tidying up

I’m a terrible digital hoarder. I had something ridiculous like 6000 unread messages in my inbox until last month. This was mostly spam or things I had read that I wanted to go back to, or things I had just forgotten to look at. I have known for quite some time that the organisational system I adopted when I started working in Australia was not working at all. I could not trick myself into going back to the so-called new messages because I knew I had already read them. So they accumulated. Before school started this semester, I spent a few hours and deleted all but 3. Now I’m back up to about 8, but I know what is in there. On the other hand, I have more than 16,000 messages in my inbox.

Somehow digital hoarding is not something I can overcome. My computer has so many files on it, even from my student years, that I feel I may someday need with urgency. They have come in handy when giving talks about now defunct websites that deal with memory or in dredging up old teaching materials, but honestly, most just lie there dormant cluttering up my hard drive. They are innocuous because I do not see them, they do not hinder me from moving about, and my computer behaves as if unfettered by their weight. But I think the burden of that endless archive may catch up with me and entrap me like a snowball gaining momentum on its downhill journey.

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One response to “tidying up

  1. Jenny Islander

    I had the same problem. I solved it in a way that may or may not work for you depending on how your computer is set up. All of my data files have to fit onto my desktop, and all of my e-mail has to be visible without scrolling down. I can organize my saved messages and my data files into folders, but again, all of the folders and all of the items in each folder have to be visible (in a maximized window) without scrolling down. If I add something, something else has to go. My rule of thumb for what has to go is, “Have I actually opened this thing in the past two years?” It helps to remind myself that if I thought it was that important, it’s a good bet that enough people had the same idea that it’s probably somewhere online if I really need it.

    Now, getting there through my pile of thousands of messages and hundreds of PDFs (I “collect” interesting old public domain books and scanned artwork) was a slog! Finally I set a timer: 10 minutes per day, 15 if I was feeling ambitious, of putting things in my virtual trash can and then emptying the trash can. Again, for files, I looked at the access date and didn’t even open the thing if it hadn’t been touched in more than a year. For e-mails, if I couldn’t immediately tell who it was from or what it was about from the subject line, away it went. The anxiety was really nasty for a while, but after a few weeks of doing this and nothing bad happening, it got easier. Now I only have to get in there and shovel after I’ve been ill.

    Hope this helps.

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