Picture for a moment, a cluttered apartment.
Over, under, around, inside, above, and below—everywhere you look, stuff would be there. You might not be able to walk in the room or see the floor at times. Spare parts, sealed boxes, unused clothes, plastic grocery bags could be thrown everywhere.
The physical clutter is unavoidably present. Your senses, attacked. Whoever owns this place or any guest that visits would be faced with the reality of it.
Minimalism often focuses on these living spaces. Decluttering is tangible here. Get rid of a box of extraneous goods, free up some space, and you’ll likely feel lighter.
When boxes pile up around the house and require additional storage, old newspapers and magazines take over the coffee table, or any time clutter distracts us from what matters most, we are confronted with this disorganization.
Overflowing consumption is easy to see when you’re living in it. You can’t walk away from the clutter and pretend it’s gone.
However, technology has shifted how digital possessions are seen and felt. Countless emails, videos, messages, family photos, and documents can be kept forever. Many companies have even created free platforms on which to store almost limitless photos and files—never demanding you delete anything any more. It’s in their best interest for you to keep saving and saving.
For the most part, I’ve enjoyed these changes. For instance, I’ve written about the advantages of using technology to reduce clutter and nobody would argue that technology has played a significant role in the growing popularity of minimalism.
Despite embracing these advancements, I have a sneaking suspicion our growing amounts of digital clutter share more in common with a cluttered apartment than we’d like to think.
Consider the following questions you might ask yourself about physical clutter:
-Ever lost your keys and inquired, “Where did I put them?”
-Ever looked in your closet at a box of documents and questioned, “How can I organize all these?”
-Ever purchased or stored expensive items and asked, “How can I secure and protect this?”
-Ever thought about self-storage options and questioned, “What does it cost to buy a bigger unit?”
-Ever wondered what happens when you’re gone and asked, “Who will take care of this stuff when I’m not here?”
Now, think about how those questions might apply to the digital world.
Desktops on computers can become the de facto home of all files—impossible to find the document when needed. A misplaced email can bring on a mini investigation or even panic. Passwords can be used to protect ourselves from unintended access or hackers, but also bring a level of stress when we struggle to recall them. And everything we ever create on computers will be passed onto our loved ones after we’re gone.
Suddenly, the digital and physical worlds don’t seem all that different. Clutter is still clutter.
We’re using technology more than ever before. This progress has rid the need for specialized devices for most daily tasks. Most don’t need a separate notebook, calculator, or stand-alone camera. Smartphones and laptops can replace them all.
We’ve gained some space in the transition.
What we might be less inclined to notice is the massive accumulation of digital “stuff.” We’re titling, organizing, and designating everything digital, deleting only when required. And while we might not look around our homes and see clutter, it might still be lurking under the lid of our laptop.
Then, like always, we’ll have to ask ourselves: what are the consequences of all this?
Perhaps your digital clutter causes a loss in time, handicaps your productivity, increases stress, or contributes to distractedness in your physical life. Much like the garage, we have to ask ourselves when it’s time to declutter those items on our desktop, delete needless emails, or reduce our digital footprint.
If there is one thing I’ve learned about physical possessions during my journey into minimalism, it is this: If a physical possession is not helping me fulfill my purpose, it is distracting me from it. And the same goes for the digital clutter we continue to accrue day after day.
If you’re looking to take a first step in minimizing your digital clutter, here are a few helpful resources to get you started: