Are you a packrat? A hoarder? Is stuff collecting and overcoming your life – getting in the way of normal functioning? You might say, “no, Bob, my house is clutter free and I try to keep it that way”. Okay, but what about your life – especially digitally? I have moved so many times in my life that I make it a habit to not keep a lot of things – and I have a wife who very much encourages me in that habit. Yes, my desk gets messy and crowded and there are always things that I hang onto a bit longer than I should. But we work hard to not just accumulate things.
However I realized that physical stuff aren’t the only things that can pile up. As I went on my daily walk yesterday I realized I have a couple collections and that others might have them and a third. I have been battling these collections for some time, unsuccessfully, and I think it is time to confront them.
The first is pictures. No, not those in frames on the wall. Not the ones that collect in photo albums and scrapbooks. The invisible ones – on my phone. I am an enthusiastic gardener and I love to watch my plants grow and bloom. When I planted veggies and fruit I loved to see them grow from flowers to fruit – the taste of home grown tomatoes right off the bush and the sweet raspberries warmed by the sun and picked at optimum flavor time is unmatched.
So when I got an I-phone with a camera I started taking lots of pictures. I am also a nature lover and take plenty of pictures of wildlife and trees, and trails, and other interesting things I see. Sometimes I have to remind myself that unless it is something I want to share with someone else, often the best view is just with my eyes. And in the case of veggies growing I usually take pictures at each stage of development. And I keep them.
That is the problem- I keep everything and often duplicates. I have even taken pictures of powerpoint presentations. I figure it saves me from having to take notes – my handwriting is often unreadable – and that I will review them later to take more coherent notes. The problem is – I rarely do. So they just take up space on my phone.
I did download photos off my phone onto my laptop and I would do it again but my computer is being difficult. I thought the problem was something I could fix but haven’t found a solution. I realized that the downloads would just take up storage on my laptop, so I thought I would use my thumb drive to store and save space. But then I realized the real problem is that I have too many pics. How often do I look at them? How many duplicates do I have? And why am I taking them in the first place? Maybe I just need to dump a bunch.
I do share some pics with others. I use some in my blog – to add another element to my communication. And some are historical or memories I want to keep. I have even used some pics in speeches. But a lot of them are just temporary – like the one above. I made a quiche and had too much filling for the pie tin, so I poured the rest of the filling into a muffin tin – turned out delicious. Nice to see, but I kept the pic long after the muffin quiches were eaten. I don’t need the pic – I already know the procedure.
So I need to go through my phone pics and remove all but the necessary ones, so that when I want to show someone a special picture on my phone I don’t have to scroll excessively. I have almost 6,000 pictures on my phone! And then I won’t have to worry about downloading massive amounts of pics – maybe my laptop will be okay when the amount is smaller.
In a previous job I had a coworker who kept all her emails in her inbox. She said it was so she could easily sort through and find specific ones. I was appalled because I always wanted to have an empty inbox. That way I felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. And I could immediately see when new emails came in and deal with them promptly. I would set up subfolders as needed and once I had responded to the email I would save it for future reference.
Over time two things happened. My inbox got overwhelmed and I was not able to keep it clear all the time. And secondly, I had so many emails in my subfolders that my mailbox got full and I had to clear out a whole bunch just so my inbox could receive new emails. I would tag them by categories to achieve organization but that too broke down. It migrated over to a new job with the same thing happening. When I had to do another clean out I found that most of them were totally unnecessary and I ended up clearing out all my subfolders. As in my pictures I was saving duplicates and evidence of past events and meetings. I was even saving each part of email trails instead of the end result.
Then it started appearing in my personal email – and I have 4 email addresses to handle. Some of the same things were happening – and I would have to scroll through loads of emails to find which one I needed to respond to. I have a bad habit of cc’ing myself – some times when I want to document that I did really did reply to someone or when I sent it so I could follow up if necessary. One of my email addresses was not working properly on my laptop (not even appearing) and so I would forward the emails to another email address. I didn’t have subfolders set up so the things I did need to keep for reference (Toastmasters, or legal/medical info) were all in the main inbox mix. I haven’t received any warnings about limits -yet – but my laptop is slower now and perhaps the excessive emails may be a contributing factor.
Memories – especially bad ones
A third area where we have invisible clutter is memory. We only use a small part of our brains – so scientists say – so we have plenty of room for memories. And we never really lose those – they do after all occupy physical spots in our brains. But in terms of functional memory I think we harbor too many memories in the wrong places that can gum up the works – and distract and disable our well oiled machine. By actively often bringing those memories up we can hurt ourselves and prevent us from living out more effective and happy lives. We can set up triggers that control our reactions and prevent positive forward motion and growth.
An example for me was back in college. There was a guy who lived in our dorm that I would see occasionally. Not in class but usually in the TV room in the center of the dorm. I think his name was Carl -not even sure about that. At some time in the past he and I had had an altercation- just verbal. It disturbed me and so whenever I saw him I would flinch and get pissed. He didn’t do anything but show up. It would set my mood off just by seeing him.
One day I realized that I didn’t remember what he had done to irritate me. I had no recollection of any encounter. I just knew that I was upset at him and his presence irritated me. I had an “ah ha” moment and realized that I was allowing him to affect my mood by his mere presence. If I had remembered the incident I would have been able, maybe, to either confront him or apologize to him (if it had really been my fault) or communicate in some way to resolve the situation. But I couldn’t and so I determine to treat him as any other person in the dorm. He was someone I would continue to see, but I endeavored to cut the trigger and move on with my life. I don’t recall every having a conversation with him, but every after I never flinched at his presence again.
Do you have that in your life? Do you have triggers you need to silence, unseen ties you need to cut? Are there bad memories that keep coming up and messing with your mind? If you have a way to resolve those, clear up conflict, confront if necessary – do so. But if you don’t then it is time to clear out that clutter. It is much harder to do than pictures or emails. It can be a great struggle and it doesn’t happen overnight. But every step you take, every memory you disable, will help you move forward.
The key in all this is what is your purpose? I have to determine why I keep those pics, even why I take them in the first place. And practice taking better one. I have to determine how I want to handle my emails and if there is a better way to store the information. For instance I now store my many Toastmaster meeting links in a Word doc so I don’t have to go searching for the invites all the time. And I have to be vigilant that I don’t have bad memories roaming around in my brain – or triggers that need to be disabled.
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