Simply Living is a new column by Christine Platt, aka the Afrominimalist. Each month, Christine shares her refreshing approach to living with less, with clever tips for decluttering, making eco-friendly swaps, and creating a more mindful living space that's all you.
When it comes to our personal belongings—especially the things we’re most fond of—it’s not uncommon to find ourselves confronting clutter. The linen closet with mixed bedding and towels that are in disarray; the spice cabinet with jars so old the contents have formed clumps; and the closet that needs to be pared down.
While closet clutter and organization get plenty of attention, I’ve noticed two areas that I tend to neglect: paper and... digital clutter (you, too?). Earlier in the year, I began my #paperless journey and it’s been both laborious and liberating. Much like the first round of decluttering my closet, the first month of scanning, shredding, recycling, and sorting through my paper items left me determined to make sure I never found myself in the situation again. I put myself on a moratorium, committing to use or gift the paper products I had before I purchased more. Additionally, as an author, I was determined to find ways to be more mindful of my consumption, such as waiting to print out the almost-final drafts instead of the first version.
But after decluttering my paper, I realized that my electronic devices were just as concerning. Like many people, my phone is more than just a device for phone calls and messaging: It’s my mini laptop-camera-communication device, a place where digital clutter quickly accumulates. Needless to say, there was a lot for me to work through.
Here’s the four-step approach I’ve used to manage digital clutter (as well as my paper—because you can’t fully let go of that) and liberate myself:
Week One: Liberate Your Inbox
There’s a reason to start with your inbox: it’s easy and will give you the confidence to move on to other areas. In fact, you may even find the process therapeutic.
Delete old email messages: Consider searching by sender and deleting in bulk. Or, you can delete by starting at a certain year. (Because will you ever reread an advertisement from five years ago? I doubt it!)
Unsubscribe: One of the biggest sources of inbox clutter are subscriptions and advertisements that come from signing up to attend an event or whenever you make a purchase. Unsubscribe from mailing lists that you no longer benefit from. Hint: these messages often remain unread! You will find the majority of them when sorting and deleting old emails. There are also several third-party tools that help you bulk-unsubscribe to emails, although you will need to give them access to your inbox.
Have a system. Creating a system to manage your incoming messages will be essential to keeping your inbox clutter-free. Can you check your email at a designated time or periodically throughout the day? Can you use labels and tags or folders to keep things organized? Regardless of your method, having a system will help keep you on track.
Week Two: Liberate Your Desktop
If you’re like me and have a desktop computer in addition to your laptop, keep reading. (If not, lucky you! Skip to step three.) Our desktops can also be a source of clutter, especially if we love to save programs and documents on the homescreen. Consider doing the following:
Get Organized: Look at every single item on your home screen as well as documents that are not saved in cloud storage. This is the only sure way to ensure you keep what you need. Send everything else to the recycling bin.
Uninstall: Have you seen an icon and have no idea what it’s for? Why is it still there when you haven’t opened it in years? Consider uninstalling programs that are not part of your desktop's core operating system.
Empty the Trash: Just like with physical trash, it hasn’t really been handled until you take it out. In addition to officially removing the files from your computer, you’ll have the added benefit of your system working faster.
Week Three: Liberate Your Phone and Other Electronics/Mobile Devices
Did you know the average American household owns approximately 24 devices If you’re like me, you immediately started counting! Still surprised?
About Those Apps: It is not uncommon to have several apps that no longer serve you. Find and delete them to clear up some visual space and virtual memory.
About Those Photos & Screenshots: Have you ever opened the photo album on your phone and cringed at the number of images in there? Time to select, delete, and let go. And don’t forget to organize your remaining folders in albums and back them up on cloud storage.
Keep Things Minimal: Keep home screens minimal and clutter-free by creating 4-8 folders to organize and house your most frequently used apps.
Week Four: Liberate the Paper Things
Depending on your age, you’ll likely have more paper clutter than the generation that came after you. As a 70s baby, I have watched technological advancement in amazement… and distrust. It has taken me quite some time to commit to going #paperless because well, I grew up writing on and enjoying the feel of paper. Still, I had to acknowledge how paper clutter was taking over my life and commit to making changes to reduce my paper footprint.
Make Time: Commit to dedicating at least 30 minutes each day to sort through and discard paper clutter. If 30 minutes every day seems too daunting, commit to 30 minutes weekly. The idea is to begin devoting time to the task. Be sure to check with residential recycling facilities in your area. Depending on the amount, some organizations will even arrange for bulk pick-up!
Have a System: For the initial decluttering sessions, consider organizing piles by groupings such as recycle, scan, or save. You can create different systems when it comes to organizing the important documents you saved and scanned.
Trust the Cloud: Scanning and saving files to cloud devices may be daunting at first. But with each passing day and secured file, your trust in cloud storage will grow stronger. Consider systems that have extra security and password protections if this is your primary concern.
Keeping Your Paper & Digital Clutter at Bay
After completing these four steps at a pace that works well for you, the hardest part will be over. Then, you’ll just have to find solutions to keep things at bay.
Know the Problem? Have a Solution
The process of working through your paper and digital clutter will serve an important function: it will highlight the areas where you’re most prone to accumulation. Create a solution to keep things under control. If you had to sort through physical copies of receipts, invoices, and bills, create a system to help reduce receiving and storing these items. (Keep in mind that if you ever need a physical copy of these things, you can also return to the source and ask.) I’ve also found it helpful to ask stores for e-receipts and file them in a designated folder. I regularly check and delete those that have expired!
Did you discover a lot of unopened mail? Be intentional about opening and discarding mail upon receipt. Did you have tens of thousands of unopened emails? Be intentional about opening, reading, and deleting messages in a timeframe that works best for you.
Commit to the Practice
The only way to make sure things stay under control is to make maintaining the paper and digital aspects of your life a regular practice. Whether daily, monthly, quarterly or yearly, commit to keep these areas of your life clutter-free.
Ready to commit to decluttering—or not yet? Tell us why in the comments below.
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