Digital Housekeeping

One of my new year/new semester resolutions is to really get my digital housekeeping in line. Over break I read a Washington Post piece shared by Brianna, a wonderful HLS alum, titled “Just say no to digital hoarding.” The author, Dominic Basulto, teases out the culture of digital hoarding that has become so prevalent for so many of us: “We save every e-mail, every photo, every file, every text message and every video clip. If we don’t have enough space on our mobile devices, we move it to a different storage device, maybe even a hard drive or a flash drive. Or, better yet, we just move it to ‘the cloud.'” At first, the archivist side of my brain defensively reared up: “Excuse me, but I need those photos; they are precious memories! And it’s nice to be able to search through years of email to find something I didn’t know I’d need until later. And hey, you don’t know my life, plus storage is cheap!”

But when you get down to it, many of us are keeping digital items long past when we need to. Basulto argues that in the age of analog we were more likely to get rid of things because they took up more of our physical space: “you would have donated used books to charity, hosted a garage sale to get rid of old albums you never listen to, or simply dumped these items in the trash.” Now I’m certainly not suggesting an information purge; there are plenty of files, photos, emails, texts, etc. that you can and should keep. But I am suggesting an information cleanse – go through your digital life and evaluate what you need, where you need to store it, and for how long. Think of it in a records management mind-frame and judge things by their utility, value (present and future), and importance.

(CC BY 2.0 | Colin_K)

Yeah, this is not OK. (CC BY 2.0 | xJason.Rogersx)

With just a quick glance at my laptop, external hard-drive, and phone I found plenty to keep and plenty to cleanse:

  • Media: Keep scanned photos from my childhood, photos & videos of special events and trips, dancing videos of my friends from undergrad (for blackmail purposes…), etc. Cleanse photos of food/outfits/books that I just took on my phone to send to someone as info or a recommendation, but then never deleted; a massive folder of GIFs I saved when I first joined Tumblr; etc.
  • Files: Keep important assignments for (e)portfolio, past & current resume versions, plenty of other *necessary* things. Cleanse homework/busy-work from undergrad; order confirmations from more than 1 year ago; applications for jobs/internships that have nothing to do with my current career (looking at you, application to work on an organic farm when I was 19).
  • Email: Keep important school, work, and personal communications. Cleanse junk email (this includes going ahead and unsubscribing from anything you don’t utilize at least once every 3 months); mass communications from institutions/organizations I’m no longer a part of; SPAM (it is never a bad time to clean out SPAM & make sure that nothing legitimate found its way in there).
  • Phone: Keep text chains from folks I’m close with; photos that I actually need to have on my phone for contacts/wallpaper/etc. Cleanse contacts I haven’t used in over a year; text chains from anyone I don’t know or frequently chat with; apps that do not actually improve my life (looking at you, Snapchat, which my teenage sister made me download a year ago and I haven’t used since).

Honestly, the best thing about doing an info cleanse is that it’s a great time to take care of many important tasks that are otherwise time-consuming and also entail going through your digital life:

  • Track inspiration! Julia’s post on keeping track of inspiration is one of my all-time favorite HLS pieces. While you’re going through all of your emails, files, etc., find and squirrel away bits of joy. You’ll thank yourself repeatedly later.
  • Pull things out for your resume/portfolio/website/other professional efforts.
  • Really evaluate your digital preservation practices and needs. Is backing up all of your photos on an external hard drive the best choice? Or are cloud-based solutions better for you? Take some time to re-think your current strategy and really make sure that the important stuff you’re keeping is backed up and safe.

I know the prospect of an information cleanse may seem daunting, but it’s also only January, so you can’t be too far into the weeds of the semester yet. Happy de-cluttering!

What are your new year/new semester resolutions (LIS-related or otherwise)? What are your strategies for keeping your digital life organized and clutter-free?

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