Embarking on a Digital Declutter

Recently I have been decluttering my live. I started off where probably everyone does, with the physical. The hope was that by decluttering my surroundings I would be able to focus better when needed, relax easier and generally remove some of the unneeded stress. The ultimate goal been of course to be happier in the long run. One day though I had spend a couple of hours decluttering my night stand, and then went on the computer. Before doing anything productive, I thought I would check my emails, after the Great Notification Cull I don’t get notifications around email anymore so I have to check it. I looked at my tidy surroundings and realised my inbox was a mess. We live so much of our lives online now, I thought that maybe I should be embark on a digital declutter as well. Digital media tends to get overlooked, your not going to be crushed to death by your digital clutter, and its easy to turn off the device and ignore it. This digital clutter can effect your mental state though, in the same way as physical clutter.

Digital Declutter My Emails

I have had the same email address for a while now, about 8 years and although that is nothing extraordinary, it is a fair old time. That is 8 years of purchasing things online, signing up for sites and newsletters that interest me and other day to day online stuff. This left me with a lot of email, and although I do try and sort through it, I wasn’t that good at doing it regularly. By this point it had probably been several months and I had 3000 emails in my inbox. When you think about it, that is basically clutter, the same as having 3000 physical letters piled up. This is where I decided to start my digital declutter.

The first step was to go through my inbox and delete anything I would never need or reference back to. I did it over a few days, but eventually I was down to just the emails that I wanted to keep for one reason or another, mostly to refer back to in the future. With that done I achieved everything, I use Google Apps (similar to Gmail) and so considered using labels to organise my mail into folders. In the end though Gmail has an amazing search facility after all that is what Google is known for. For that reason I decided that putting it into folders was a waste of time and an added complication, which could discourage me from continuing to do it.

Digital Declutter - With Google Inbox

Once I had finished that step, I switched to using Google Inbox to manage my mail. Google Inbox is a web and mobile (Apple and Android) mail client developed by Google, that works with any Gmail or Google Apps account. I was determined to keep my inbox at zero and therefore any tool that would encourage and help with that would be ideal. Inbox encourages you to zero your inbox, by providing 3 simple things you can do with the message. You can mark it as done, this basically archives it off. You can pin it, this is a message that you need to deal with pretty urgently. When you pin an item you can add a reminder to it, so you don’t forget what you pinned it for. The last thing you can do is schedule it to come back at another time. For example if its an Amazon dispatch notification email you can schedule it to come back on the day of delivery. Like other email programs you can of course also delete messages that you really don’t want.

Digital Declutter - Unsubscribe

After a week of using Inbox, I was finding that there was a lot of mail that came in and I instantly deleted it. This got me thinking, what is the point in this email? Is there really a reason I am still signed up to a mailing list for a store, I brought a womans knitted sweater from, as a present 3 years ago? That was the next step in my declutter drive, unsubscribe. Its something that I didn’t really do, unsubscribe from email newsletters. From a purely time management stand point this didn’t make a lot of sense, I was basically wasting 5 secs per email deleting it. If you got 500 emails a day, you are wasting 45mins just deleting them. So I got ruthless and started unsubscribing from anything that was no longer relevant. I was harsh even if it was just mildly interesting now and again it went.

Like with the notification cull, doing this made the emails that I did get more relevant and messages didn’t get lost in the crowd. Since starting at the beginning of the week I have unsubscribed from at least 120 mailing lists. Luckily because of the strict Anti-Spam rules, that most mailing list companies enforce, unsubscribing is straight forward and painless. All mass email is required to provide an unsubscribe link at the bottom (this is usually by law). Clicking on that should unsubscribe you. Annoyingly some companies make the process a little harder, by adding extra steps such as confirming your email, manually clicking a button or unchecking an opt-in. You will also find that some companies will send you a follow up email, begging you not to leave them. Stay strong, if you went through the process this far just delete the begging message, your’ll appreciate it long term.

Digital Declutter My Twitter

Digital Declutter - Unfollowing Twitter users

If you know me at all, your know that I like Twitter, it is were I post a lot. Its great for keeping up with tech and nerd news, discovering new things like music and games and keeping up with what your friends and heroes are doing. The problem with me is I would follow, anyone and everyone that took even a passing interest. This has over the 8 years I have been on twitter added up to 1,900 accounts. That is an insane number of accounts to follow, and means that there is noway I can keep an eye on everything and a lot just washed passed me. In order to keep up with people that were really important to me such as friends, I had to resort to turning notifications on so I would see what they tweeted.

This was therefore the next place I started to focus on my digital declutter. Unfollowing twitter accounts is so easy it makes little sense not to. I was following a lot of stuff and people that I had no idea who, or what they were or why I was following them. They went instantly, every time I checked my twitter feed if one of those accounts turned up I unfollowed them there and then. The one thing that I did do was if they followed me I left them alone. This is a massive process and you can probably appreciate, going through 1900 accounts using the twitter site, which is a bit shaky would take ages. I am therefore doing this every time I check my feed, and over time it should result in a lot of the chaff been removed. As of writing this I have so far unfollowed 200 accounts and I am now following less than 1700 accounts. There is plenty of room for improvement but thats a good start.

You may wonder why I decided to do this, when some twitter accounts are following 10,000 or 100,000s of users. Those accounts tend to be celeberties or businesses. These groups have a different use for twitter, that is they use it as a news transmission outlet. They don’t consume the twitter feed, only transmit in to it. When using twitter in this way it makes sense to follow a lot of people and doesn’t have much of a disadvantage.

Other Areas

Over the years of having an iPhone, I have installed a load of apps. A lot of these where simply out of curiosity and others where things that I no longer use. With the convince of iCloud backups and the like, this has added up to a lot of clutter over the years. Apps that I no longer need, simply getting transferred from device to device. I therefore decided as part of my digital declutter to get rid of them. This also had the added advantage of course of freeing up space on the device for stuff I do want.

The other area that I decluttered was my Spotify account. Now days I would say I listen to 99% of all my music using Spotify. Its convenient, good value and works everywhere including my Playstation 4. When I first subscribed to Spotify, the only way you could make music available offline was by adding it to a playlist. This means that if I wanted to listen to an album on the train I first had to make it into a playlist, before I could download it to my phone. This was back in the dark ages when iPhone could only run one app at a time. Therefore I had a lot of playlists hanging around from those days, which where just albums. Now days you can simple save an album and then make it available offline so I got rid of all of these playlists.

Whats Next

Well there are plenty of other areas of my digital live that probably could do with a digital declutter, photos comes to mind straight away. However I have decided that I am going to focus on the areas I have identified above, and aim to continue to have those clutter free. If I spend all my time decluttering and organising, I would have a very tidy live, and probably wouldn’t get much done. I have learned over the last year, thanks to the support of a good friend, that small manageable steps add up to big changes that stick.

If you find that your getting stressed or overwhelmed by your digital live, I would recommend you take it seriously and try decluttering. I don’t think we notice or admit to it, but a large amount of unordered incoming information does overwhelm and stress us. It certainly does for me as I try and consume and makes sense of all the incoming information it helps to manage that flow before it hits me.