Friday, August 19, 2011

Reducing Electronic Clutter

Be honest, when you think of clutter, you think of

  • ...the stacks of disorganized paper on your desk at the office; 
  • ...the random objects whose only relation to each other is that they have nothing in common stuffed into random drawers in your home; 
  • ...the over-abundance of cooking contraptions that have jammed and consequently forced you out of being able to ever get to them again (not that you ever really used them in the first place);
  • ...the pile of magazines that, a year later, you still haven't read;
  • ...the papers you brought home from the office because they tricked you into allowing them to colonize your home as well;
  • ...the supplies for projects you never really intend on finishing;
  • ...the clothes taking up two closets that you haven't worn in years (if ever) and will never wear again;
  • ...seriously, who needs that many shoes anyway?  Or purses?  Or raincoats?  And really, no one EVER (self, I'm looking at YOU) really needs a WHOLE DRESSER DRAWER dedicated to socks (I have a real problem).
You think of physical, tangible objects.  Things that take of perceivable space.  By no doubt you've guess from the title of this entry where I am taking you next....

And no it's not Disneyland (though my birthday is coming up if you want to meet me there!).

Electronic Clutter!

In the last 20 years, storage space has become incredibly cheap.  It wasn't long before the first commercially available terabyte drive was less than $100 bucks.  Now you can get a decent one on sale for $50.  That's a lot of crap you can fit onto one of those!  Media is increasingly stored electronically because digital space is more condensed and affordable than physical space.  I store some of my music library electronically (I still own a couple hundred CDs and buy a few every year), and all of my photos are uploaded to the cloud (I pay a reasonable, annual fee for unlimited access).  I have friends who store a lot of video media and so have terabyte after terabyte after terabyte of stuff.  Frequently I hear they download programs and movies just to have them available, but often never view them.

Similar goes for email, some never delete a single email.  Everything may be important "some day" and so create complex file systems of useless electronic crap.  Granted, most people I know, myself included, use web-based mail so the space is maintained by someone else.  I'll be honest, since I opened my Gmail account, the inbox has never been completely empty.

At some point this is all ridiculous.  Even electronic clutter sucks precious time out of your life because you have to maintain it in some fashion, whether that is making sure every file is meticulously backed up or organized for easy retrieval.  At a certain point you have to ask yourself, is it necessary?

Start with your email!

1. Delete saved stuff that is not useful or no longer relevant.

Do you really need all those stupid jokes or cute kitten chain letters your mother-in-law sent you four years ago?  Do they add value to your life?  In Gmail, you can add a star (or other marker) to the email or tag it as important.  If there are emails you genuinely refer back to on a somewhat regular basis, flag it and delete the rest.  Trust me, I understand the necessity of keeping something cute around just to make a bad day better.  

When I order things online, I tend to save the emails for a bit until everything is kosher and I'm happy with the product received.  So why did I have emails dating back to 2002?  Seriously!  2002!  Yeah, I deleted all that crap.  I deleted at least over 6,000 emails in my last purge.  

2. Unsubscribe from weekly ads.

All those daily recipe emails, weekly coupons from dozens of retailers, they add up.  Do you actually read all of those?  Do you actually shop at those retailers?  Do you really cook that often or are the recipes relevant to you? 

Start with the ads.  Unsubscribe from these mailers.  For one, it will keep you from being tempted to purchase things you don't really need.  This sort of passive shopping gets everyone in trouble.  Spending money to save money does not cents make (heehee!).  If there is something you need, you can hunt and watch for deals without the spam.  If the something isn't worth that kind of effort, then I am willing to bet it's not really worth your dollars either.

Every morning, I would spend 30 to 60 minutes filtering retail ads out of my email box in order to get to the real stuff from real people.  By that point, I wouldn't have time or energy to actually reply.  Things that mattered got lost.  I would end up having to spend 10 minutes every hour to keep up on the crap.  Forget it.  I'm free now!

3. Pare down on blogs and internet communities.

You don't need to subscribe to every blog you see or that is recommended.  Well, you can if you have the sense to realize it's time to unsubscribe when you're not reading it.  If you have thousands of unread blog entries in your reader, mark everything as read and start fresh.  If you find yourself avoiding a blog or frequently marking it as read, it's time to unsubscribe.  If a blog posts too frequently (I subscribed to one that posted lengthy posts three to five times a day EVERY DAY!), unsubscribe because that is way too much distraction (and it can't all be quality content at that frequent of a pace).  Make the blogs of friends a priority and advice pieces secondary.  You don't need to subscribe to every finance/crafty/family blog on the face of the earth.  A couple of each maybe, if they add substance to your life. (If my advice mean some people unsubscribe from my blog, I'm okay with that. I would rather they free themselves of the unnecessary rather than feed my ego.)

And then there are internet communities.  Places where you can contribute or lurk depending on your interest.  Stop it.  If you're not contributing or getting anything useful out of it leave.  If you haven't attended a Meetup you've been swearing you'll go to for months, leave.  It will be there for another day when you have space in your life for it.  If it isn't, then there wasn't enough quality content to maintain it (which is why you left it anyway).

4. If you're not using it, just get rid of it.

Why are you paying for a backup service to backup things you don't need or use?  Spend a weekend going through your electronic content.  Get the really important stuff (legal papers, and that ilk) into a folder that a backup service frequently monitors.  Organize your documents, consolidate, and delete the useless stuff.  Really, you don't need a copy of your resume from 2006 if you have a more recent copy on file.  Delete that crap.  It only serves to distract you from finding the really important stuff.  

Anything else, get on the cloud.  As much as you want to, you should probably save that crappy poetry from your teen years.  Google Docs, Microsoft, Amazon, and many others offer free hosting services for that kind of thing.  Then it's off your hardware and you don't have to worry about a drive failure. (Now the cloud isn't perfect either, so it's not completely worthless saving off to an external hard disc as well, just to be safe.  Just keep in mind you'll need to track of things.)

That's not everything one can do, but it's a good start and will likely inspire cleaning up things in areas you wouldn't have thought of before.  That's the point.  It's amazing what we don't think of or simply turn a blind eye to simply because we've come to accept it.

I'd love to hear your ideas for electronic clutter cleanup!


Melissa said...

I definitely have been thinking about clutter lately, and did not even think to go through my electronics, fantastic idea Mica! I have done the normal purging, going through the bedroom, clothes, other different possessions and tossed what I didn't need/use. Part of this I think comes from the necessity to toddler proof our room. lol. I started a few months back on my electronic purging by going through all of my photos on FB and deleting those that either were terrible, out of focus, or did not promote positive feelings in my life.

I should do more. :)

Mica said...

@Melissa, good point on purging things that do not "promote positive feelings". I do this every once in awhile, and I have to ask myself, "Does this bring purpose to my life? Does it help me on my quest to happiness?" If not, I have to let it go, because it's just giving dust and the past places to hide, and therefore stick around.