15 Ways Technology Can Help Clear Clutter


Technology, whether you like it or not, is here to stay. Unfortunately, technology can be tough. It takes time and effort to understand. It can get expensive. We can spend as much time investing into technology as we actually save from using it. And without intentionality, the endless pursuit of the latest and greatest gadgets can be a fruitless endeavor.

On the other hand, technology offers countless benefits: the ability to stay connected, the ability to communicate to a far broader audience, the ability to solve complex problems, the ability to save time, and the ability to clear some physical clutter from our lives.

For those of us who hate physical clutter, consider these 15 ways that technology can help clear clutter from our homes:

1. Photos.

While many of us enjoy our physical photographs arranged in photo albums and scrapbooks, few people have good systems for storing physical photos. Luckily, a simple software program such as Iphoto or Adobe Photoshop Elements not only store your photos digitally where they can never lose quality, but offer a wide range of options for sorting them. Without the right equipment, the process of converting physical photos to digital files can be time-consuming. But, for a fee, services such as ScanDigital will do it for you.

2. CDs.

Even the smallest of MP3 players (8GB) store approximately 1,500 songs in their memory, somewhere around 150 CDs – that’s a lot of shelf space that can be replaced by one device that fits easily in your pocket. And MP3 players can easily be played on any audio system that allows for an auxiliary input.

3. DVDs.

Less and less homes these days are showcasing DVDs. For starters, Blu-Ray players have replaced DVD players in both quality and functionality. But more importantly, companies such as Netflix stream such a large assortment of movies and television shows on demand that keeping all those DVDs on the shelf is no longer necessary. And what about all those movies that you’ve already purchased on DVD? DVD-Burning software (such as Handbrake) quickly eliminates any reason to keep the physical DVDs cluttering up your living room.

4. Contacts / Address Books.

The contact information of business associates, extended family, and old friends used to fill address books, rolodexes, and the margins of phone books. But this is no longer the case. Every computer today provides opportunity to digitally store the information of even your most-obscure acquaintance.

5. Yellow Pages / White Pages.

Depending on the community you live in, those Yellow Pages may be taking up far more space than you prefer. But yellowpages.com contains all the same information… providing an invaluable opportunity to clear up some space in your junk drawer.

6. Maps.

Maps come in a variety of forms: atlas, fold-up, handwritten directions. Today, GPS devices come standard on almost all smart-phones (Iphone, Blackberry, etc.) and even some vehicles. For those of you who don’t use a Smartphone, a simple GPS device can still replace all those maps taking up space in your glove compartment.

7. Cookbooks.

Cookbooks may be among the hardest hit by the recent explosion of free websites and ebooks. The number of photographs in physical cookbooks is severely limited by price, size, and opportunity. But online, recipes are not limited by the same restrictions. As a result, not only can countless photographs be used to guide the rookie chef through the cooking process, but limitless videos can also be used to answer any questions. An entire shelf of cookbooks in your kitchen can quickly be replaced by a few keystrokes on your computer.

8. Books.

Ebook readers (Kindle/Nook) have exploded in popularity and digital books now outsell physical books on Amazon. While reading books on a screen may never replace the actual experience of flipping pages in your world, it certainly provides a golden opportunity to lower your monthly book budget and conserve space on your bookshelf for only the books you desperately need to keep.

9. Newspapers/Magazines.

EBook readers offer newspaper and magazine subscriptions (Kindle subscriptions/iPad subscriptions) to some of the most popular industry journals. This means, of course, fewer periodicals cluttering up your home or office… and more trees standing in the forest.

10. Sticky-Notes.

Ever wish someone would create a product that could replace all those sticky-notes and scratch pieces of paper laying around your home and office? So did the creators of Evernote. And while it may take a bit of effort to figure out how to use, it’s certainly not more effort that sorting through a stack of yellow-sticky notes every time you need to find a note.

11. Cameras (Still/Video).

With the ever-increasing quality of cell-phone cameras, the need to carry a simple point-and-shoot camera is far less important today than it was even 1-2 years ago. Skilled photographers will still use their advanced equipment to capture photos far better than cell phone photographers. But for those of us who just want to be able to capture life’s unpredictable moments in the blink-of-an-eye, the camera lens on most cell phones does the trick.

12. Cable TV.

There are new products entering the marketplace nearly every month that make cutting the cable in your home that much easier. Products such as NetflixApple TV, and Google TV are offering more and more television programs than ever before. And while dropping Cable TV from your home may not clear much physical clutter, the savings of $50-60+/month will certainly clear up some space in your checkbook.

13. Landline Phone.

With more and more people choosing to rely exclusively on cell phones, only 49% of American households use a landline phone (that is down from 97% in 2001). People all over the world are making the switch from landline to cell-phone coverage only. After all, why send money to two different phone companies when you can only talk on one at a time?

