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Digital clutter

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Some years ago I embarked on a comprehensive decluttering project [I interchange the word declutter with unclutter, though the latter is not recognized by my spellcheck], purging unwanted and unneeded books, clothing, household items, various trinkets and baubles, as well as scanning all my photographs and paper documents and culling both down to the bare essentials. A couple years ago I swallowed hard and purged my DVD collection. I’ve embraced a minimalist way of living, not only in the things that I own but also in my daily activities, taking part in only those things that bring me the greatest sense joy and fulfillment (aside from work, naturally).

Yet I’ve allowed my computer to harbor an ever-growing collection of digital data, and it’s reached a point where I often spend so much time attempting to retrieve a quote or a photo that I either forget why I was looking for it or lose interest altogether.

Digital clutter is easy to accumulate as it does not take up space in our lives the way a book or a piece of clothing would. Storage space is incredibly cheap, both in disc/SSD format and in the cloud, and most of us will never come close to filling up our computers’ hard drives. But the point is that, just because every file we ever create can be saved forever, doesn’t mean they should be.

Over the next few months I’m going to review and purge three main areas on my MacBook. The month of May will be devoted to the six thousand-plus songs in my iTunes library, while June will be focused on my nearly four thousand pictures in iPhoto.

April will be spend on Safari, my web browser of choice. I have a knack for saving bookmarks to sites I will likely never revisit, and over the years I’ve created folders within folders to tame them. But the bookmark zoo has grown far too large. I have 20 main folders, covering topics such as movies, employment/resumes, simplicity, nutrition, exercise, computers/technology, places/travel, habitation and (everyone’s favorite) “random”. Most of these folders contain several dozen sites; my exercise and random folder have well over a hundred, as does my employment/resume folder if I count the sub-folders for resume-writing, interviewing and recently-unemployed. Whew.

So my first task is to go through each folder and sub-folder, open up every bookmark in a separate tab, review the site, see if it’s something I still want to reference, then either keep it or delete it. Having done this to several of my folders, I have already found somewhere between a fourth to a third of all bookmarks are dead links! Of the live links, I’ve tried to delete multiple links to the same web site, opting to keep just one link to the main page if possible. I’ve probably already eliminated a couple hundred bookmarks already, and I’m not even halfway done… I’m saving the two biggies (exercise and nutrition) for last, as they’ll correspond with folders cluttered with various clippings on my hard drive.

Once I’ve purged my bookmarks, I will move on to the Reading List, a neat little feature built into Safari, like a Netflix queue for web articles. It’s insanely easy to save a page in the Reading List to read later… and then forget about it completely. Such is life. But I dislike having so many unread articles out there. It gives me the feeling of having unfinished assignments hanging over my head, a feeling I came to dread when I was in college.

I made a cursory review of the list last weekend and deleted about a third of the one hundred or so articles saved therein. What’s left will be read, consumed, contemplated, then either referenced on this here site or deleted. I’m going to resist the urge to simply transfer saved articles to my bookmark folders.

Thinking about my to-read pile reminded me of this article in Unclutterer about handling the flow of information in our lives. There’s a lot of shit out there on the internet and not enough hours in the day to consume it. I can’t read every article or watch every video posted to my Facebook feed (note to my family and friends — PLEASE stop posting links to Facebook on a daily basis!). As Chris Miller is quoted in the article, “my time and attention are the most valuable things I possess.”

Upon reflection, I think I save so many bookmarks and Reading List articles because I want to learn, to stay informed, on as many topics as possible. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that life is just too damned busy for me to keep up with every topic of interest. I have to develop an ability to cull from the monstrous pile of information, to seek out what really benefits my life and focus solely on those things, and be at peace with leaving the rest of it behind me. With that said, I’ll close with this gem of a comment from the Unclutterer article:

EVERYTHING is interesting when you have a curious mind but we can’t read everything, can we? Why are we becoming so afraid of missing out on the latest post, article, whatever? Why do we have to follow so many feeds or “friends”?

I am just as guilty in some of these areas as everyone else and I have been asking these questions of myself lately, so this is not intended as just criticism for all of you and not me. I realized that in my quest to remain “informed” about so many things, I was actually learning less by becoming distracted and scattered. I am trying to turn that around now but it’s not easy!


Written by camcarlson

April 14, 2014 at 9:55 PM

Posted in Apple, Simplicity

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