Downsizing and a Digital Diet
If you haven’t tried it, there is something near euphoric about purging one’s life, home, surroundings of the unnecessary, of the accumulations of time. What do those collections represent? Scraps of papers, old magazines saved in their entirety for a single article, books read and reread, books never read, clothing long out of style that no longer fits, dusty, faded knick-knacks whose origin you only vaguely remember, or that you feel obligated to keep because they were a gift, worn out, yellowed and long obsolete electronics, empty flower vases for every florist delivery ever, cheerleading outfits and prom dresses from high school. I actually found snippets of my hair and my first tooth in my baby book which my mom purged from her collection into mine. How grotesque is that? Teeth and hair. What do these things do for us? I am very doubtful that at any point in the thirty years before the collection of those artifacts and the point in time when they were gifted to me that anyone ever had the insatiable urge to view my tiny tooth and locket of hair. Are they reminders of our past? Anchoring us to a time now gone, a time that, though remembered, and from which lessons still live within us, a time that does not serve us. Remember, the only time in which we can act, live, do, is the present. So, perhaps, in keeping tidbits of the past we are clinging to that past, fearful of letting go. Clinging to the past inhibits us, certainly, in our ability to move forward with ease, with efficiency, with grace, and with confidence.
I’ve embraced the idea of minimalism, for several reasons. The first being necessity. I’ve moved five times in five years. Second, storage is expensive. Third, I find clutter maddening and suffocating. Fourth, I hate dusting. I will happily swipe a dust rag over a barren surface once a week or so, but when faced with moving and dusting objects to reveal the underlying surface so it can be made dust free, I quit. Fifth, I read a good book, which, yes, I am keeping and rereading. In Kindle form. Sixth, I just really want to lighten my load, for my own sanity, but also, living more minimally is more affordable, more enlightening, more inspiring, more efficient, more liberating, and better for the planet (I read that in the book).
I do still have bits of memorabilia here and there, and, likely some I can easily part with; the Eiffel Tower statue my parents brought me from their brief and singular trip to Paris thirty-five years ago, the boxes and boxes of grade school play programs and birthday party favors I haven’t looked at once since, and my kids are in college, marathon completion medals hanging awkwardly from my bulletin board, the beloved and beyond worn out, frayed, smelly, faded, torn tennies from Urban Outfitters, the hand held Sirius radio sitting on the floor of my office, nestled between the couch and a bookcase, made obsolete with Pandora and Spotify. The bookcase full of books on training horses and becoming a better rider. I no longer have horses, why do I have this library of books? Or the saddles in storage?
Other useless, and even detrimental, things we cling to; bad feelings from former relationships, guilt over actions or inactions from long, long ago, remorse for underachieving in youth, embarrassment for irresponsible behavior in the past. Spending too much money, not volunteering enough, neglecting healthy habits. How does clinging to any of this help us now? In the future? These feelings and behaviors were bad for us in the past, well, they’re worse for us now. Let’s forgive ourselves and others, the lessons have been learned. Move on, uncluttered and liberated. Don’t let the past poison the present. Don’t let the past foul up the future.
My particular clutter problem of late? Downsizing digitally. I fully embraced going digital; books, music, movies, photos. The result? Clogged computers and an array of external storage devices I never fully trust and that, well, require space, storage, and occasional dusting. I need my 40,000 songs on iTunes and my 40,000 digitized/digital photos. Or do I? Why do I need all those songs, stored, digitally, with Pandora, Spotify, or even the ability to store 25,000 of my songs in the iTunes cloud? Well, to update my iPod Classic 120 GB, of course, it isn’t wireless. But, wait some more? Why do I need the iPod Classic 120 GB iPod when my iPhone can store and play music and is connected to the cloud? Why are we so resistant to letting go of stuff?
Movies; once upon a time, we could not enter Target, or even the grocery store, without exiting a couple of DVDs richer. The result, a six foot tall armoire full of movies, and numerous, precariously stacked, auxiliary piles of movies on either side of it. In my various moves, I purged myself of all of the DVDs I didn’t absolutely love and that I had little or no desire to see again. I am left with, still, quite a number of DVDs and have, admittedly, even added a couple to the pile, just to round out my holdings, for example, the Nora Ephron collection, the Jane Austen collection. But, why? Why do I have a DVD of “Thirteen Going on Thirty?” I love the movie, it is therapy for me when I am feeling a little low, sort of like “Legally Blonde”, for whatever, tawdry reason, those movies just lift my spirits. And, they are available to stream from Netflix or iTunes, so why do I have them crammed in a drawer with dozens and dozens of other flicks that are surely available over the internet? Let’s take it a bit further, shall we? When was the last time I actually turned my television on and watched a movie? I am certain I have dusted my television three times since I last turned it on. I dust quarterly. And that’s an optimistic estimate. The question then arises; do I need those DVDs, do I need that television, do I need the large black coffee table with drawers on which the television rests? Probably no, no, and no. Yet, I cling to them. I have moved them several times and may move them again, unless I let go of the clutter and liberate myself.
