Everyone can be a minimalist in the the digital era right? You stream your movies or music, you can store all your copies of music, movies, photos, documents, mail, bills etc to a device smaller than your thumbnail. No more clutter and nothing eating up the precious space leaving everything clean and neat. However, this is only true for the physical world.
In the digital world, your files are probably stored hap haphazardly across dozens of “made sense at the time” folder names and full of more files that fit this naming convention as well. Meanwhile you struggle to find what you need when you need it because it’s buried in D:/backup/backup2012/flashdrivebackup/rand/old/my_files/Tuesday/file_I_want.docx. Or worse its somewhere on the desktop because maybe you hadn’t had time to save it somewhere meaningful or maybe you just aren’t comfortable with being able to remember where you put it if you create too many folders.
On top of that you have a password manager because tracking your 50 website passwords got unruly on paper. Who knows who owns your old forum account/off beat social media account that you only remembered because it was on your list that was lost with your wallet last year(not to mention it used which email account to sign in?). Perhaps you use multiple services, OneDrive, DropBox, Google Drive and have files stashed at each location because hey, each offered a small amount of free space at one time or have that one thing you think you can’t live without.
There is a way out
It’s ok. We have all been there and most of us stay there. But today is your lucky day. You can get yourself out of this mess and get your digital life under control. You just need to tame it through a form a minimalism(and organization).
The Internet is infinite
Computers are great because they allow us to store things indefinitely(or close to it) as well as allow access to services to be able to pull in almost any content you want at a moments notice. However with this vast amount of information available we tend to keep too much and want to be able to have access/consume too much. Perhaps it’s the fear of missing out or the desire to be caught up on your favorite programs at any given time, we keep accumulating documents, media and accounts to store or stream additional documents and media. However this clutter, gives us unneeded stress and our digital lives need cleaned as much as our cluttered counter tops and closets.
Keep only that which brings value
The best way to handle this mess is to tackle it with minimalism. No that doesn’t mean going dark or not using computers. Simply put, it means you only keep that which brings value, or enough value to be worth the effort to keep and maintain it.
How do you know if you need to minimalize your digital life? Do you require a password manager? Can you find any file you need without using the search option in your PC?
Password managers are a symptom of a larger problem. This problem being that there are too many services that require accounts and custom logins for you to access anything. Ever heard of openID? It seems that most companies haven’t either, which then requires that you create yet another user name and password with some arbitrary length that you then need to remember. Not only that, but because you have a Youtube account, and Microsoft account and own an apple iPod or phone you likely have an email available with each of these providers, plus maybe your ISP or an old email account from when you first started using the net. So you get to pick a new username, password and contact email for each service.
This creates a lot of hassle, and although is mitigated by a password manager, it still means you have dozens of sites and services that you need to keep track of and monitor to prevent them from being hacked or breached.
Remove excess accounts
It’s time to fix this. Go through your accounts and close out or delete all the ones you no longer use or bring enough value to you. The ones to keep are the ones that you remember you have when they email you letting you know their database was breached and it’s time for a password reset.
How many online stores do you use? How many do you have accounts for? If you are like me, for the longest time I had more accounts than I had stores I would purchase from. Then in an effort to consolidate my digital life I started going through my email and found all the stores I had purchased from in the past and started resetting the passwords, logging in and closing the account. If I couldn’t close the account I contacted support and asked them to kindly close it for me. Oddly enough this was very simple, however the larger the company was the harder it was to get a response and for me to fully close the account. So just be aware that closing your mega store account may take more than one email and the small shops are more forgiving.
In addition to removing accounts that you no longer use, filter out the accounts you use less frequently. Do you have a free Pandora account but are an Amazon Prime member or have a subscription to Google/Apple Music? Yes, one outfit may not have all the songs you want, but how often do find yourself searching out those exclusives? How much would it cost to purchase those so you own them and can play them at any time regardless of your account standing? Consider these options and make the changes to close these extra accounts. And yes, close those email accounts you are ashamed of sharing with others too. No one wants to email MyAw3someEfirstname.lastname@example.org. Keep one for spam if you must, but be sure to only use it for this purpose.
Over the past year I have completed this myself and easily closed over a dozen accounts and services that I remembered and forgot about. What’s best is that this reduces my online footprint and even helps keep spam down as the fewer the websites with my email accounts means fewer chances for it to fall into spammers hands.
In addition to closing out these email accounts, take time to remove yourself from mailing lists you don’t care for. The fewer sites that have your email means the fewer chances there are for your email being involved in a breach and thus causing more spam.
Ok, so once you are done closing all these accounts now you are ready of the next step.
Delete your (excess) files
No not all of them. However, you need to be just as judicious with your digital files as you are with your paper ones. No one likes amassing a cabinet of to be filled paperwork and no one likes sorting through files on a thumb drive to find what they need. Save yourself the need to buy more storage. Delete your blurry photos, keep only the clearest or those that have the most meaning from each event. Do you really need that paper from your Philosophy class in college? Delete. How about that 100% you got on that English paper in high school? Delete. Unless of course these bring you some kind of joy or other value(inspiration perhaps?). The goal is to keep only what is relevant and important. Remove the rest and enjoy the neat and tidy filesystem left on your PC. Not to mention you can actually find what you need when you need it then.
Organize your files
Now that you have only the files that are important go through and create meaningful structure, file and folder names. It’s easy, just keep it logical. So no harm in organizing photos such as Birthdays/2012/John or John/Birthdays/2012. However to reduce the risk of redundancy always start with the most broad category first. So in this case Birthdays, then by the next least broad category such as year. So Birthdays/2012 and then by person(because maybe someone forgot a camera that year or whatever). So Birthdays/2012/John would be the most desirable. Will there be duplicates? Yes, however you can make use of image tags to help organize them. This makes it so if you search for a person, place or event it’s easier to find.
So to reduce your stress and bring peace to your computing life, you should apply minimalistic ideals.
- Keep only that which brings value to your life that is worth the effort to maintain
- Close old unused accounts
- Consolidate accounts where possible
- Delete old files and keep only that which you need
- Organize your files for easy retrieval
After doing so you should find that you have less to worry about, know where you files are and actually know what you need to back up so when your laptop dies or is stolen you have a copy of what’s needed/important.
Even if you aren’t into the whole idea of minimalism you should at least consider taking these actions anyway. You don’t need to be a minimalist to manage your digital life. However it’s principles will help you decide what to keep and what to remove to make time and space for what’s most important to you.