The Art of Deletion

Many people view destruction as something negative and this viewpoint is not entirely unfounded.  After all when we hear about destruction it’s usually accompanied by violence, a natural disaster, or something with a negative connotation.  It’s the kind of action that makes people squirm and get uncomfortable.  “What if we need it?” they ask as my fingers hover over the red DESTROY button.

At times like these I am reminded of something my aunt told me when she worked as a librarian.  Any decent library regularly weeds their collection of items (books, CDs, DVDs, etc.) to ensure that they are circulated and current.  Check out this website, Awful Library Books, if you want to see what happens when libraries don’t regularly weed the collection.

My aunt told me that sometimes her staff felt squeamish about removing books from the collection.  She used to have conversations with them about the importance of weeding that went something like this:

Staff: What if somebody comes in and asks for the book I removed?

My aunt: Tell them that you’re sorry but they’re a day too late.  It’s been removed from the collection.

Sometimes I feel like we should adopt the same habit to regularly weed our own collections of stored information.  When we can’t find something we can tell ourselves, “Sorry, but we’re too late” and move on with our lives.  I do realize there’s a big difference between a library book and a document, but the basic idea is still there behind the action of purging regularly.

Routinely weeding, or purging, allows us to observe another side of destruction that is often overlooked. When I destroy, or get rid of, stuff I only think about all the space I’m making for new things. In fact my approach, as The Deletist, is to focus on what I need to save so that I feel confident about destroying (or getting rid of) everything else.

To destroy things artfully it’s important to learn a few tricks.

  1. Ask yourself if anybody is going to die if you get rid of something and you don’t have it later on the small chance you might need it.
  2. Save strategically.  Pay attention to what you need in your professional and personal lives.  Focus your energy and resources on saving and managing these things. Get rid of the rest.
  3. Establish criteria based on observations of your usage and needs. Don’t waffle on it.  For example libraries weed books based on how often they get checked out.  A book with poor circulation will be removed to make space for something more popular.
  4. Set aside time to go through your things (clothes, email, documents, etc.) and try out your criteria.
  5. Start with something easy.

Happy purging.


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