14. Computer Data Storage.

Computer workstations and office drawers used to be home to floppy disks… 3.5in disks… CDs… and external hard drives – all for the purpose of storing more and more data. But now, office drawers are beginning to empty again as more and more people choose to store their data in the cloud using free services such as Dropbox. Not only does Dropbox keep data safe from fire and flood, it stores it in a place accessible from anywhere.

15. Calendars.

Oh sure, nothing may ever fully replace the family calendar posted on the inside of your pantry closet door, but the Calendar functions and the syncing abilities across platforms (desktop computers, cell phones, and online) of computer devices sure helps the digital storage of your appointments give that old calendar a good run for its money.

Now I know full-well that the use of technology is a personal decision. Some people will never replace their physical books, magazine subscriptions, or favorite cookbooks. People lived their lives free from clutter for thousands of years without the technology available to us today.

But with the recent advancements in both the functionality and intuitiveness of technology there are very real opportunities available to us to clear physical clutter by using it. And if that’s the case, I’m in!

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Great ideas and thanks! As a musician I find myself inundated with sheet music and music books. I scanned them all and now just read off of my ipad. I also started scanning any books I can’t find as e-books, then sell them on eBay. Only about a 1000 more to go! Love the blog, keep up the good work.

    • hwgang says

      Uh, Joshua Becket, Rob smith, can you say “copyright violation”??

      You can’t keep a book (or anything else…CD, DVD, etc) digitally AND sell it. Clear those DVDs out of your living room, maybe, but they’d better be somewhere else in storage if you’re enjoying the content.

      I’d hope one of the many things to be minimized isn’t ethics.

      • says

        For DVDs, CDs, etc. we just DITCHED THE CASES AND COVER ART! We file them alphabetically in those CD holders you can buy at any big-box store in the electronics department!

        • Karen T. says

          We did the same thing, and now store all of our DVDs and CDs in two large padded “binders.” They fit in one drawer of a small chest that we use as an end table. Perfect! Plus the binders have handles, so if we wanted to take movies somewhere it’s as simple as carrying an extra purse.

        • Christopher Storer says

          Before I ditched my CDs and DVDs entirely, my first step was the giant CD binders. I had several hundred, so the space savings moving to those was incredible, and I didn’t lose any usability.

      • wróżka metylia says

        It depends. In Poland (and it seems at least some other European countries) it is perfectly legal to keep a book or a movie (but not a computer program or game) digitally and sell or give the physical one away; or to make digital copies for your friends, or both. It is also legal to download any already published work (again, not a computer program or game) from the Internet, but not to share with strangers.

    • Beth says

      Rob, how were you able to scan books, there are so many I’d like to get off my shelves, but they are not available to buy for the ereaders. With the binding, how are you successfully scanning??

      Everyone worrying about copyright, I believe Rob was saying that after he scans his books, he sells the books on ebay, not the scanned copy.

  2. says

    This is a great collection of simplifying ideas. Thanks, Joshua.
    The only thing I find challenging is to keep recipes on my laptop instead of printing them out. When I cook in the kitchen I need a reference and I’m always worried my laptop gets a good spill on the keyboard. Any ideas for that?

    • says

      Luzia, iPad on a cookbook stand, LOVE it for cooking all those great pinterest and fb posted recipes my friends are always sharing! Then, if it’s a good one, save it to my OWN pinterest for a go-to good one! :)

      And on DVDs, CDs, etc. we just DITCHED THE CASES AND COVER ART! We file them alphabetically in those CD holders you can buy at any big-box store in the electronics department!

    • says

      iPads fit inside gallon ziplock bags well and the touchscreen still works. For laptops, I elevate them off the surface of the counter (in case liquid runs along the counter) and you can put Saran Wrap over it to protect the keyboard from grime and wet hands.

    • Charity N says

      I print off a copy of recipes that I am trying, and put them in a binder with each sheet in a page protector. This way, I am creating my own cookbook with recipes that I know have worked (along with notes, extra directions, etc. that I have written directly on them), eliminate all of the other cookbooks that I never use (copying the recipes that I love before I get rid of them. You may be surprised at how few you actually use.), and have them always available in the kitchen. I love my ipad, but agree that a physical copy is more convenient for recipes.

  3. says

    16. Scrapbooking! (Or 1a)–biggest aha moment ever when I discovered I could have the digital equivalents of all my favorite scrapbook elements–colors, textures, embellishments, everything. I have moved TONS of supplies on to others still in the paper business, and no longer make any mess doing what I love. No more humongous volumes, though I do have the books printed for our coffee table. They are a fraction of the size, and people look at them! Interestingly, in the process, I have completely ditched the busy pages to showcase the PHOTOS–because that’s the story I’m telling.