Books, books, books. I am a voracious reader, often reading six or seven volumes simultaneously. There is much to know, much to learn, and much of it can be found in the thoughts gifted authors have taken the time and care to record, pen to page, so to speak, for the benefit of humanity. The knowledge of all time, recorded for us to read, absorb and apply. Once, my home was full of print and binding books. We’d build floor to ceiling shelves in every room to accommodate our vast collection. Those days are gone. I have three bookcases in my office, two with books, the third with journals, supplies and my teaching materials. The journals and teaching materials I am transitioning to digital format, I have been busy trying out different options; software and mobile apps, to replace binders and journals with pages of paper. The two bookcases of books, one of horse books, the other of reference books for hiking, camping and kayaking, business books, and what I call “coffee table books”, large, pretty books you think guests might enjoying thumbing through while you uncork and pour the wine. It’s kind of a silly notion, I guess, especially in my home, as I’ve always been a “kitchen” person; I entertain in my kitchen, guests visit with me there while I uncork and pour the wine, serve the cheese and fruit. The kitchen has always been the center of my home. Of course, I grew up in a house with a “formal living room”, which is only entered when guests arrive, but only after the wine and cheese and fruit is served and enjoyed in the kitchen, lest we spill or make crumbs in the large, sterile and unfriendly territory known as “the living room”. And of cooking; a secret obsession of mine is cookbooks. Here, though, I have purged and now have only the best of the best, the most legendary cooks, the most beautiful volumes, the classics of cookbooks, in one small bookcase in my bedroom. I read them for entertainment, and rarely for recipes. I shoot from the hip when I cook, though influences, I’m certain, are drawn from my many and frequent visits between the covers of those cookbooks I chose to keep.
I have gone digital with books, and often ponder what my collection of Kindle books would look like if they were made tangible and piled up on the floor, along a wall. I’d likely have to line the walls of most of the rooms of my house with shelves, again, to hold them and organize them and make them accessible. Ah, yes, I love my Kindle, and entire library that fits in my purse and can even be accessed, now, during take off and landing in flight. Gone are the days of the smug looking traveler with their print and binding book as the flight attendant reminds me to shut off my “e-reader”. Take that! Now I only need be in “airplane mode”, which, means, simply, I can’t buy a book during take off or landing, but as soon as we reach 10,000 feet, I can buy another book. Smug tangible book toting person, you have to wait until you get to a bookstore!
Photos, good lord, photos. I take so many pictures, for so many reasons; for aesthetic viewing pleasure, to record events, to communicate, for reference, to express myself on social media, for material for articles and videos. I just, finally, successfully, uploaded 48,000 photos to “Shoebox”, the new cloud photo app, and the only one that I’ve found that really, really, works! I have struggled with ALL of the others and have even resorted to buying my own cloud, and in every instance, my own cloud included, it has been a interminable and woefully unsuccessful chore to upload my entire and ever growing library of photos. I have a large external drive with a “manual” backup of my photo (and music) library, too. Just in case. And I’d still like to find a way to swiftly and painlessly back them all up to my personal cloud, too. But, for now, I am happy. The result of finally getting my entire photo library in the cloud? I was able to purge the photos from my MacBook, which, as evidenced by this writing, has freed up enough space and memory to perform tasks. MacBook had been rendered completely unusable by the burgeoning amounts of data crammed onto its hard drive. My MacBook, my PC, after their digital cleanse, are lean and mean, powerful and fast. Both were so clogged, programs struggled to open, the cooling fans whirred nonstop, even before I tapped a key, touched the touchpad or moved a mouse. It was like a logjam of data, blocking the flow of data and preventing me from putting my thoughts and ideas into expressions and words. My MacBook is a device on which I can, again, think, create, collaborate, and not just a sleek, $1,500 external hard drive. Now, it has been liberated, and, so, too, have I!
So am I really purging if I am just sending stuff off to the cloud? Burdening some remote storage unit in the sky with my digital excess? Perhaps not. There are, I’m sure, many songs, books, and photos that are repetitious, duplicated, or, more likely, will never be accessed again, like a locket of hair and a baby tooth. But, for now, they are out of my immediate space, allowing me to organize what’s left, liberating my thoughts and ideas, creating flow. There will, no doubt, come a time when I endeavor to purge some of my cloud data, too, because there are costs, already. Accessing large amounts of data, no matter where it is stored, is time consuming and cumbersome. Refining the collections will increase the efficiency of organizing and accessing it all. There are monetary costs of storing stuff in the cloud, too, of course, not too unlike the monthly fee the storage facility charges me to store those saddles and snowboards, bicycles and backpacking gear, though, so far, far less.
We must each contemplate the economics individually. While some folks close to me grapple with my “need” for all those photos, books, movies and songs, I don’t understand why they keep tools, nails, fittings, fasteners and screws by the thousands. We each assign value to what we feel we need and incur the cost of keeping it. I suppose the effort I’m trying to encourage, the evolution I’m trying to foster, is to take a step back and look at the clutter, both within and about. Let go of all that is truly unnecessary, liberate yourself from the burden, lighten your load and let the carefree feeling of lightness, of agility, of freedom inspire you in ways you may have never imagined! Whether limiting thoughts, guilt or regret, whether piles of unread magazines, obligatory trinkets, tattered remnants of paper kept in hopes of clinging to precious, past moments; let them go, free them, send them away, banish them from your environment, set yourself free!
My favorite resources for a less cluttered life: