Friday, November 4, 2016

The Digital Clutter

Throughout the reduction process thus far I'd focused solely on objects that took up physical space. When CDs and DVDs and Blu-rays became too burdensome I opted for digital versions. When photographs became too troublesome to worry about containing I digitized them.

And then I backed everything up. And backed it up again. And again. And again.

Because the issue with things in digital format is that they aren't tangible, they could be so easily deleted, erased or corrupted. So you can't just have one copy of the file. You need a few, in different places. Just. In. Case.

And so I purchased a backup hard drive. Then another. Then another. Or I burned things to CD or DVD in the event the hard drives failed.

And of course I had more than one computer, more than one eReader, more than one electronic device - iPad, iPhone, iPod, etc. - more than one digital camera that needed backing up.

So, as my physical space was beginning to clear out, my digital space was getting pretty cluttered. I had a stack of hard drives, an album of backup CDs, computers filled with random things I'd downloaded and didn't immediately address. I had a dropbox filled with graphics created for me.

I had duplicates upon duplicates upon duplicates of images and files and videos and audio clips.

And it began to stress me out even more than the clutter in my physical space.

So I reduced the number of devices - gone went the digital cameras, the old iPods, the multiple eReaders, the unused iPad. I reduced the number of hard drives - by purchasing larger hard drives and moving the files onto them. I reduced the number of computers - I only need one computer, not three.

And for a time I felt better. Because it initially felt like I'd done something major. It felt like there was less. But only kinda sorta.

Because those three or four hard drives contained a sea of digital debris. And not only were there multiple copies of the same things, they weren't easy to identify as duplicates. Because they were named differently, or downloaded at different times. There was no system in place and so things were saved willy nilly. It was (and still is) a digital disaster.

This past summer I finally decided to devote my time to organizing my digital clutter. I came up with a system that would work. I spent days and days checking and cross-checking certain photos and videos and graphics and documents to make sure I had just one copy then discarded the remainder.

Needless to say I did not finish the project. But at least I was on the path. Then, just last month, I found another hard drive and computer loaded with stuff that would have to be checked. Over 30,000 items to check and file or discard.

And it's been such a punch to the gut.

But it's also made me think.

I'm spending hours and days and weeks going over digital items from my past that I clearly didn't care all that much about in the first place, or didn't really need or I would have accessed them since then.

I see now that I'm wasting so much time I could be doing something meaningful dealing with something not very meaningful.

I already know I have all my important photographs and videos and audio clips sorted and accounted for. So why am I checking through all this other stuff that doesn't really matter to me?

Is it just because it's mine? Is it just because I purchased it and ditching it will make me feel like I wasted my money? But that can't be, because these small items are a fraction of the cost of any items I've bought for my household that I got rid of without much thought. Maybe it's because they'll be deleted versus donated and they won't have value for anyone anymore?

And if they served a purpose for me at one time or another but no longer do, why am I so dearly hanging onto them? Why am I not applying the principles of my physical stuff to my digital stuff?

I have no good answer to any of these questions. Because the exact same principles should apply. If they're no longer useful or meaningful it's time to let them go.

So, with this fresh outlook on digital clutter I am hopeful of tackling the remainder of the project with a bit more speed, a bit less carefulness, and a bit more severity.

I don't need screenshots of cute images I've discovered on the internet. I don't need countless lists of things I once wanted to acquire. I don't need reminders of things I haven't yet done, receipts of purchases I've made, transcripts of customer service chats.

Once - not if but once - I have my data properly sorted I will try to tackle all that data online and in the cloud. Because I don't really need so many email accounts. I don't need a wish list at Amazon filled with things I might someday want to buy. I don't need all those thousands and thousands of email messages, most of them suggesting I take advantage of the latest sales.

In order to feel unencumbered by my stuff I can't neglect all things digital. So as I strive for minimal I also have to find a way to decrease my digital footprint and keep it small and clear.

To be continued...