    • Kathy says

      I totally agree, Tracy!!! I was so happy to get into the digital version of scrapbooking. My biggest obstacle was what to do with all the supplies when I did paper and also I’d just get everything set up when it was time to clear things off for meal time or to get it out of the kids’ way. Now I’m trying to digitize all those huge albums I made and convert them into the smaller printed/bound photo books. They take up SO much less space and my family actually LOOKS at them. They don’t seem to want to drag out & mess with my huge older albums.

  4. Tracy B. says

    An addendum to the subject of books: one of my first simplifying epiphanies was realizing that I could ditch most of my reference books in favor of websites. Online dictionaries are here to stay, and many e-readers come with them. No need for a thesaurus, crossword puzzle dictionary, etc. I suppose there’s something of a debate still on about encyclopedias–how much can you trust Wikipedia?–but I let go of that too.

  5. Morghan says

    Aside from computer data storage and maps I agree with you.

    The cloud is all well and good, but an unreliable connection makes that data worse than useless, plus if there’s ever an issue a warrant is needed to access local data, many cloud services just hand it over.

    GPS units are unreliable, mountains, canyons, trees, even occasionally the weather can throw off your fix fairly well or even deny it altogether. That’s not taking in to account the errors Google has had, or Apple Maps driving people in to the Australian Outback.

    • Colby says

      I’m glad that I’m not the only one that’s holding out before giving in to technology. I keep hearing all this about the cloud, and all, but frankly, I’m sick of it. I still collect VHS tapes, and never plan to stop. I mean look at history, first were records, then cassettes made them obsolete…now they’re saying cds are no good, b/c of mp3 players. I say watch, and listen to what you want, and just enjoy what little time we have on this earth. It’ll all come back around, anyway.

  6. says

    Many good tips here. We’ve implemented 6 of the 15. Of the remaining, some we chose to stick with the more cluttery method in order to improve the usability.

    We got rid of many of our cookbooks, but we do keep printouts of our favorites in a folder.

    Calendar syncing across platforms and email systems isn’t the greatest. Consider that I use hotmail and a macbook at home, and a windows laptop at work, while my wife uses yahoo mail and an ipad. On top of that, my wife sets reminders for her events, and I’m not sure I’d be able to opt out of those reminders on my devices. It would take a bit of effort to get us all on a single calendar that syncs across all devices. Until we dive into making that happen, we keep a physical calendar in the kitchen that we can all reference.

    Our favorite tech moves from this list that we have implemented are cutting cable TV, dropping the land line phone, and getting rid of those unruly maps in favor of google maps, gps, or phone base maps.

  7. says

    Books are my arch nemesis. I have hundreds of them in my parents’ house and now in my little apartment. I just seem to collect them without really thinking about them. I get them for a dollar or two at random book swaps and used book stores. But the Kindle has helped me get rid of that habit, mostly. I now purchase books on the Kindle and try to keep the clutter of hardcover books from my already too messy apartment.

  8. Tom says

    I totally agree with the digitisation ideas.

    I bit the bullet a while back and digitised over 5,000 slides that I had been dragging around with me for the past 15 years. That was 7 moving boxes of clutter. I used a Canon scanner that could do 12 slides at a time and scanned while doing other work. It took nearly 6 weeks but it’s all done now. The slides went straight into the bin. In reality I now actually look at the photos from time to time while they previously just sat in boxes catching mould.

    With book I take an even more radical approach. I pack them into boxes once a hasn’t been touch for 3 months. After 6 months I open the box and scan the book I think I really really want. The rest goes to charity or into recycling. Turns out charity is drowning in old book no one wants.

    Did the same with DVDs and CDs. All digitised and packed away in boxes. Just trying to find a space effective storage solution at the moment. I actually found little CD boxes at Office works that look stylish and hold about 100 sleeved discs.

    In addition our family has instated a rule that we no longer buy any physical media unless it’s a large format cook book.

  9. says

    Clearing clutter is great to an extent. Digital technology is good to an extent. The problem I am starting to have with the current program is that we are losing touch with slowing down and focusing on one thing, such as reading a book or looking at the artwork on a record album…remember those? This digital age we live in is starting to give us all attention deficit disorder as well as overwhelm our days with clutter of a different variety….information overload….faster…easier…too many choices…too much input.
    Back in the day, kids would grab records and go over to other friends houses and dance to the music and SHARE communal experiences. Now, we have made it too easy to spend all day NOT talking physically with others…we have phones but don’t use them to talk..we text. We sit in rooms and don’t get as much sunlight or exercise as a country as we used to. OR, you can see kids all day long walking around outside with their heads..not in the clouds, but hung down looking at their “gadgets”.
    The reason I use records as an example, is that many people are starting to rebel against the DO ALL BE ALL Mentality and get back to porch swings, bicycles, camping and …..records. Our whole country has been pushed down the path of upgrade..Upgrade…UPGRADE!!! to the point that we are tired of chasing the carrot.
    We are resold over and over the same media in different forms “to infinity and beyond!”
    Clutter, yes get rid of it, but keep a few “A Game” Choices and ditch the rest. My slogan is:
    “Keep the best, Sell the rest”. “Don’t upgrade, EVADE!! (advertising, commercials..sales pitches etc…) Enough is enough. Maybe, just maybe we should pull the plug on our overload consumption, before someone else does it for us. How about a new trend slogan :
    When you grow tired of the Internet (fake friends, generic tweeting, information overlaod), TRY the OUTER-NET ; ) Good Luck to us all.

