When I first saw the documentary, The Minimalists, two things happened:
1) I got that sudden burst of inspiration and clarity – I realised that I would never be able to get to the bottom of my emotional problems if those problems were always buried under a mountain of “stuff.”
2) I saw, very clearly, that the first thing I would need to address was my digital life.
I’m a work-at-home freelancer who uses the very same laptop for work as I do for general web-browsing, playing games, catching up with friends and, well, everything else.
So you can imagine just how cluttered up my hard drive was, especially when you consider that I would only periodically -and I mean very periodically- get so sick and tired of the mess in my folders that I would have to CTRL + A, DELETE.
You know what the worst part about all that is?
90% of the time I spend at said laptop is spent online, meaning the terrible state of my hard drive folders was only a fraction of the digital clutter I had to get rid of.
All my work is cloud-based, the majority of the music and films I enjoy are on services like Spotify, Netflix, and Amazon, my friends, and all the people who I love and am inspired by are on social media, and that still barely scratches the surface.
I have two Gmail accounts that I use regularly – one personal, one work, plus a bunch of other email accounts tied into websites that I own, manage, or play a role in.
I tried to organise all these emails once by doing a mass Inbox Zero project on my main Gmail account and adding all the domain-based emails to Mozilla Thunderbird, but still the random messages just kept flooding in.
Speaking of domains, I had a bunch of those -some registered for my own ideas and projects, many registered for friends or ex-clients from years ago.
Then there’s the external hard drives, the physical laptops and computers I own, digital cameras, and a bunch of peripherals to deal with.
If I was really going to do this, if I was going to start leading a happier, healthier, less distracted life, if I was going to aim to achieve some level of digital minimalism that would help me reduce the level of fear and anxiety in my life, I had to make a list.
What follows is how I first planned out my own Digital Minimalism Project.
1) TAKE STOCK
I did what I always do when I needed to think: Grab a pen and paper and let things flow. I took a simple inventory of every part of my digital world using two lists: One for everything, another for all the many and varied social media accounts I’d accumulated over the years.
2) DECIDE WHAT QUESTIONS TO ASK
I decided that with each item on my inventory, I would go through and ask four simple questions:
A) WHAT VALUE DOES THIS BRING TO MY LIFE?
If none – get rid of it. If some – keep going.
B) WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS THING THAT MAKES ME UNHAPPY/STRESSED?
If nothing – keep as it is. If there’s something, keep going.
C) WHAT WOULD THIS THING LOOK LIKE / DO IN MY IDEAL WORLD?
Basically, if I get rid of the part that makes me unhappy, what will be left?
D) HOW CAN I ACHIEVE THE ANSWER I GAVE IN QUESTION C
In other words, what to do about it – how do I make this tool work for me rather than bringing me down.
3) START MINIMALIZING
I went through each thing in my inventory, one by one, and used the four questions above to minimalize.
I knew from past experience (see my failed Gmail Inbox Zero attempt) that simply decluttering was no good if I didn’t actively change the way I process digital information and communication. Without changing some methods or implementing new systems, I was only going to find myself in the exact same mess somewhere down the line.
So I went back to my original inventory, crossing out anything that I had gotten rid of during the minimalization process, and began to ask two simple questions of each one:
A) HOW THE HELL DID I GET INTO THIS MESS IN THE FIRST PLACE?
B) WHAT CAN I DO TO STOP THIS FROM EVER HAPPENING AGAIN?
Over the next couple of days I’ll share a few thoughts and stories about how it went when I put this plan into action.
This is in addition to the current 30 x 5 minimalism challenge that I’m working on.