With the amount of data being generated in our lives daily, it’s easy to let things get out of hand. At one point, I had over 4,000 articles in my “read later” list. I also had over 20,000 digital photographs sitting on my hard drive, with more added every week. Hundreds of videos sat waiting for me in my YouTube, TED, and Vimeo “Watch Later” lists. Unprocessed digital information has a habit of piling up. There is simply not enough time to go through it all. Data is not physical, so you don’t see how much digital clutter you have. There is a new generation of “hoarder” with an unmanageable amount of digital clutter.
The most useful way of decluttering your life is to apply the 80/20 rule. That is, you can safely delete 80% of your data because you will only ever find the time to use 20% of it. The tricky part is deciding which part of the 80/20 rule each piece of data belongs in.
I implemented a system of keeping my digital data under control. Every year, delete 80% of the data you’ve accumulated. Keep doing this for each year’s data until the amount of data reaches some minimum level.
For example, suppose you took 3,500 photographs last year, and they’re just sitting there on your storage taking up space. Sometime this year, go through all of them and delete 2,800 of them (or choose 700 of them to keep, if you prefer to think of it that way). Next year, you would go through these same pictures from last year again and delete 560 of them (you would have 140 left). Then suppose you set the minimum number of photos to keep from last year to 100. A couple of years from now, you would only eliminate 40 pictures from your previous year’s collection. That means in a couple of years, you would have successfully deleted 3,400 pictures from your storage.
Chances are, in a couple of years you wouldn’t even really need those 100 remaining pictures from last year anyway, but I’m all for maintaining good archives. A useful archive is one without clutter. For my photo collection, I’ve set my minimum to 12 pictures for each member of the family for each year. I also keep an equal number of images that have no people in them. I enjoy going through the small collection of “best” pictures from time to time, but I never enjoy having to dig into a massive archive of unfiltered pictures. Deleting most of my photographs helps me enjoy my photo collection a lot more.
You can follow this same process to clean up all sorts of data collections including web links, music, videos, documents, e-books and others.