Decluttering My Digital Life

In my ongoing effort to embrace minimalism and live a more intentional life, I'm always on the lookout for ways to simplify my life. This post is about decluttering my digital life, not changing habits when it comes to technology (that'll be a future post). Speaking of technology, its explosion pushed everyone into a new space and my generation was on the forefront of that unstoppable wave. Now, we all have two lives that we're living in and while they are very much entwined, they have to be handled in very different ways.

First, there is our physical life where we accumulate all sorts of belongings that fill our living and work spaces. The limitation of space to hold all of those items keeps us mostly in check. Even if you're a hoarder that pushes the extremes of your limitation, decluttering to free up space isn't hard from a logistical standpoint. There are emotional and mental barriers that make getting rid of certain possessions difficult, but the act of throwing them into the bin or donating them is easy. My point here is, that it's easy to take stock of what we have because it's contained in some manner and maintaining it all is easier because of that.

Then we also have our digital life. This is the life that I'm guessing many of us don't really think about. If you're the average millennial or from generation Z, a lot of your time is spent online or on some sort of computer (phone, tablet, etc.). Because of that, we are constantly putting more and more of ourselves out into a seemingly endless void that has almost no limitations. We upload pictures, create profiles, sign up to receive emails, play games, download apps, and do much, much more. That's not to say that doing any of those things is bad, it's just the world we live in now. Just like minimizing our physical belongings, doing the same for our digital ones isn't logistically difficult.  However, it's going to take more work to reign them all in because the average person's data is so spread out.

At some point recently I just felt like my digital identity was spread far beyond my comfort point. I have this site, two defunct blogs, a half dozen email addresses, profiles on a bunch of social media sites, hundreds of files saved on various Google Drive accounts, logins for dozens of other sites, and it all just seems so excessive. There's no reason to keep all of that stuff just floating out there, so I decided this would be the next place where I would try to declutter and minimize. Doing this isn't going to be a fix all for whatever problems I think our digital life brings, but it's a start and can only lead to positive changes.
Here are the places I've focused on so far:

When I started this process a few weeks ago, I decided to start with what I thought was the easiest thing to address, my two defunct blogs. Both Syracuse Sandwich and Dan in the Kitchen haven't had any activity in years, but I didn't want to just delete all of their content. Not yet at least. I think some of the posts are still good and helpful for people. There are a few posts that still get a decent amount of traffic, so I think leaving them up is the best option. In the meantime, I put up a new post on each one to direct traffic to this site in case people are interested reading more of my content. Over the next few months, I'll be recreating some of the best posts on this site before permanently deleting those blogs.

I almost never go through my email and phone contacts. Not knowing a ton of people made cleaning up on my contacts fairly easy. What took a while was scrolling through text message threads to make sure there wasn't anything important before deleting them. I'm sure I could just ask people for their addresses again or for that link they sent me, but I don't like wasting other people's time.

If the blogs were the easiest thing to address, my email accounts were definitely the hardest. I had a half dozen Gmail accounts for different things. My goal was to at least cut them in half, if possible. I straight up closed two of the accounts that haven't been used in years. The third one I closed was for my board game publishing company that has been defunct for a few years. I moved the stuff that was going there to my new email address. The other two email addresses I'm keeping are my main one for general contact, bills, etc. and my "promotional" one for reward programs or just a place to dump stuff I don't want going to my main. The biggest problem with all of these emails is the number of emails they all received from different sources. I spent a good couple of hours just unsubscribing from newsletters, promotional emails, and general junk. As it's set up now, only my main address gets anything that needs to be addressed in a timely manner. I don't plan on consolidating any further because they all serve a purpose.

Hard Drives
We have three laptops at the moment and another on the way. Two of our laptops had their hard drives formatted and wiped. Before doing that, I backed up all necessary files onto an external hard drive. Our lone, barely working laptop is 8+ years old and only operates while plugged in. Knowing it may not boot up one day, I also backed up its files. I'll format and wipe its hard drive when the new one comes. I'll then recycle all three of the cleaned laptops. Being able to start fresh is great, but I still spent the time to go through everything we just dumped onto the external hard drive.

Google Drive
I only had files saved on three of the six Google Drive accounts, which are associated with email addresses. Two of them were very easy to clean up because there wasn't much on my main or new address. The old board game publishing account had A LOT of documents that needed to be gone through before they could be deleted. I don't do much design work anymore, but I didn't want to lose any of the files I didn't already have backed up.

All of my photos are backed up in Google Photos, so all I've been doing there is deleting the pictures that I don't need. This was the space where I felt like I cleaned up the most amount of data. I still haven't embraced purchasing much digital media like music, movies, or books. We have some, but in the age of streaming services our physical media purchasing has dropped off a cliff. I'm more apt to subscribe to something like Netflix or Amazon Prime and consume that way, than buy a CD or DVD.

Misc. Websites
We all sign up on various sites to use them and then stop using them for whatever reason. The ones that continually emailed me were the easiest to close and I remembered a handful more, but there will be some that'll never get closed. Unless I get contacted by them in some way, all I can do is let those accounts sit unused. Even though I don't often use my profile on sites like Allrecipes or IMDB that often, I'll never get rid of those accounts because they're such great resources.

Smart Phone
Other than deleting contacts and photos on my phone, I also uninstalled any apps I no longer use. I have a habit of deleting games immediately after becoming bored of them. However, if it's an app I don't regularly use, and therefore is not in a home screen folder, I tend to forget about it. Speaking of folders, if you're not using folders on your home screen, you should. They keep your screen clutter free and burying an app makes you less likely to use it. I don't feel like getting rid of the few apps that I did delete is going to do much, but every little bit helps.

Social Media
I'm not into a lot of social media, but I am a huge fan of Twitter. I spend more time on that site than any other, social media or otherwise. It's my main source of up to date news, memes, and communication. I'm also on Facebook, mostly because it's how I share stuff with family. I tend to cull my friends list (Facebook) and following list (Twitter) pretty regularly. Keeping the numbers of each of those lists relatively low keeps my feeds streamlined to some degree. I'm sure I don't see everything I want because of the algorithms they use, but I do see more of the posts that interest me. There were a few other social media sites that I never used, like LinkedIn, Pinterest, and others. I went through the process of deleting each one because they weren't improving my life in anyway. Reducing my social media use has come up on the blog before and this just a way to clean up that facet of my digital life.
Unlike getting rid of physical objects, cleaning up my digital life hasn't given me the same immediate sense of accomplishment. It's probably because I can't see its immediate benefit. If I remove a large pile of unwanted/useless stuff, I get back the space it took up. I know that over time the benefit of not getting hundreds of emails and notifications will give me time back. If you know me well enough, you know that my time is one of the things I cherish most. I think knowing that I've streamlined my presence to fewer places will also give me more peace of mind. Without doing any of this, there would always be a thought that there's a mess that needs to be cleaned up. It would just bother me until I did it. Now that it's done, I just have to keep it tidy like I do the rooms in our house.

If you have any tips or tricks to keeping your digital life simplified, I'd love to read them in the comments below.


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