The 5 Step Digital Declutter
How to regain control of your life by dealing with your tech graveyard
You are having a great day — productive yet carefree, until you open your desk drawer to put something away and glimpse what appears to be a nest of black snakes interwoven with flecks of silver. The snakes morph before your eyes into a Medusa’s head of abandoned computer cords that threatens to turn you into stone if you keep looking at them.
It’s the drawer of horror we often fill with tangled phone chargers and USB chords of devices that have long become obsolete like old digital cameras and shattered cellphones. For some reason, we all have a drawer, shelf or box where we tuck away our old devices ‘just in case’, we ever need them again. But, let’s face it you’re never going to use your old Motorola Razr or mp3 player; it’s essentially technological junk and it’s about time you performed a digital detox.
First things first, you have to overcome the guilt that accompanies getting rid of technology. In the past 10 years, the speed of innovation has increased exponentially, making periodic upgrades expected and leading to a constant churn of hardware. While it’s easy to acquire new gadgets, it is significantly harder to know what to do with the old ones. As a result, we are burdened with what I call the GOT (guilt over things) syndrome. The GOT syndrome makes us feel like we have to keep objects because they ‘might’ be useful again someday, they have sentimental value, or they are worth a lot of money.
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It’s difficult to let go of a gadget that you spent $600 on just a year ago, knowing that its value plummeted as soon as the new model came out. It’s equally as difficult to dispose of gadgets that carry sensitive data, particularly when an item is broken. And so, these Medusa heads made up of gadgets and gizmos pile up in dark closets, their very existence in our homes proving that the stone-turning effect really works — we are paralyzed by our fear of letting go.
If we want to move forward, we must overcome this guilt and make room for happiness. In my book The Future of Happiness, one strategy I share for increasing well-being in the digital era is to create a habitat for happiness in your life. This means carving out a space where your brain can maximize its productivity and flow by removing distractions and infusing your space with more meaning. Although the process can seem daunting, devoting a day or even a weekend to decluttering can make a serious dent in your tech graveyard and increase your happiness. Just imagine having your precious drawer space back to use on projects that you actually care about! To get started with digital spring cleaning, follow these steps:
1. Sift and Sort
Start by sorting your items into two piles on the floor: those that are still used/needed and those that are not. (My general rule of thumb is that if I haven’t used something in the last two years, I probably don’t need it.) Go through your “needed” pile to see if you have multiple copies of the same device or plug. While one Ethernet cord can be handy in a pinch, fifteen cords are overkill.
2. Transfer Special Memories
If you’re anything like me most of your digital clutter is likely related to old home videos. I have old video cameras of multiple sizes, each of which takes different tapes, cords, and, of course, different wires. For years, I told myself that I was going to convert all these tapes into digital format. But doing so is an incredibly arduous and long process. Unless you are particularly tech savvy and have tons of time on your hands, I suggest bringing your videos to a video conversion service, or Wal-Mart or Costco where they will convert the videos for you.
3. Contain Yourself
To limit entropy in the future, put your “needed items” in small storage spaces and containers. Let me say that last part again: small storage spaces and containers. As we know, things expand to fill the given spaces, so it would make sense that limiting our spaces would help contain the disorder. It’s best to use clear, lidded containers so you can easily find things like that handy Ethernet cord in a pinch!
4. Divide The Leftovers
Divide your pile of “not-needed items” into three boxes: sell, donate or recycle. Many large electronic retailers such as Best Buy and Staples will accept used electronic devices in exchange for store gift cards. Best Buy even has an online trade-in calculator that can give you a sense of how much you might get in return. Alternatively, you can receive an Apple gift card for old computers through services like PowerON.
If the item is not easily sold, you can donate or recycle it. Most mobile carriers will recycle used smartphones for free and/or have non-profit programs that refurbish and donate old devices to people in need. To find out where you can recycle or donate larger electronics check out e-Stewards.org. Note: before parting with your gadgets, make sure to remove sensitive information by securely erasing data. (If you are unsure of how to do this, look up “erase” and your device on Google. Or just find your nearest teenager to help. If all else fails, many cities have on-site hard drive destruction services or you could even mail your devices to be destroyed through services like Ship’n’Shred.)
5. Relish Your Victory
Last but not least, take a moment to stand back and appreciate what you have accomplished. Think about all of the good you’ve set in motion by donating and recycling your unwanted items. Don’t forget to daydream about how you will spend the money you’ve earned by selling your old gadgets and, of course, how you can utilize your newly recovered space for things that add meaning and purpose to your life.