      • everlearning says

        While I am doing my best to minimize clutter, I have found on this journey that not all things are clutter (not implying that Joshua Becker has ever called all things clutter). But from my point of view, there are many things worth having that are actually life-giving. One of the things I think we miss as a society is the tactile experience. For me, no technology can replace holding and reading a newspaper or holding and reading a book or holding a framed (or unframed) photo in my hands. Newspapers and books also a lovely aroma – if you’re intuitive enough to notice. Turning pages makes a beautiful sound, if you’re willing to listen. I love it when I see my family sitting in the living room, each with a book or newspaper or a National Geographic magazine in hand. I have a lot of difficulty watching a group of people sitting together looking down at their gadgets.
        I couldn’t agree more with L.K.’s observation that we’re all getting ADD with this constant overload of clutter in a different variety. We are not simplifying our lives this way. On the contrary, we are moving at a faster and faster pace because of the overload and immediacy of information. Long ago, we were told that the ‘new’ appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, etc., would give us more leisure time. While I do not want to go back to hand-washing my clothes, it has been proven that these things have not given us more leisure time, but in fact have caused our lives to speed up because we have more “free” time. I still hang my clothes to dry in the summer because it’s a peaceful and soothing action for me. It slows me down, takes me out of the rat race, and gives me time to think in my quiet back yard. All I’m saying is that there is a balance. But technology, from my point of view, has gotten out of hand. I will not use Facebook or Twitter or any of those methods of “communicating”. The people who are important in my life get my time face-to-face, or if they are too far away, they get my voice on the phone or my hand-written letter because our hand writing is like a finger print. I recognize a person’s unique writing just as I recognize their face or their voice. I receive the same gift from my friends and family. Yes, e-mail has it’s uses and conveniences, and I do use that on occasion, but I think we all know that e-mail can be misused as well. I also use my cell phone for emergencies only. I do not keep it on. I don’t even always carry it with me. I don’t want to be accessible 24/7 or even 12/7. I see people in the stores, in waiting rooms, walking in the beautiful outdoors, in their cars, etc., talking on their phones, texting, or playing games on their smart phones, or playing music from their iPods into their ears. When do they get peace and quiet and time to just be? It seems we’re so afraid to be still, to be quiet, to not be connected at all times.
        As for smartphones replacing alarm clocks, cameras, debit and credit cards, etc., once again we are becoming a society frighteningly and increasingly attached to those smartphones, all because they have the capability and so many think if it’s available they must have it/use it. It has our calendars, our notes, our to-do lists, our contacts, it’s how we play games now and listen to music and watch movies….. I see so many completely unable or unwilling to let go of this attachment.
        As for landlines – I will tell you from experience that parents have, to a large extent, become disconnected with their kids, a large part of their lives, and their friends. Friends don’t call the house phone (landline) anymore, so we don’t get to talk to our kids’ friends. Their conversations take place via technology. Kids don’t come to the door anymore and enter the home and actually talk with the parents of friends. They call from the driveway or from 3 blocks away and the kids go out to meet them. My husband and I encouraged our kids to use the landline and to have their friends come in the house for a few minutes before going out. Sometimes we would go out to the car and greet our kids’ friends. We encouraged them to ask their friends to call the house phone. We often had nice conversations with their friends and become close with many of them. We knew who they were! They actually loved it and many of them often started coming into the house just to chat for a few minutes. Our kids ended up liking it too and started getting to know the parents of their friends in the same way.
        I could go on because there’s more in today’s post that I disagree with (what technology can replace my mother’s or my grandmother’s or my own notes next to a recipe in a book???). Mr. Becker, I truly enjoy your website and it has changed my life for the better in many, many ways. But with all due respect, I think today’s post had many flaws and does not represent minimalism. BUT, to each his or her own. Have a great day, everyone!

