Have you ever noticed how fast the small, regular stuff of life accumulates?
I’m not talking about the big-maybe-you-didn’t-really-need-it-stuff like the toaster oven that communicates with your iWatch. Or, things you know you should give away like the state of the art roller blades you bought 30 years ago, that fluted bowl from Aunt Mildred, or notes (confession here) from your doctoral dissertation.
I’m talking about the insidious, small stuff that sneaks into your life under the veil of normalcy: emails, photos, and magazines.
Before you know, they will fill all the physical, psychic, and digital storage space you give them.
But there’s hope:
Do the math.
- How many emails are waiting patiently in your inbox, because you have read them once but didn’t have the heart to discard or archive them?
- How many digital photos have you kept over the past three years and can you even find the one you were looking for?
- How many books or magazines come into your house on a monthly basis and don’t make it out?
I’m not going to advise today on e-mail management – an otherwise worthy subject. And I won’t tell you to try the tempting if tyrannical wisdom of Marie Kondo and the Japanese Art of Tidying (a.k.a. throw out every bit of stuff in your life unless you REALLY love it.)
My technique is simple: Do the Math.
After all, the first step in change is admitting you have a problem. (Substitute here any cliché or homily that works better for you.)
Confronting email on my family-cation
This week I spent part of my family-cation sorting email.
A family-cation is a vacation largely spent with family, where you find yourself with long periods of time waiting for your grandchildren to return from school – and you don’t want to do anything as serious as real work. (Because you’re on vacation, right?)
As I started this presumably mindless email sorting, I discovered, to my horror, that the “Everything” portion of my gmail inbox contained thousands of email (thankfully viewable only 50 at a time.)
For the record, I attend to my email and I even have a second account which I use for shopping (because why should a company read my “do not put me on your list” choice anyway?) These were real email. That great article I wanted to read someday – or the trail of fifteen emails it took to set up one lunch date last fall. These emails didn’t require action and I didn’t know what to do with them at the time.
But ignore a few and see what happens…
Let just ten new emails hang out in your inbox each day and you will have 3650 emails at the end of the year. Fifteen creates a flock of 5475 emails a year waddling patiently behind you, awaiting a home.
It’s all about the math.
Welcome to digital photo purgatory
We all know that only one in a hundred photos is likely to be good, so why not take A LOT of photos? Forget that taking A LOT of photos is A LOT easier than sorting them. Which one of the twenty almost identical group photos with Uncle Alfred is the best? And, what about that tea shop in Tokyo with its 200 kinds of green tea that I want to remember even though the photos I took of it are crummy? Or, my recent photos of Delhi where the whole city appeared to be coated under a gray haze of construction dirt even though what I wanted to capture was cool.
They pile up in digital photo purgatory. Remember:
It’s about the math.
Just add a modest 10 photos a week to your collection, with maybe 500 more from the big trip, and you will have 4000 photos sitting on you computer, singing their haunting chorus of: “Sort me, sort me.”
And those seemingly unassuming magazines you are keeping? I understand that you can’t know when you’ll need to revisit the February 1982 issue of Car and Driver. That’s important. But, if each year’s subscription takes up 5 inches of storage space, and you keep how many subscriptions over how many years – you will basically need to move houses in ten years.
Do the math.
If you carefully organize everything as it comes in, delete appropriately and don’t have too much stuff, kudos to you – please, jump immediately to the end and tell me your secret: how do you get anything else done? Like work.
And if you have a favorite system for sorting and letting go without being crippled by anxiety, let me know that, too. Decision-making is stressful.
One Draconian solution is to move (the roller blades will be gone) but that doesn’t help with your digital stuff.
I understand new computers come with a terabyte of storage. That’s scary, especially knowing that in a few years it will barely contain your home photo collection (and I haven’t even mentioned the music library).
My new strategy
- Sort a little each day that I’m on email (a.k.a., everyday) and create a few more folders with labels like: “I’m really going to read this” and “frankly-I-don’t-know-what-do-do with this.”
- Delete ruthlessly.
- When I return from my trip, start vigorously deleting photos.
Question: If I deleted 15 photos a day, in how many years would I be down to a reasonable number of viewable photos?
Now if I can just find someone who still does math.