Digital decluttering

The contents of my ‘To Sort’ folder tipped out on my desktop

In order to clear the way for fresh projects in 2019 I am currently in the process of cleaning up my digital clutter. I have files, photos and folders all over the place. Some is on my computer at work, some on a laptop at home, some on external drives, memory sticks, Dropbox – it’s a bit of a mess really.

Fortunately my Dropbox subscription has tonnes of space so I’m throwing everything in there and using a software tool to scan through and identify what I have multiple copies of (it works even if the file names are different). Then I have to laboriously click through each item and choose which copy to keep and which ones to delete. It is a boring job but fifteen minutes here and fifteen minutes there adds up over time such that in the last fortnight I have removed 18,897 surplus copies of stuff. There is still a little bit more to go but that’s the bulk of the duplicates dealt with.

My next step will be to go through the 53,740 items left and decide what to keep and what to delete. Some of that is already done as I have a few folders of ‘keepers’ where I put stuff that is valuable to me such as important documents, scans of the kids’ school reports and certificates and such like. But there is also a lot of stuff I have saved over the years that I can’t even remember what it is and a fair bit of that should probably be dumped.

I’m a bit of an information junkie, so whenever I stumble across something halfway interesting I tend to save a PDF of it. All those can add up and I will never have time to read all of it. This is where some active decision making needs to happen to choose if I will actually make use of what I’ve hoarded, in which case I need to do so. Otherwise I need to get rid of it. These days it is easy enough to find things again online so my hoarding instinct is no longer a useful strategy.

Some folks would argue that digital clutter doesn’t really matter, storage is relatively cheap and a search will find things even within a massive disordered folder. However, my personal experience is that despite only being ‘virtual stuff’, all those unread PDFs and muddled photos do cause a background stress and distraction. Seeing all that stuff every time I look for whatever I want to work on pulls my attention away from whatever I was setting out to do. This is what I’m wanting to fix.

The distraction factor applies to my digital files, the notes I have in Evernote (I’m on a mission to eliminate most of those too), ebooks, hardcopy books, paper, photos, and my phone.

With my phone I’m aggressively deleting apps and trying to keep only essentials on my home screen because it really is a distraction device if I let it be. I’m at the point with my phone that if an app remains unused for more than a few weeks it gets deleted. It is easy to download apps and each icon on that little screen just adds to the clutter.

There is a fair bit of discussion around the internet about ‘digital detox’ and I’ve given that some serious consideration but after keeping mental notes on my technology use over the last couple of months I think the amount of time I spend using technology is not a significant problem, my issue is more to do with the amount of junk I hold onto unnecessarily.