          • selina says

            It was worth the read. I got some good ideas from it and very much appreciated what “everlearning” had to say. :)

        • Dominique Boisvert says

          With all due respect to Joshua and everyone, I also have much more questions than agreements with today’s post.
          As a co-foudner of the Quebec Network for Voluntary Simplicity (created in 2000 to promote simple living –another name for “minimalism”– in Quebec and the francophone world), I have written and spoken extensively on those themes for the past 13 years.
          And nonetheless, without wanting to “go back” to any kind of illusionary “golden times”, I am more and more drawn to question modern technology and especially “digital/computer/electronic technology”. I agree with Joshua that “technology is here to stay”. Nonetheless, I am more and more inclined to think that its actual (and not theoritical) global consequences tend to be more negative than positive for our societies and culture.
          Let’s suppose, for a moment, that my assertion is correct (it would take pages and volumes to demonstrate what I have just concluded: and this blog is not the place to do so): then, what should be my (our) attitude, given the fact that we cannot de-invent technology (we can’t put the “magic” back into the bottle!) but that technology brings us more (new) problems than solutions?
          I am personally struggling with those questions daily : as a writer and social activist, probably around 80% of my “contacts”/work/militancy go through my computer; but this computer/email work never stops bringing me more input/feedback/requests/contacts which burden me more and more with possibilities, opportunities, duties and responsabilities!
          I agree with L.K., Karen T and everlearning: technology has (great) advantages –as EVERYTHING may have positive aspects; but technology also has numerous and important downsides that are not only consequences of our “bad use of technology” (sorts of “collateral damages”) but that are INHERENT PARTS OF THE TECHNOLOGY ITSELF.
          Because technology is aimed at facilitating our tasks and/or lives (which is positive) and to keep on doing so ALWAYS MORE (which starts to be less positive). And digital/electronic/computer technology is aimed at allowing us to access ALWAYS MORE things, with MORE speed and MORE easiness, at LESS cost –in terms of both money and effort– and LESS material space: and this is essentially a road to OVERBURDENING ourselves rather than decluttering, minimalism or simplicity.

          • says

            Wow! There are more of us out there and that is a good sign. Now let me get this straight for the record, I am not here to bash Joshua or his site. He has tons of great and useful tips to make our lives simpler and I check back to get inspired. My points raised were to put into words a feeling that has come over me in the last few years. We fill up empty lives with stuff or activities that mean very little to us at the end of the day. More and more I see the next generation becoming enslaved to what “bright minds” are selling us on. Today I had the day off and took a drive to my local used book store, where we talked about the idea of something being lost in this society we are now living in. One guy piped up about seeng a kid texting while crossing the street and being hit by a car, while still another told of entire legions of students outside oblivious to the sun and their surroundings. I look at it from a looking ahead point of view and one movie comes to mind.
            It’s called “Surrogates”. In the movie no one ever leaves their homes and instead, stay in bed, while they control a surrogate with a mind device and the surrogate lives in the real world. That movie completed the thought of where we could one day be…completely disconnected from our true selves, each other, and nature. Here’s a link to the preview:
            I believe the key is the same as it’s ever been….moderation. If you spend 1 hour online, then make sure the next one is having fun with someone around you or having a meaningful conversation…offline. We don’t have to live in caves, just make sure that the things you own, don’t own you. That and dn’t buy into the “latest and greatest” gadget that’s sure to “complete” you. Time to go bake some cookies!

        • Melissa says

          Yes! I so agree with you on the tactile appeal of books, photos, etc. People look at me like I’m nuts when I express my feelings on the whole screens-are-taking-over thing. It’s nice to know that others out there share my feelings!

    • maureen says

      Excellent. So, so true. When I was little music was on 8 tracks and vinyl then in my teen years cassette tapes and the boom box, then the everyone must have a walkman phase then cds then the mp3 players then it was put all your music on your ipod then your computer then we replace it all over again on something new. We are caught in a consumer trap that will never end. I could have put my kids through college if I wasn’t caught in the must have new technology crap trap for so long. My important photos are printed out and in a photo album, I don’t have to transfer them to new technology EVER and I can go to the book shelf and look at them without any machines- even when the power is out.

  10. says

    Don’t forget that a smartphone will also replace your alarm clock, digital camera, mp3 player, camcorder, scanner (for simple things), voice recorder… they are currently replacing debit and credit cards as well!! +1 to technology bringing simplicity!

  11. says

    These are great suggestions, and I’m glad you prefaced your article with the phrase “physical clutter,” because, unfortunately, if we are prone to collect and clutter, our devices soon become as messy as our house once was–or worse, since you can collect WAY more digitally than you can fill up a house.

  12. says

    When I got my first iphone less than a year ago, I was amazed at what one little device could replace (my tuner, metronome, calendar, calculator, GPS, mp3 player….) I still have those things, but haven’t used them so it’s time to pass them on.

