cleaning MACHINE! So happy. I can feel the energy of every piece of clothing… just like she explains. Love it! Miss yer face. xoxo

  15. Hi Linda, Just been thinking of your recently and wanted to send you some love!! (literally, I was an another travel blog and the blogger had just visited Carmel-by-the-Sea! #syncronicity…) Anyhow, I finally restarted up working on my book again. I bought YBBBP a year ago. I have no idea how long it will take for me to get published and everything, but now I release all of that to the universe. I’m getting my part started again by hitting up Scrivener. I would love love love to be at one of your retreats one day. We’ll see!! :) Many many blessings & miracles to you!! xxx, Anita

  16. Linda Sivertsen says:

    Anita! What a lovely note. Thank you. Excited you’re re-engergized. Here’s to the Universe meeting you more than half way! Can’t wait to work with you in Carmel one day. (I’m here now and it’s so beautiful!) All in perfect time! xoxo

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