For the last few years, I’ve been working towards a more minimalist lifestyle: mainly, I live in a small apartment and try not to own too many things. That’s an over-simplification, but you get the idea.
When I went on vacation last week, I realized that for all the strides I’ve been making to simplify my material world, my online world is a perpetually overflowing geyser of information and clutter.
– I get hundreds of emails a day. (Not including work emails.)
– I read or skim hundreds of blog entries via Livejournal and RSS feeds.
– I belong to almost every social networking site.
– I have large lists of friends on Twitter, Facebook, and Livejournal and try to keep up with as many of them as I can.
Decluttering my physical space makes me feel more relaxed and creative. I started wondering if doing a little online housecleaning would have the same effect.
I thought I was getting maybe a dozen emails a day from charities, businesses, airlines, and other services I occasionally use. Normally I see these in my inbox and either delete without opening or give them a quick glance in case there are any sales I might want to explore. But even the act of seeing the email and deleting it takes mental energy. It’s like seeing piece of paper on your desk. Sure, it’s easy to crumple it up and toss it in the trash, but that’s still time wasted — especially when you’re doing it 10, 20, 50, or more times a day.
So I started unsubscribing. And unsubscribing. And unsubscribing. Every time I thought I must have gotten the last batch, another slew found its way to my inbox. I had been drastically underestimating the number of these useless emails I’d been getting, and underestimating the amount of time each day that I spend dealing with them.
Also, I don’t need to know about sales! As a budding minimalist, I try to buy quality items when I need them and eschew impulse purchases predicated on sale prices. Every single one of those emails was a temptation I had to resist. How much mental energy did that take? Even a teeny tiny amount would be far more than they’re worth.
2. Cleaning up my feeds (AKA Unsubscribing, Part 2)
I use Google reader to skim and read hundreds of posts a day on a variety of topics: design, science, book reviews, feminism, etc. But there are feeds that I always skim or use “Mark All as Read” on. I went through my lists and unsubscribed. There are feeds with high volumes (hundreds of new posts a day) where I occasionally find a cool article or idea. Unsubscribe! A 1 to 300 ratio of usefulness is not good enough! I’d never let an item stay in my house if I used it that rarely.
But I know I have a lot of work to do in this category. I removed a lot of high volume feeds, but I still have well over a hundred left. This is one of those categories that I’m finding difficult to let go of, much like the craft supplies I hung on to for years in my closet. So for now, I’ve committed to regular trimming and assessing, and hope that I develop more of a backbone as I go.
3. Social Network management
I deleted my Linkdin account, which I never used. Why did I maintain my profile for so long, dealing with emails about new adds and updates from groups I apparently joined 10 years ago? Gone! I’ve also abandoned my Tumblr account, since I don’t really enjoy the interface and feel like my blog and Pinterest accounts do the same things in a way I like better.
On Twitter, I’ve turned off Retweets for all the people I’m following. I think the number of tweets I see has dropped in half, and I still get the actual updates from my friends.
I’d like to cut down on the number of “friends” I have on Twitter, Facebook, and Livejournal, but I haven’t managed to do this yet. (I’m too soft!) So for now, I’m going to be stricter about my “no catching up” rule for all three. This means I don’t go back and try to read whatever I’ve missed since the last time I checked. I can lose hours doing that. Instead, I will try posting and interacting with whatever I see when I log in and am actively engaged on the site.
Just a few days after Online Armageddon, I’ve noticed a big change. I spend less time catching up, and more important, I spend less time on things that never mattered — on dealing with clutter. All that emotional/psychological/intellectual clutter adds up, and I’d been sifting through far more of it than I realized.
This is an ongoing process, just like decluttering my house is. I’m going to keep trying to simplify my online life, keeping only the things that are most important to me, just as I do in my house with my material possessions. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to figure out that my “home” exists in more than one place.