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On A Minimalist’s Digital Space

There are many things about my lifestyle that I have gradually changed while making the transition from cluttered to clutter-free.  The physical landscape of my space has changed a great deal, and I am incredibly proud of the changes I’ve made.  I’ve carved a path through the stuff that was originally so suffocating to create a clean, polished space to live in, to love, and to be an active participant in while the everyday moments continue to march on.  My mental state is much less cluttered and anxious than it once was when I was feeling overwhelmed with the stuff that surrounded me.  I have successfully managed to minimize the physical and mental clutter, but the digital – up until today – had continued to be cluttered and overwhelming.

What do I mean by a minimalist’s digital space?  The goal was to create a feeling of organization, ease, and simplicity when opening my laptop to look something up on the Internet, write a blog post, or tick off another chore on my digital notepad.  That favorite quote of mine that I like to refer back to from time-to-time when I’m feeling a little less inspired than usual – Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful – is also applicable to digital space.  For many of us, a personal computer is used to store memories such as photographs, monumental work from undergraduate/graduate school (you may or may not be using these items to further scholarly goals), important documents such as personal information, and – in cases such as mine – scraps of creative writing (that isn’t being thrown into blog posts) that hope to become something accomplished one day.  I try to keep everything organized so that should the time come that I need something, I can quickly and easily pull it up on my device.  That was my ultimate goal for minimizing my digital space.

Before today, I could boast thousands of pictures, hundreds of documents, and dozens of files and tabs open at once.  It was the the digital version of a hoarders paradise.  I had option after option of deadened documents I hadn’t opened in months (some of them years) to click to from my desktop screen, folders of work that I hadn’t needed since my early undergraduate career, and photos of ex-boyfriends I’ve long-since felt sentimental about.  Until today, all of those things were clogging up the systems on my computer, slowing down activity and preventing ease of use when trying to accomplish everyday digitally-necessary tasks.

Today, I minimized my folders.  All of the undergraduate work that was worth saving, I moved into a single folder and then created subfolders for specific subject matter.  I have a folder dedicated to the writing I do for this blog, as well as the photos I post.  I have a “Memories” folder for photographs that I want to hold on to outside of Cloud storage, and a writing folder for all of those snippets of ideas that might eventually come together.  I have an employment folder with cover letters, resumes, and letters of recommendation, and a projects folder for ongoing things that I like to keep track of digitally such as a transcription project of all the letters my grandparents sent back and forth while my grandfather was on active duty in the 1950s and sketched-out plans for that Shangri-La bookshop of my dreams.

The aforementioned past-sentimental photographs of old flames have now been “permanently deleted” according to Apple services.  My photo gallery has been purged of all photos that do not resinate with me anymore.  I’ve even made space in my Cloud for new photos rather than the clutter of old ones that hold no meaning for me anymore.

I kept the things – digitally – that matter the most to me.  I kept my kitten photos of Gatsby and Penelope.  I kept the photos of Sawyer and I.  I kept the honors thesis from my undergraduate career that I spent a year completing (and loved every step of the process!).  The things I got rid of – so much like the physical objects I’ve purged from Sunrise Spot – are not going to be missed.  I’ve already forgotten many of the items I’ve deleted today, simply because they were unnecessary.  I have removed all the programs I do not use from my laptop so that I have maximum storage space for the things that matter.

Here is a list of things I recommend scrubbing down if you’d like to take steps toward minimizing your digital clutter:

  1. Old Documents – because you’ve long-since graduated and you simply won’t need those old papers, just the way you felt about your old textbooks.
  2. Desktop Icons – Looking at too many icons on your desktop is like trying to find a workspace on a cluttered desk, time-consuming and anxiety-provoking.  Get rid of those bad boys, you don’t need most of them, and the ones you keep – condense into folders!
  3. Photos – I have learned that I need to delete any photograph that no longer serves a purpose, sentimentally or otherwise.  They are the Cottenelle of digital space – they’ll never break down and they’ll clog up all your pipes.
  4. Facebook Friends, Groups, Games, etc. – I keep the people I want to stay in contact with on my Facebook at all times.  They come first and foremost when I use that social media outlet.  Otherwise, Facebook becomes a distraction and honestly, I don’t have enough time in the day!
  5. Inbox Clutter – This is a big one: I went in and deleted all of the mail that is no longer relevant to me, unsubscribed from receiving emails from stores/brands I do not need/enjoy, and bookmarked the emails I still need to follow up on.
  6. Email Accounts – Most working professionals have two email accounts – one professional and one personal – let’s try to stick to that magic number and not grow too many sprouts.  They’ll become unmanageable in no time, flat.
  7. Desktop Background – I had a simple photograph of a mountain range that was pre-loaded on my laptop.  I decided for a change, albeit a simple one.  I put up a photo of Gatsby asleep in his favorite napping spot: my leather armchair.  Keeping a simplistic background that holds meaning and makes me smile when I see it is as important to completing my goals as opening the laptop itself.
  8. Folders – I built a new infrastructure to my filing system.  Each mother-file has a name (like I explained above), with child/sub-folders inside to keep things nice and tidy.  It’s a great way to keep track of things, especially when you have many different projects going on in your digital space.
  9. Music and Movies – I know, I know – as soon as you delete the MP3 file or that movie you haven’t watched in over a year, you’ll get the hankering to listen to or watch it again.  But more often than not, if you haven’t played a song or watched a movie in quite some time, you’ve outgrown your liking for it.  Get rid of it, there’s no reason to keep dead files filing up your precious (digital) space.
  10. Don’t Take Anything Too Seriously – I accidentally deleted one of the first photographs that Sawyer and I had of us together.  After thirty seconds of panic, I realized that I hadn’t yet emptied my trash bin (which is where all your deleted files go).  Thus, the photo was salvageable.  There is almost always a way to salvage little mistakes like these, so don’t worry too much.

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Decluttering my digital space took several hours when I sat down and really focused my energy on the task.  Despite the time-consuming nature of the project, however, the end result was incredibly rewarding.  I am now happy to use my laptop for the tasks I need it for, and I enjoy using it more than ever.

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