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Decluttering: Digital clutter

It is a new year, and the decluttering continues with renewed force.  The area that has been most difficult but most rewarding to clear out is the digital clutter category including emails, data storage, and social media.  I’ve been meaning to make some of these changes for years, but I was always stopped by a familiar snag in the downsizing process- the “things” I wanted to be rid of were not all bad.  Regardless of how often I trip over the largely unused items (literally or metaphorically), I wonder, “What if I need/want/miss it later?” Oddly this applies whether you’re parting with a sweater or an email.


I received a few nudges down the digital decluttering diving board, and the correspond to the three main tasks I have completed in this area.

1. Clean up email providers

The nudge was that Yahoo’s webmail performance became unacceptable. I’ve used many email service providers over the years, and I’ve used Yahoo as my primary for over a decade.  But in the last few years, their webmail has been down multiple times per day more often than not, and the interface they keep changing never functions correctly, though you never know which glitch will be active at a given time.  And Yahoo has had a surge of security breaches.

The steps I took were to switch to a new provider for my primary email, download my Yahoo emails off of the server completely and delete my contacts and history in the account.  This way I can keep the account open to catch straggler-emails that are sent there instead of my new email, but my account history and data aren’t quite so vulnerable.  I revisited all of my email accounts (old internet service providers, employers, schools, and secondary accounts) to deactivate unnecessary ones and to update forwarding and security on addresses I maintain.  This coincided with migrating my blog from blogger to wordpress.  It was like an Extreme Makeover for my digital environment.


2. Inbox Zero

Empty Inbox

The nudge was downloading TWENTY TWO THOUSAND emails from the server onto my computer.  Sadly, I’m not exaggerating, and that was only my inbox from the last 6 years.  It doesn’t count email I filed into folders or my sent messages.  I decided I would only keep what I *reasonably* expected that I might refer back to sometime, which was perhaps 1 out of 100 emails.  If you’re thinking, “I could never get rid of emails from her, and him, and them, even if I haven’t talked to them in 10 years!  Emails are memories!” I totally understand.  See above- that’s how 22,000 emails happened. But something simply changed in my thinking one day- perhaps I reached a critical clutter level in one or more areas- and I wasn’t so sentimentally attached to these emails that I admittedly never re-read anyway.  I was/am still attached to the people who wrote them, but I realized I can sit down with them for coffee or revisit fond memories of them in much more meaningful ways than digging through old emails. In other words, once the sentimental charm had faded, I realized most of these emails did not pass the “Will I ever need or use this again?” test.

The steps I took were first to sort the email by sender and delete whole batches this way.  Then I created a few meaningful folders to organize the few “keepers-” such as emails from Greg and emails referring to ongoing business.  Then I turned my attention to my new email address and decided to maintain the inbox at zero as well by deleting any email that I won’t reasonably need and filing the few remaining ones into folders.  Any emails that require follow up linger conspicuously until I act on them, which turns the inbox into an efficient task list system.


3. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe

The nudge was deleting thousands of ads and newsletters from my inboxes earlier in this process. And I don’t mean spam.  I mean the emails I got with varying frequency from every company that I had ever been required to provide my email address to as part of a transaction.  I actually decline to give my email to cashiers and on forms when it’s not necessary, but it’s increasingly unavoidable because of online purchases, product registration, and loyalty cards/coupons.

The steps I took were to unsubscribe to the recurring emails before deleting them.  Simple, but it’s tempting to skip the extra effort because it usually requires opening an unsubscribe website or even logging into your never-used “online profile” with the company.  (I miss the days that reply: UNSUBSCRIBE usually worked.)  Once I committed to this though, I was shocked by exactly how much I was being advertised to via inbox bombardment.  I’ve unsubscribed from over 60 emails!  They fall into specific categories:

Products like software, tires, toys and diaper companies

Social networks like Linked In, Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.  Linked In actually emailed so frequently and began to use my activity to advertise to my professional contacts without offering an “opt-out” or even an notification of what they were doing that I deleted my account entirely.  And I finally left the black hole of time and attention that is Facebook.  I’d love to write more on this complicated process and decision, but for now I’ll reference this rather blunt post I stumbled upon summarizing some problems with Facebook.  However, I don’t intend to echo his universal statement that “Facebook is bad for you,” to judge, or even to urge others to jump ship.  I just know that I’m really enjoying finally being off of it after years of contemplating leaving. What I intended to be a week-long trial absence after Thanksgiving turned into a month because I was so reluctant to reactivate my account temporarily to send my official farewell post.

