I feel like this blog post should come with a warning. I’m about to delve into an area in which I have little expertise – technology. I’m heading into the arena before I’m ready because Amy Poehler says, “Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it.” And I pretty much do what Amy Poehler says. But I’m also jumping in feet first in the hopes that
if I drown when I drown, you all will rescue me with your brilliant ideas and vastly superior skills and knowledge.
Today, I’m talking about digital clutter. Somewhere, my computer-programming father and brother are ducking their heads in shame and whispering fervent prayers for me to keep this brief for the honor of our family name. I’ll do my best.
Many of you know that I’ve taken on a 40 day challenge to eliminate clutter from my home. So far, I’ve focused this series on actual, physical clutter, the kind you put in a bag and drive to your local Goodwill. However, if we are going to be serious about eliminating the things that distract us from the things that bring us joy and meaning, there are a few things we have to talk about that can’t be carried out in a trash bag. Digital clutter can be just as distracting as physical clutter, if not more so. I’m going to share what’s working for me, and then I’m going to BEG you to share what you’re doing to minimize the clutter that occurs on your own desktops and phones and online world.
If you know me in real life, you know that I can contradict myself on the topic of technology in a mere sixty seconds. On one hand, I love the tools available to us thanks to the Internet. I don’t know where I’d be without my cell, and I once crowd-sourced my Facebook page to add even MORE app clutter to my phone. On the other hand, I’d kind of love to find out where I’d be without my cell phone. I have secret fantasies of throwing it in a lake and not replacing it. I’ll rant about the dangers of losing our right to privacy in one breath and then hand my personal shopping list to Target in the next for a five percent discount on Cartwheel. (Side note – once, when I pointed out one of my own self-contradictions to a wise friend, she graciously quoted Walt Whitman at me. “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” YES! That’s it! I’m not a walking contradiction, I simply contain multitudes. I’m a piece of poetry! And you are too! I’m so thankful for that little piece of self-rationalization. Go ahead and feel free to use it anytime.)
While I sort out my own contradictory feelings about technology, I’m constantly trying to minimize its distractions while enhancing its benefits. If you’re not ready to pull the plug on your technology either, then pull up a chair instead and let’s chat about our other options.
1. Your Computer’s Desktop – Let’s start with our desktop. It’s the first thing we see when we turn on the computer and the visual assault of so many items can be overwhelming. The desktop is just a copy of things stored elsewhere on our computers. Try creating a file system that works for you and diligently save things to files instead of all over the home screen of your computer. The same principle can apply to your phone. Whether you love folders, or prefer to have your apps out in the open, keep the most important tools up front and center and hide (or better, delete) the apps you don’t use or need. If you share a family account on your cell phone, consider changing your settings so you don’t automatically receive every version of Minecraft your kids upload. (If you kids are teenagers, disregard that advice, you might want to see every app they are downloading to their phones!)
2. Email – Check out Unroll Me. This is the best thing that ever happened to my email. This service will scan your email for every single subscription you have (I had 278!?!) and then allow you to select Unsubscribe or Rollup to any subscription you do not want in your inbox. Rather then clicking at the bottom of each individual email that comes to your inbox in order to unsubscribe (and sometimes having to remember a password) it takes care of all of that for you by acting as an interception point for those emails. Any subscription you put in your Rollup will come in one, consolidated email. I cannot begin to tell you what a difference this has made for my inbox. Everything is still searchable too, so you don’t have to worry about something important being lost in your Rollup. Additionally, your Rollup will continue to scan for new subscriptions and ask you what to do with them on a daily basis.
3. Password Help – I cannot remember my passwords. How can anyone? We’re supposed to come up with these highly unique passwords like UniCorn146&RaInBoW9sprinkles and manage to remember it later? There’s not a chance. Thankfully, you have choices. You can write your passwords in one little book and keep it with you, but if you are someone who loses things regularly, this probably is not the best plan. There are several online password services like LastPass that remember and encrypt your passwords so you only have to remember one password and it will log you into everything else. If that’s still a little too insecure for you, the same service can be done on your local computer with software like 1Password.
4. Music – This one speaks to both your digital clutter and your actual clutter. Consider a subscription to a service like Spotify to store and catalog music for you. You’ll have access to a huge variety of artists, the ability to download songs to your phone for offline use, and the ability to take them off your phone when you need your space back. We’ve been using it for a couple of years now and it has actually increased the amount of time I spend listening to music (which for me is a win) and the variety of music, all without increasing digital or actual clutter in my home.
5. Pictures – This is where I fail you. I have too many pictures. I have so many pictures that I have to use separate external hard drives to store them. I’ve developed some recent habits that have helped, such as turning off my Photo Stream so that I can manually delete pictures from my phone before moving them over to my computer (thus slowing the flow of screen shots ending up in my iPhoto library) but I could still use a lot of support in this area. Any ideas? What do you do to keep your favorite memories but not allow them to overtake your computer? What’s your favorite software for photo storage?
6. Screen Time – The key to not allowing my digital clutter to overtake my life is to set screen limits for myself, just like I do with my kids. At some point, they’ll be old enough to make their own choices about how they spend their time online and I want to model behavior I’d like to see them emulate. Total disclosure — this is a huge struggle for me. I recently downloaded this app called Moment that tracks my time online. I ran it in the background of my phone for a couple of weeks to see how much time I was spending online before setting goals and was not happy with what I found out about myself. I’m still using the app, but allowing it to send me reminders every twenty minutes I’m on my phone. The app allows you to set limits and even has options for powering down your phone for you when you’ve reached your daily limit.
7. Information Overload – Part of the reason that I struggle with screen time is that I love to absorb information. I recently took a StrengthsFinder assessment for an organization I’m involved with, and was not too surprised to learn that my top strength is something they call Input. Basically it means I like to absorb huge amounts of information on a daily basis. The Internet provides that for me in spades, but it’s also a little like offering someone with a coffee addiction (also me) a lifetime membership to a local coffee shop with unlimited free refills. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I’ve
had to learn am still learning to set limits and one tool that has really helped me is an app called Pocket. Pocket saves your content so that it is accessible offline, and eliminates the clutter of a dozen open Safari tabs. If I see an article that looks interesting, or that someone shares online, I’ll save it to Pocket for reading at a later time. That’s key for me, the later time part. Then, at the designated reading time, I open up Pocket and decide if I really want to spend my precious reading moments on this content, or if I’d rather dig into a novel or seek out information on my own on another topic. It puts the agency back in my hands in a less impulsive setting. If this is a problem for you too, give it a try.
I’m sure this will be a constantly evolving process for me, figuring out how to use technology without abusing it. Do any of you struggle with this too? I’d love to hear what you do to minimize digital clutter in your life and how you navigate this brave new world. Feel free to comment here, or find me any of the social media platforms on which I currently spend too much time.
This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager. Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post! I look forward to hearing about your own resignation.
3. But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter
4. Donating Outside the Box – On finding a great place for your donations
5. 7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices
6. Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging
7. Getting to Know Mr. Jones: An Antidote to Consumerism – On exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8. Taking Back Your Square Footage – On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values