Digital Decluttering

With so many places for digital “clutter” to accumulate unseen without any noticeable physical signs (e.g. running out of space), it’s easy to dismiss it.  I recently ran out of space on my Dropbox account reminding me that it was time for deletion.

I had just returned from vacation and we decided to share photos on Dropbox.  Before upgrading the storage, I decided to try and make space.  I found lots of folders full of ROT* (i.e. code for redundant, outdated, and trivial) to delete.  I moved some things onto my computer.  And lastly I removed myself from any folders that I no longer needed to share.  The combined efforts freed up enough space to avoid the upgrade.

This small exercise in DropBox reminded me of how many other digital areas in my life are full of ROT.   I started wondering why is it so hard for us to declutter digitally?

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. There’s a LOT of content to declutter, manage, and maintain.  It seems like there’s always new content to consider (e.g. bookmarks, contacts, social media contacts/content, cloud storage, etc.).  I often feel overwhelmed by the volume and the variety.
  2. It never feels urgent.  It’s never a problem until it’s a problem.
  3. It’s largely out of sight, making it easy to forget about.

These factors, among others, make it hard to find a starting point, or to feel motivated to start.

Here are some of my tips:

  • Start with a problem area (e.g. my overfull Dropbox or a crowded desktop).  If it’s a general desire to declutter, identify areas to declutter, e.g. bookmarks, photos, documents, emails, contacts, etc.  Prioritize them.
  • Space things out.  Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once.
  • Define your criteria for keeping items.  I call this the “Strategic Save”.*
  • Declutter in small quantities.  Pick a single folder, project, or group of photos to work on at a time and apply your criteria.
  • See if you can accomplish things on your mobile device.  I often find waiting for appointments or taking public transit is an opportunity to clean out an old Dropbox folder or some contacts.

*If you already know what you need to do, but struggle with the how, check back for the next two posts, Strategic Saving and Getting Rid of ROT.

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