Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Digital Hoarding Club - Are You A Charter Member?

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At least I can see my Millie on my desktop now

Hello.  My name is Julie and I’m a digital hoarder.  I have 26,840 photos on my iPhoto program.  I have 9175 e-mails stored (perhaps 5000 unread) in one e-mail program and I won’t count my other (older) one but I believe it’s 60% full.  I have 175.35 GB available on my computer, but I’m pretty sure I started with 500 GB.  I can’t remember how to find that detail on my hard drive.

I won’t even look to see how many website bookmarks I have or how much I’ve squirreled away on my new best friend, Evernote.  My Google reader list is growing exponentially each week.  I’m an information junkie.

In my favor, though, I have to point out that last week I cleared off my desktop (my computer one, not the actual one) so I could see my beloved Millie who is my screen wallpaper.  Shhh.  We won’t talk about where all those dozens of desktop files went, but what’s left showing is minimal compared to the before the visual purging.

Get Organized

Let’s start with organizing and de-cluttering the e-mail inbox, though.  A lot of the advice out there repeats the same thing – Respond To It.  Gee, brilliant.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?  The second most frequent advice usually is variations on Organize It.  These super-organized people go about telling us about setting up folders, filters, setting up a system within folders, color-coding messages as if I were completely oblivious to the presence of these tools in my mail program.

Do you think if I were organized enough to set all this up I’d have over 9000 e-mails to begin with?  At least once a week I’ll do a key word search for something I get a lot of, like “so and so is following you on Twitter,” and delete those.  I do have folders for things like travel confirmations.  I star some messages and flag others for follow-up.  Does that mean I ever get back to them?  Heck, my Google mailbox is still only about 7% full.  Woo hoo! I’ve got plenty of  time before I need to face that mess.

If you’ve been longing for the perfect tips to organize your e-mail, you can find those here.  There are even apps for that if you’re OCD, want to get super organized, and don’t know how to use the search function on your inbox to find what you need.

Or Just Forget It

For me, I think I’m going to follow a different route.  The path that says “Stop worrying about e-mail clutter and live your life.”  Researchers at IBM found that people who had no system at all for their inbox were able to find what they needed as fast, if not faster, than people who had to search through all their e-mail folders.  And these clutter-clueless like me saved even more time because they didn’t have to spend any of their days arranging their mailbox like they were curating a collection of priceless art.

Unlike real hoarding, which risks illness, fire code violations, death-by-piles-of-toppled-newspapers, digital hoarding has few risks (as long as you back up your computer).  It doesn’t bring in mice and doesn’t prevent your family from visiting you.

Time management expert Laura Vanderkam, who wrote the book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, admits she has even more messages in her inbox than I do and she doesn’t care.  “Just because you leave the office for the week with all your emails filed or deleted doesn't mean you've changed anything in the world,” she explains.  “Will you mention it in your year-end performance review? If you were interviewing for another job, would you mention your pristine inbox as a real asset to your potential employer? Will your children be speaking reverently about your daily accomplishment of inbox zero at your funeral?”

If you really want to do something about that e-mail overload, just nuke ‘em all.  Just declare e-mail bankruptcy and empty the entire thing to start from scratch.  It’s just like that old adage that if you haven’t needed the stuff stored in boxes in your basement for the past year then you probably don’t need it at all.  Ship it all off to the digital Goodwill store.

So if you haven’t heard back from me, now you know why.  I won’t feel offended if you send me another e-mail to remind about whatever I was supposed to get back to you on.  I promise the second time around I won’t just flag it for follow-up.  I promise this time to do something.  At least you can feel comforted, though, knowing that if the message comes from you I’ll save it and treasure it in my inbox for the rest of my life.

Apparently soap was important, but not a clean inbox.  See, they don't remember
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True confession time.  Are you a digital hoarder?  What is your worst kind of digital hoarding?  Are you digitally organized?  Any suggestions for the rest of us?  Share all confessions or bragging rights with us in the comments box.

7 comments:

Debra Eve | Later Bloomer said...

I can so relate, Julie! For a while, I just didn't care, but now I can't stand it. I have a new email rule -- if I don't read it in 24 hours, I delete it. It's a start :)

Diana Brandmeyer said...

Absolutely brilliant. I never thought about gmail bankruptcy...I may be close to doing that.
Diana

Lee I said...

Wait a minute. I think you've been looking in my computer.

Don't ya just love the friends who read and delete email immediately, then a few days later ask that you resend that email again? (What am I? Your stored files folder???)

Julie Farrar said...

Glad I'm not alone here. Is e-mail your only computer clutter?

Lee I said...

Picasa says I have 30,000 photos. It's the only photo program that claims to know.

Liv said...

OMG I feel so much better now...

Nadine Feldman said...

I do pretty well except for the Kindle. I keep buying books, so I'm loaded up with unread ones. I've gotten better by putting books on my Wishlist instead of the Kindle, trying to get caught up first, but I still somehow manage to OD on books.

With e-mail, I keep my inbox tidy, but I seldom go through my folders to empty them out from time to time. I have a travel folder, for example, that I put reservation confirmations into, and I rarely empty them out once the trip is done.

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