Professional websites related to my counseling or higher education such as continuing ed opportunities and textbook advertisements

Service providers like fitness clubs, dry cleaners and insurance companies

Charities that I’ve interacted with as a donor, counselor/advocate or event participant

Universities I disocvered that my two alma maters were sending me four separate recurring emails each including news for alumni, school sports, specific college alum and specific majors

Financial institutions like banks, credit holders, and retirement accounts

Retail chains like grocery stores, pharmacies, and toy stores

Unsubcribing is well worth the effort.  In nearly all instances, the information from the email is available somewhere online if you ever do need to seek it out- even coupon codes.


For more thoughts on decluttering digital space, see this inspiring post from Sorting Buttons.

Watch for the next decluttering series topic, photos and crafts, coming “soon” (aka a non-specific time frame mean to avoid jinxing my writing)


Decluttering: Clothes

The clothes closet is a great space to begin the decluttering process because we generally accept that our current wardrobe will not serve our needs forever.  We purchase clothing items with the knowledge that they will eventually wear out physically or cease being useful to us; this assumption makes it easier to let go of them.  Unless you’re like me, and love sewing and/or hate shopping.  In which case, you might be hoarding clothes “to wear some time” or “to fix/patch/upcycle/dye some day.”  Whether the closet-thinning process comes naturally to you or not, here are some tips to guide your work:

 Decluttering Clothes

1. Sort by size

If you have a range of sizes in your wardrobe, it is helpful to sort them by type (dress pants, casual pants, dress shirts, etc) and then size- even if more than one size fits you currently.  Grouping the clothes like this is beneficial because it

  • creates a real-time bar graph of how your clothing is distributed between the sizes
  • breaks the decluttering task into manageable chunks automatically
  • prepares you for documenting any clothing you donate for tax purposes

Don’t worry, it’s totally alright to retain clothing from throughout the size range if you want.

2. Yes, No, Maybe

Do a QUICK first pass to sort items into “Yes, keep this,” “No, donate or trash it,” or “Maybe keep it” piles.  Go with your instinct on this, especially on the “No”s.  You may even find that everything of a certain size or type can be placed in the “No”s because you don’t anticipate using it.

3. Review Maybes

Review each maybe item and place it in Yes or No.  Trust your initial instinct to place something in the No pile, and resist the urge to rescue “No”s.  Remember we are FAAAR more likely to keep things we won’t use than we are to discard something we’ll miss. A few questions to guide this process:

  • When is the last time you used this?
  • Would you wear this tomorrow? If not, identify why.
  • What stops you from using this, and is it likely to change?  This will help you discard items that you continually pass over as wardrobe choices because they are too clingy/baggy/short/hot/itchy…have the wrong neckline or sleeve cut….are no longer your style….are stained or damaged….
  • If you’re considering keeping a usable item “just in case” (in case you’re that size again; you do that activity again; a specific occasion comes up; could use it for a craft; find time to alter it) ask yourself if you would prefer to enjoy the extra closet space until “that case” arises, if it ever does, and then purchase a new or used replacement at that time instead.  In fact, if you sell the item in question and purchase a used replacement later, this option can actually be very cheap or free.

4. Review Yes pile

Now that you have a lot of practice using your No pile, go through the Yeses one last time for a final cut.  Use the same questions as with the Maybes.

5. Salvage, Trash, and Donate 

This is an important step.  After the hard work of sorting, GET RID of the NOs promptly or they’ll stick around for MONTHS or years.

  • If you craft or sew, you can glean useful bits like buttons, elastic, belts, logos, and zippers before discarding items.
  • Then take the trash pile ALL THE WAY to the curb or dumpster.  Not in a trash bag in the corner.  Not in a forgotten trash can near your closet.  Not in a “to throw away” box in the spare bedroom.
  • For donations, sort and catalog the items if you’re going to seek a tax deduction for them.  There are handy programs and apps to track items and suggest values like ItsDeductible from Turbo Tax.
  • Take the items ALL THE WAY to the donation spot, whether it’s a church, Goodwill, Salvation Army, a local charity drive, or a family you know.  It takes surprising persistence to get the items boxed/bagged, to the vehicle, and to the charity.  Don’t stop until you’re really done, so that someone else can use that item now and you can start enjoying your free space!