  13. says

    I can’t say I’m a fan of technology. My own experience with it is that, for each physical clutter it makes disapears, it creates more clutter in one’s mind. Someone talked about pics; It wasn’t such a trouble having a picture album twenty years ago. My parents only owned one, I have four, when my son was born 5 years ago, I took pics after pics with my digital camera. In only one year, I had more pics of him than of me and my parents. I guess now I could fill about 6 or 7 books. So I’d say, in many ways, technology creates more clutter. Why keep 1000 books in your Ipad ? You’ll never read them anyway.

    Also, from a more pratical point of view, the newest the technology, the shortest its life expentancy. My CD player is 20 years old and can still read all my cds. In less than 5 years, I changed my MP3 player 3 times and lost 50% of the music stored. Programs have also changed. So now, I stick to my player, it’s less stressfull for me.

  14. says

    Funnily enough, I just wrote a post that’s sort of a counterpoint to this post, about setting up no-tech areas in your home: http://www.joyfullygreen.com/2013/04/instantly-greener-create-no-tech-zones-in-your-home.html. For me, no electronic book can ever match curling up with a good old-fashioned book–and it’s not even about the books that I “desperately need to keep.” I’m fine with electronic textbooks and their ilk, but for pleasure-reading, there’s no equal to the page for me. Also, while I agree with the overall premise that things have gotten more streamlined and clutter-free, I’m not giving up my paper calendar and address book. I’ve had way too many friends send me messages to the tune of “my computer crashed–can you send me all of your contact info again?” Or, “my phone was stolen and now I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing for the next six months.” I need the paper trail back-up for those things. But yes, I’m 100% on-board with digital photos, music, online magazines, newspapers, and cookbooks.

    • Janice says

      Oh, yay for someone else who likes books!!! Of course, no one “desperately needs to keep” anything really, but do you want your kids to pick up your Kindle or a beautiful picture book, like “A Desert Scrapbook”, just to name one that my 6-year old picked up the other day and said dreamily, “oh, I LOVE this book.” What is it? Gorgeous watercolors of the Sonoran Desert and the life that coexists there. Dramatic only in the way that our world is dramatic. And far too far away from us here in SW Germany to appreciate in person.

      I think for those of us with offspring, having a decent library for our kids is essential; households with books are more likely to have children who will grow up to be readers and I doubt anyone can deny the importance of reading and being well informed. Of course, you could take out books regularly from your local library, or, as you say, use Kindle as does my oldest (an avid sci fi reader, so no big surprises there). It will be interesting to see what my kids decide, but we will continue to hold onto our lovely collection of books and, once the kids are all out of the house, we’ll give them whichever books they want for their kids to enjoy.

      Thanks for all of the interesting thoughts, Joshua and fellow commenters.

  15. Karla McEvoy says

    Love this list Joshua! I’m a big fan of using technology to get rid of physical stuff. I enjoy my Kindle. It fits in my purse and I like having a selection of books with me when I have some time to read. A Netflix subscription was helpful with letting go of the DVDs that my family and I had in the house that we rarely watched. To keep the digital clutter down, I really question whether I truly want or need an item before moving to the digital alternative. I’ve still got a few items to go on this list like scanning photos and getting rid of the landline. Thanks for the inspiration.

  16. Jen says

    Great list- I’m curious as to what you do when you leave your kids home- do they have cell phones to use for emergencies? This is the only reason we are still holding onto our landline(!)

  17. Annie says

    I agree with replacing most of these things with a digital version, but there are some things I won’t change:
    My landline. I’ve been through numerous blackouts in my neighborhood and my cell was useless then, but my landline still worked.
    My 1961 Betty Crocker Cookbook. My mother had one and the recipes were so good and reliable that I bought myself a copy off eBay. I would never give it up!
    My Filofax. I refuse to pay extra for a smartphone and the services for it that I will never fully use. I have an old Handspring Visor and it recharges poorly now and it’s impossible to find similar similar nowadays. I will be transferring my data to my old Filofax, no worries about losing power or the data getting corrupted.

  18. Holly Dominguez says

    We do all of those suggestions, and then some, because I have a paperless office and scan (on my iPhone then sent to Dropbox) all the papers that need/should be kept (like all the kiddos’ school papers, paid bills, etc.). I used to have a home office and closet full of books and photo albums and file totes. Now we have a camping closet instead, because we camp almost every month. All my records are triple backed up, and my file cabinet is on a 1 inch drive on my keychain.
    I also love that we have switched to Netflix & Hulu. We used to pay $123 a month for Directv on 4 tvs. Now we pay less than $20 a month, and we use free codes for Redbox when they come out, so we no longer store movies.
    We boxed up all our books and made a list to see which ones we would want after 6 months. There were 7 books, plus a set from 1840. Only the kids get to keep their books.
    We don’t romanticize having information (like on a map) or data (like on a cassette) in a tangible form. Even my grandmother (who just completed a decluttering of 40 years worth of stuff), is happy to have her pictures on DVD. We took her to EPCOT to celebrate her 91st birthday on Tuesday, and now she gets to share all those pictures with her great-grandkids. I was impressed when she said that it’s better than having them sit in an album on the shelf.
    I keep a quote handy that helps me visualize the information/data as separate from the thing it is stored on (like paper): “In a world where students are surrounded by information, the most important skill to learn is how to curate. Our ability to grow and to think and to learn is a function of our ability to collect and to organize and to sort.”

