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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 isn’t as problematic as physical clutter. Don’t think so? Try to move 2,000 books to a new residence.

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.); and 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 tedious exercise.

Then, next time you move, grab your Kindle with all 2,000 titles instead, toss it in your bag, and be on your way.

One method is obviously easier. We’ve done both. Joshua threw his back out (literally) while going through the first exercise; shockingly, the Kindle exercise didn’t have the same savage effect.

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

Digitally storing these things is a monumental first step, but we also recommend constantly paring down your digital “stuff” as well: it’s important to keep your email inbox, your files, your music, and your collection of cat videos organized to save you time.

It’s equally important to get rid of files you no longer need. We use “the last six months”: if we haven’t needed something in the last six months—saved documents, old college papers, Ryan’s “special” recipe for Rice Crispy Treats—we get rid of it. We do this twice a year; it takes less than an hour each time.

As with any rule, there are exceptions—tax records should be kept for seven years (or longer, depending on where you live)—but exceptions like these are few.

As for pictures, you needn’t delete any photos: you can scan them and use them every day if you have a digital picture frame.

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

Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.