There are 12 squillion articles out there on how to de-clutter your digital life, and most miss an important step when discussing how we can minimize rubbish we don’t need haunting our screens and head space. As we’ve well and truly kicked off the new year, this would be a good project to set aside some time for before the months slip away.
There’s solid evidence out there that indicates stressful digital experiences in day to day life, such as an obese inbox or twelve email accounts, causes very real stress across all areas of our well-beings as human folk. Princeton University completed a landmark study indicating that stress on your electronic devices becomes damaging for your overall health.
Here’s the important bit to know: de-cluttering is important because if you don’t, it can cause this above-mentioned stress. But it’s not so easy — as humans, our brains experience losing digital data (or even the idea or fear of it) the same way as small pains such as spilling hot tea on ourselves or getting a pin prick. Yale University School of Medicine made this connection by watching the Anterior Cingulate Cortex in our brains light up when we felt small sharp pain and also when we lost digital data like photos, documents, or accidentally deleted emails. This established the connection that when you stub your toe and feel pain, it’s the same reaction in our brains that occurs when we think, fear, or lose important digital data.
If de-cluttering digitally is literally painful, it’s enlightening as to why there’s so much stress and anxiety surrounding deleting emails from 2011 that you haven’t read, maybe ever. These two studies indicate that our Anterior Cingulate Cortex starts pinging if we are emotionally invested or feel like we have a connection that is important to the data. Which makes sense — if you lose photos of a delightful birthday party you’ll feel more pain than if you lose an order tracking email from Redbubble (or maybe you won’t, but that’s another phenomena).
Once we can understand that even the idea or fear of losing important data causes stress, it’s more of an argument to make sure you’ve backed-up what actually matters to you, and purge the rest. Let’s purge together now. It’s time to say, “see you never, bye” to data that doesn’t actively serve you. Here’s some basic steps to purge those rotting, dreggy pieces from your hard drive:
1. Change your notification settings
Check out this article in n+1 Against the Rage Machine on the importance of silence and indifference in an Internet era where freedom of speech has lead to a raucous din cluttering up your life. You have a right to remain silent. And you can expect silence in the form of not having to keep up with push or notification settings. Don’t let social media email you with updates when someone pings or prods you. Quiet that right down.
2. Clean your contacts out
If you haven’t spoken to the person in question in one year and you don’t share DNA, it’s time to purge them. Unless you’re anticipating a call about donating a kidney, just let them go. If it was meant to be, the mate you played soccer with 5 years ago will get back to you. Another good rule to follow is if the person doesn’t have a real name in your contact list, it’s time to purge (e.g. I have a “Steph Shoes” in my phone, who on earth is “Steph Shoes”?) Purged.
3. Unsubscribe from emails
This is a pretty obvious one, but take the time to click the tiny grey “Unsubscribe” button at the bottom of emails you rarely actually open. If you don’t open the emails within a day of them hitting your inbox, you can probably do without it.
4. If you need to log in, then ditch the website
A good rule to follow is if you visit the website so rarely that you need to log in and out, it’s probably time to ditch it. Obviously, this doesn’t apply for things like banking or other bills. You probably visit your favorite social media sites everyday, but it might be time to close your accounts with job hunting websites, holiday, or travel booking websites, or super niche shopping sites. Let it all roll away.