It started in 2010 when my water heater blew up and flooded the basement. That is when I first started to realize that I have way too much stuff, and that is slowing me down. I spent hours cleaning and getting rid of stuff.
When I hear my young first-time homebuyers, who wonder how they will fill all the rooms in a large house, I tell them about how we all start out with a little but end up with piles of stuff — and how it tends to expand to fill up the space we have.
Stuff takes up space and creates clutter, which is a distraction. The more stuff we have, the more space we need and the harder we have to work to pay for that space. I want less instead of more.
My home office has been one of my biggest challenges. I cleaned out the dreaded top drawer and discovered all sorts of office supplies that I no longer use. They all have to go — someone else can use them.
Why is it that we think we need to hang onto everything if it is business-related? Most of my files are electronic, but whether they are paper or electronic I will never again look at 90 percent of them — so why keep them?
Installing more shelving and storage containers defeats my goal of having less — and yet so many of the articles I have read about decluttering encourage the use of storage systems. I am on a mission to donate, throw away, recycle, shred or sell anything that I do not use and have not used in the last year or two.
I don’t want to have to reorganize the same stuff next year. I want to go beyond organizing and storing. I want less — much less than I have now.
It wasn’t until I moved my data from one computer to another that I realized I am guilty of digital hoarding. I have too much digital stuff. I scanned files that I should have discarded, and digital stuff is just as detrimental to my business and even my happiness as the stuff I have in the dreaded top desk drawer.
I accumulated hundreds of notes and photographs and receipts in my Evernote account in the last year. I have a premium account for extra space. It helps me stay organized, but it also helps me collect digital stuff.
My Evernote account is just like a file cabinet. I need to go through it, organize and delete the extra stuff at least once a year.
My Instapaper account, Google Docs and my email inboxes are other examples of digital hoarding and they all need to be put on a diet. We have all heard of "Inbox Zero" — ways to manage your incoming email — but most of us have bloated email accounts. Do I really need to save each email that a new buyer sends, and keep them in a folder?
As I started going through the data on my old computer I realized that I have been moving the same files from one computer to another for the last 10 years and I have hundreds of files that have not been opened yet this decade.
Hard drives get bigger all the time and that space is less expensive than it was 10 years ago, so it is easier to move the data than to look at it.
Each time I get a new computer it takes longer to deal with the data on the old one — and like the other stuff in my life I feel as if the stuff on my computer is slowing me down. For the first time ever I bought a computer with a smaller hard drive instead of a larger one. Much of what I store goes into the cloud, and if I don’t have unlimited hard drive space maybe I won’t accumulate as much stuff.
The 1-terabyte desktop drive I use for photography is half full. It is very well-organized but there are duplicate files, and do I really need that many pictures? Maybe it is time to save the best and delete the rest.
Getting organized isn’t about taking paper and converting it into digital files. It is about reorganizing and getting rid of the stuff that we don’t need — otherwise we end up dragging it around and moving it from place to place, or computer to computer, year after year.
I believe that if I get rid of the clutter in my life I will have a better life, and if I fail to complete my mission this year it is worthy of continuing into next year.