Letting go of the craving for tidiness applies to physical possessions too.’ Illustration: Thomas Pullin for the Guardian
It’s a mysterious truth of the digital era that we can build self-driving cars and astronauts can tweet from space – yet there’s still no half-decent, non-maddening system for organising the photos you take on your smartphone. Actually, it’s not that mysterious: there are simply too many photos. Back in pre-digital days, when nobody owned more than a few thousand snaps, arranging them in albums made sense. Then came software that tried to replicate albums, which worked for a bit. But now that it’s normal to return from a day trip with 100 snaps, a threshold’s been breached.
Naturally, the same goes for emails, electronic documents, bookmarked websites and so on: we’re each expected to manage a volume of data that once might have kept a whole government department fully occupied. “I spent days experimenting with neurotic tagging systems, tedious backup processes and album management,” Brian Chen wrote in the New York Timesrecently, before concluding that the only way to manage your photos is to give up. Upload them, blurry mistakes and all, to the least bad service, Google Photos. Then rely on its search function to find what you need when you need it.
For those of us with neat-freak tendencies, it’s a harsh truth we have to keep relearning: treating your digital “possessions” like your physical ones is a loser’s game. You could spend a lifetime trying to keep them tidy. But as Chen notes, you’d be making a bad “search/sort tradeoff”: it would take so long, and search technology is now so good, that you’d be wasting countless hours. That’s also why you should abandon your complex hierarchy of email folders and use a single archive instead, and chuck every document into an “everything bucket” app, such as Evernote. Accept the mess – which, if you like keeping things orderly, won’t feel good at first. I speak as someone who regularly deletes emails from my spam and trash folders, not because I need the space but because it offends me to think they’re still there.
Want an antidote to chaos in the world? Maybe Barack Obama has the answer
Letting go of the craving for tidiness isn’t only useful in a digital context, though: it applies to physical possessions, too.
8 thoughts on “I copied part of this Article by Oliver Burkeman: Declutter – don’t bother”
This really resonates with me – not only photos, simply everything! My e-mail boxes were full this week and I spent three hours yesterday going through old e-mails (back to 2011!) – lots of interesting stuff I had forgotten and would have kept if these had been paper letters, but just as well they weren’t! Now there’s room in my mailboxes again But for how long??
That’s interesting, Cat, that you say that you would have kept them if these had been paper letters. Why is it, that we cannot forever keep e-mails that are in the computer? Theoretically it should really be easier to store them in the computer rather than storing a lot of paper? I wonder, why isn’t it easier? So I have that same dilemma. Really, it is not all that easy to store paper letters, is it? As far as e-mails are concerned, I think there’ll come the day when I must, really must, discard a lot of them! 🙂
An excellent article, Uta!
Thank you for sharing it!
I tend to clean house once in awhile…not just my house-house…but, also, my e-mails, text messages, etc. 🙂
Just now, Carolyn, we found a box with old theatre programs, old magazines and Newspaper articles. These things were important to us twenty or thirty years ago. We decided now, that we really to not need to keep everything anymore. Out it goes in the recycling bin! 🙂
Yes, a lot goes to the recycling bin these days. And if we don’t do that, someone else will at some point.
I have the feeling, Carolyn, that our children at some point will be left with quite a few things that they may want to discard! But with time, hopefully, we may collect a few less things rather than more things. Yes, we can only hope that with time we may get somewhat better at discarding more and more things. 🙂
We decluttered a lot. Each time we open a drawer or a cupboard Helvi takes stuff out and either give it or chuck it.
We edited all our photo-albums too and kept the best into one album. We had ten or more albums.
Ten photo albums, Gerard?I wished we had ‘only’ ten. I just wrote to Carolyn, that we are in the process of getting rid of some old stuff. But I am afraid to say, we are not yet throwing out old photos. We are always under the impression that our family still enjoys looking at photos from long ago. Yet more and more I think now, that maybe we do keep far too many old photos. A lot of them could probably do with a bit of sorting out. What an immense task! I guess, one just has to devote a little bit of time to it, one day at a time. 🙂