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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 4 million readers. As featured on: ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, TODAY, NPR, TIME, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

Digital Clutter Is Different from Physical Clutter

Digital Clutter

Digital clutter isn’t nearly as problematic as physical clutter. Don’t believe me? Then try to move 2,000 books to a new residence.

First, box up the physical books, taking them off their shelves one by one, labeling each box with its appropriate label (self-help, literary fiction, Cambodian interpretive dance, etc.); then carry them to your vehicle, box by box, being careful not to drop them; and then haul them to your new home, carry them inside, carefully unpack each box, and re-shelve each individual book until every last book is (sort of) back where it was before you started this whole tedious exercise.

Then, next time you move, instead of boxing up all those books, grab your Kindle with all 2,000 titles, toss it into your bag, and be on your merry little way.

It’s not hard to realize which method is easier. I’ve done both. And I threw my back out (literally) while going through the first exercise. Shockingly, the Kindle exercise didn’t have the same savage effect on my lumbar musculature.

That said, digital clutter can still be a significant problem. At The Minimalists, we advocate digitizing your your physical items whenever you can, especially with those old CDs, DVDs, photos, and files of paperwork you hardly ever need.

Getting these items out of the way is a monumental first step. But we also recommend constantly paring down your digital “stuff” as well. It’s important to keep your digital “stuff”—your email inbox, your files, your music, your collection of recently downloaded cute cat videos—organized to save you time.

And it’s equally as important to get rid of files you no longer need. The rule of thumb I use is “the last six months.” That is, if I haven’t needed something in the last six months—saved documents, old college papers, Ryan’s “secret” recipe for Rice Crispy Treats—then I get rid of it. I do this twice a year; it takes me less than an hour each time I purge my files.

As with any rule, there are exceptions. For example, taxes should obviously be kept for seven years (or longer depending on where you live). But these exceptions are few and far between.

As for pictures, you needn’t delete any photos: you can use them every day if you have a digital picture frame. (We showed you the best way to scan all those pictures hiding in albums in your basement here.)

You might be addressing your physical clutter, which is great. But when’s the last time you purged your digital clutter?

If you’re interested, you can watch a 40-minute video of Joshua discussing minimalism and productivity with Peter Vogopoulos (includes written transcript).