First, it was a bonus room of boxes in a small apartment in Arkansas. Odds and ends from Zach’s duplex days, odds and ends from my Sanger Avenue apartment (because, in those days, Sanger Avenue was a brief bubble of safety in Waco). Old furniture acquired from gregarious friends and family. Nothing serious.
Then, it was a small UHaul of heirlooms and childhood memories from my Montana home, driven down to Texas by way of Highway 87. Boxes of journals and English papers, roadtrip trinkets and ticket stubs. Things you don’t just toss on a whim.
Next, a new family member with her own stuff entered our world. Even two dogs with all their paraphernalia take up space. They call it nesting when you’re pregnant, and I was doing well to keep only what was beautiful and useful to me.
By the next round of nesting, I had control over our stuff. I knew what should stay and what should go. I had a system.
I still have envelopes of old photos and a box of CDs with which to contend, but I have plans, and I can live life with my boxes of stuff, unhindered as I go from room to room. Unafraid of the friendly pile that was once a room or two of dread.
Now the dread is all digital.
What are a few stacks of old photos compared to 35,890 iPhotos? By the time you read this, I’ll have taken a few hundred more. Because all photographers – amateur and professional alike – know it takes a round of shots to find “the one.”
If the number of my digital photos didn’t scare you off, let me throw out this number: 2,309. This number represents only unread emails for only two of three accounts. I’d tell you the grand total for my third account, but Google needs to verify my identity before letting me check. Why would I have time for that?
Oh, and then there’s this number: 749. This number represents all of my Facebook friends. It was 1,039 before I started unfriending friends last month.
At least I started somewhere.
If you religiously delete each email after reading it, nightly file your photos into digital albums, resist collecting Facebook friends like they’re baseball cards, I envy you. It’s not that I lack the skill to create a system for organization. What I lack are the decision-making skills involved in choosing the best system, the discipline to live by the system, and the mental fortitude needed to let go of the digital clutter.
Permanently deleting a digital photo feels different than throwing away the spare copy of a photo that was double-exposed anyway. It just does.
And letting go always feels complicated. Emotionally draining.
It just does.
Digital clutter breeds its own kind of anxiety. It doesn’t keep me from physically entering a room. It doesn’t add weight to my moving truck. It’s out of sight and out of mind. I can go years without grasping the mess that’s accumulated. I am carefree.
Until I see those numbers. The effect is paralysis. Even if I am able to chip away at the mountain of data, I am easily discouraged. One hundred photos deleted makes room for one hundred more.
I reach for social media to escape reality, but wait. That, too, breeds its own strand of anxiety.
Oh, the anxiety!
Take me back to my friendly pile of compact discs and the suitcases of baby clothes I should probably gift to a family in need.
If you feel the same way – overwhelmed by the digital dimension of your life – you might want to keep checking back in the next few weeks.
I’m diving in, people.
I can’t live like this anymore.
If you can’t either, join me.
In accordance with professional wisdom, we’ll first identify The Categories, and then, we’ll develop The System. We’ll spend time dissecting each. Then, we’ll talk about testing for Sustainability, Editing our systems until it’s all a well-oiled machine. Under control and working for us. Not the other way around.
I have nothing scientific to share with you about such an endeavor, but just say digital detox and let its peaceful qualities wash through you.
At any rate, I’m ready to give it a go. Are you?