Everything on your computer is a metaphor for something that exists in real life. If you can be a hoarder in real life, you can also be a hoarder in the digital world of your computer and the Internet.
On second thought, if you are a hoarder in real life, you’re probably also a hoarder on your computer. Hoarding is a mindset. Clutter is a mindset. Being neat is a mindset.
While I have nothing against clutter, as clutter is a sign of an active, creative mind, I can see no benefits of having clutter around. Your stockpile of information is doing you no good. I know, because both my real and digital workspaces are cluttered. It sounds hypocritical—me writing a post about decluttering, while my own workspace is cluttered—but the first step to improvement is recognizing a problem. I recognize I have a clutter problem. Now I have to fix it.
I’ve spent more than 20 years on the Internet. I’ve collected hundreds of interesting e-books, online courses, articles to read, links to check out, notes, software to try, and other digital goods—all sitting on digital shelves and collecting digital dust. I will probably never look at 90% of it again.
Here are two approaches to cleaning it up:
- Declare information bankruptcy: Delete all of it and start fresh. I will probably never need any of it again anyway. If you’ve ever lived away from home for an extended period, you will recognize that you only need what you brought with you. 99% of the stuff you left at home is unnecessary. If your home burned down while you were away on your extended trip, you would be able to go on living just fine.
- Go through ALL of your information: If 99% of your stuff is unnecessary, what about the remaining 1% that you would regret losing if you deleted it? The only way to find it is to go through every piece of data in your hoard. If you are not patient and don’t mind taking some risks, you’re better off with information bankruptcy. However, if you are patient and don’t like taking unnecessary risks like me, then go with this option. It will be slow and tedious, so make a plan of attack. For example, if you have a backlog of 300 unread articles, you could go through 10 per day and be done in a month. You could apply the 80/20 rule, and for every ten items you go through, you only keep two and delete the other eight. Then you would have to make a plan to read the two articles you saved, either immediately or at a scheduled time. Don’t let the stuff you decide to keep gather digital dust in your computer for another decade.
Whether you choose just to delete everything or sort through everything, it is important not to start accumulating information again. Consume ALL the information that comes to you. Don’t save what you don’t have time to consume. If you don’t have time for it now, you won’t have time for it later. Going forward, you need to consume only the most compelling and useful information as it comes to you. If you don’t have time, just let it go. Let it slip back into the ether of the internet. Trust me. You won’t regret it.