  19. says

    Another tip, any time I get an invitation or important document I photograph it with my iPhone which I quickly email to myself or my wife. Saved my ass multiple times. I

  20. says

    Those are great tips!
    But what about digital clutter? Sure you can use technology, aka your laptop to clean out (or store away) DVDs and CDs and the like, but then your computer’s harddrive gets cluttered. Sure, you won’t notice this at first because data is not as tangible as stuff, but isn’t a cluttered computer even worse? Imho, if you use your computer for work, then for example a clean desktop and a good “filing system” is crucial.

    • Holly Dominguez says

      I’m far from an expert, but I have spent quite a bit of time trying to solve this problem in our home of numerous devices. Everyone’s needs and devices are going to be different, but the first step could be attributed to Joshua’s message: Own {digitally} less stuff. This is where technology personally satisfies my desire for minimalism.

      For instance, we don’t have a huge music collection, neither in CD nor digital song format. We subscribe to Pandora and Spotify. We delete songs we don’t like from our collection, which is so much easier than donating an old CD from high school.
      My husband uses his laptop for work and keeps a thumb drive in his briefcase for personal documents. The files on there are organized, so he can locate anything in seconds and if he needs to get a new laptop, he just hands over his current one. Being ruthlessly organized is key to fighting digital clutter.

      I try to keep up with the bulk of backing up and purging our digital files. Our laptop screens have almost no icons. I keep photos on one hard drive in my fire safe box (brought out when I upload my pics from my iPhone), documents on another, and business documents on a third. Everything gets burned to DVDs biannually and stored elsewhere. I keep about a year’s worth of data on my hard drive (useful when the yearbook lady emails asking for a photo from the fieldtrip two months ago). We also use Crash Plan to keep everything constantly backed up. And while I’m divulging, I might as well add how I keep up with the transition from tangible to intangible. When I scan a paid medical bill or the latest kiddie creation from my iPhone app (I use a ScanSnap for business papers), it goes to Dropbox. Dropbox temporarily holds my documents until I transfer them to my tiny 1 inch drive that lives on my key chain. This is not a fun process, but it keeps digital clutter to a minimum, and absolutely keeps physical clutter (like file cabinets) out of my life.

      It took some chunks of time and money to get digitally organized, but it created a foundation for us to get our digital lives (more like my digital brain) in order. If you’re striving to be minimal and efficient, you just have to carve out sometime to spring clean your digital house. I hope that helps!

  21. says

    As someone who has lived a nomadic lifestyle for the last 2 years, the necessity to reduce what I transport from place to place was always at the forefront of my mind, with paper being the heaviest and most cumbersome thing to move.

    I now no longer purchase any physical media as it introduces storage and transport issues of course the costant battle with DRM means this is not an ideal situation yet as you have to pick your suppliers carefully.

    The one benefit of digitizing your photos is that if you use a digital photo frame then you will actually have the opportunity to look at your memories on a daily bases, after all if we are honest when was the last time we opened our family album.

    I have had evernote on my pc for ages and as you point out have never really got to grips with it, its not a scheduled task manager and to my mind is simply a service for placing random notes that are available anywhere you are digitally connected.

  22. Kat says

    I’m sure I’m not alone in spending more time than I would like — which I consider a waste — in researching what technology is best to replace what I currently have. I often wonder if it’s worth it, especially when it seems each electronic device I buy bites the dust so much faster.

  23. Chrissy says

    And if there is a power cut, we can….

    I have to say some of these things are good ‘backups’ for the real thing.

    Thanks for the article though, I love aperture for my photos and vids, but will definatly work towards getting the best photos printed in a book, they take up less space than bulky albums. :)

  24. says

    I think technology can help us declutter. While i understand many of people’s concerns with using technology, it seems that these folks are just unwilling to adapt to the new advantages. The person who lost 50% of their music with mp3 player change should have gotten some help in (1) picking a better device or (2) having someone else transfer. Yes, it is all about simplifying for you personally, but most of these technological advantages need to be learned, then the value will come.

