The Joys Of Deleting

There is an odd social pressure to collect stuff. This may be due to our tendency to buy the latest and greatest in good consumer fashion, and it may be due to our belief that more information is good information and you can never have too much (not true). It is likely a combination of both and a variety of other factors which I have overlooked.

In any case, we both consume and store more and more information every day and most technology is concerned with getting it to you faster and cheaper, whether it be your smartphone, your media server, or Gmail. I think that is wrong.

Actually, I’m tired of endlessly sorting out where to store things on the fileserver and going on cleaning missions to find all the out of date installers and irrelevant crap I have floating around from previous server incarnations and things I thought might be useful someday. Same deal with email. I don’t need to keep everything, despite the fact that one of Gmail’s key marketing points is that I can. Archive, baby! It’s a feature.

So why do I keep all those old emails around to clog up my All Mail folder, slow down IMAP updates, and give me more irrelevant results when I actually do need to search for something? Why do I save all the useless bits and bobs in junk bins under my workbench and boxes of dead electronics? I keep things that are useless and meaningless just because I can. I have the space, why get rid of it? I’m out of space? Get more!

Unfortunately, that dilutes the things that really are important and makes them harder to find when I need to. The cruft takes up space and time that could rather be spent on something more useful. The ability to store massive amounts of data – along with the assumption that this is a good thing – eliminates the need to prioritize and decide what stuff is actually worth saving. When storage is at a premium (at least in theory) premium stuff gets put in it.

This tendency to fill up the space available is a very good argument for intentionally limiting available space, whether for storage, living, or what have you. Living in a small apartment will show you just how much stuff you have and how much you do not use. Having kids will show you just how little time you have to use the things you do use.

I will be the first to claim there are legitimate reasons for needing more space. The kids are one, storing creative media projects (finished or not) is another. But adding more space for random stuff should be the last thing I do, after prioritizing and deleting. Then I can make space and time for what I really want to keep.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

This post has been influence by Tsh Oxenreider’s Organized Simplicity, Neil Postman’s Technopoly, and Jordan Benik’s random Facebook post.