  25. Brandyn says

    A lot of good tips on here. I strongly disagree with GPS over maps though. GPS will get you from point A to point B 98% of the time, but you end up at your destination with no frame of referrence to how you got there. I have a friend who is totally lost without GPS. We were meeting at a movie theatre in her hometown, but she was coming from school instead of home. Her GPS wasn’t working so she had to drive home and then drive to the theatre because she couldn’t get there directly – home was in the opposite direction of the theatre. Maps have context.

    Also I will alway have physical books. I do have some on Kindle, but I would much rather have the real thing.

  26. Bree says

    Am I the only one who sees the irony in so many people “poo pooing” technology whilst commenting on a free Internet blog?

  27. Emma says

    Why have a landline? Because you can’t count on 911 knowing where you are with a cell phone. When my diabetic spouse is failing to respond to treatment for low blood sugar, having seizures or losing consciousness, I want them to KNOW where I am when I call, especially if it takes both hands to deal with him.

    Plus, when the electricity goes out for 45 hours, you can still call the power company.

  28. Cat says

    I definitely see the value in technology. However, for me, living a more simple life means I would like to use it less and not be so reliant on it.

    -We have a laptop which we also use to watch tv shows, this is shared by the 4 of us. We use Facebook but no other social networking sites.
    -Myself and my husband have a cell phone each with no internet connection so it is only for texts, calls and as a camera.
    -We have one TV which we only use for DVDs.
    -No ipads, kindles etc. We have the laptop and we use the library for books. We have kept a number of older books, mainly classics, and the majority of the kids books as I feel it is important for children to have physical books as they learn to read and learn about the world.

    I know families where at many points in the day, they are all online (one on a laptop, one on the ipad, one on their DS, one on their iphone etc) and not talking to each other for hours at a time. ipads are given to kids to keep them quiet and busy for long stretches of time. For me, this is not living simply or in a minimalist way. Technology has huge benefits but I think society has to be careful about how reliant we are becoming on it and especially how it will affect our children who have never experienced life without these things. The examples Joshua gives are all very helpful and valid but I have read articles by other minimalist writers who seem to think having lots of expensive technology and gadgets = minimalism and that’s not what it is for me.

  29. says

    Our family of 6 uses Cozi Calendar app. It has both an apple and android app. It syncs all information that any of us put in the calendar! I love that! We still have a dry erase physical calendar on the kitchen wall to glance at when needed. Thanks for the article

  30. keith says

    eliminating cable only saves 20 to 30 dollars average as most reasonable speed internet is bundled with tv. my comcast bill went from 99 to 79 by eliminating cable. savings are savings but 50 to 60 dollars overstates this a bit. then add netflix back and your savings is cut in half. and you end up going to a sports bar to watch your favorite team once and savings for the year are gone.

  31. says

    You could certainly see your enthisiasm within the rticle you write.
    The arena hopes for mmore passionate writers ljke you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe.
    At alll times follow your heart.

  32. Kathy says

    I somehow wound up back here re-reading this article and wanted to comment based on recent experience. I lived for over 10 years where we had great high-speed reliable internet. I did get rid of many DVDs, had Netflix, and more importantly bought any new movies or TV series as digital items only. Then we moved, twice now, to where we have no home high-speed internet. It’s not even an option where we currently live. Trust me, I am all for having everything online and streaming and digital products, but I suddenly found myself unable to access some of my kids’ favorite movies or the only TV series I like well enough to have purchased seasons of. I had to go out and purchase a few on DVD, which is definitely not minimal to me to have them in both formats. But when you live in a 150 sq ft horse trailer/camper with no internet and only a TV/DVD player, you do want a little entertainment. I’m sure at some point we’ll get to move again where we have high-speed internet and the DVDs will either be sold or kept as back-ups, but I just wanted to give a different perspective. I do love being all digital…except when I can’t have internet.

  33. Di says

    I have a Kindle and I hate it. I find it useless when I really enjoy a book and want to pass it along to 2 or 3 friends or my mother – easy to do with a hard copy but an e-book. Also, I can find really cheap paper books at second hand and thrift shops and fetes (and for free from a library) and Kindle books are not cheap (much more expensive here in Australia than in the US).

    I understand Netflix is coming here – but again, at a more expensive cost than for US customers (though it’s not an issue for me as I don’t watch TV or movies). Cable here is about A$25 per month (and up from there).

    My phone is an old Samsung flip phone (calls, texts and the occasional photo, costs me about A$20 per month). We have a landline to save our elderly mothers the expense of calling our mobiles (cells) (landline is A$43 per month plus calls – usually about A$55 in total).

    I have a PC which stores all my ditigal photos on the hard drive, no laptop, iPad or iMac and a total of about 40 CDs in a box, all on an 8GB early generation iPod. I have an external hard drive for my PC, not a fan of the cloud.

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