Blind data. (Minimalism, post 12.)

Prompted by the recent demise (my fault) of my laptop and the subsequent acquisition of a new one, I’ve turned my minimalism efforts toward my electronic files… a necessary undertaking I’d been putting off. Can you imagine a task more tedious than going through archived files on various flash drives? I mean, there’s a tedium level of minimalism high up on the scale, and the electronic stuff is definitely on that level, as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve been combing through these four flash drives for a week now, and I’m still doing it, a little each day, looking through and comparing files and deciding what to keep and what to merge… until my eyes bleed. Not only is it bad because it’s taking up space, but also because when I want to find something on the drives, I can’t, or it’s difficult because I have to sift through piles of crap.

I don’t remember what I named something. I don’t remember when I took it or put it there. I don’t remember what folder it’s in or what drive it’s on. I have flash drives bloated with redundant files, files within folders nested in folders nested in more folders. Every time I got a new laptop, I transferred files onto different drives without thinking about it, because I was always in a hurry, and general wisdom says keep all of your files. It’s wisdom that comes from the umbrella mentality of always back up your hard drive so you don’t lose anything. We’re taught to be obsessed with backing everything up, so we end up backing up stuff we don’t need.

If there’s one area in my life in dire need of minimalization, it’s this, because electronic clutter is still clutter, and it’s the worst. It’s the most. I have more clutter on flash drives than anywhere else.

I have duplicate files. I have different versions of the same document. I have files that have overlapped from hard drive to hard drive. Since I’ve also gone back and forth between flash drives over the years, it’s not clear what files came from what laptop, though I’ve tried to keep things findable and organized.

Not only is this minimalism task tedious, but it’s maybe the most difficult in terms of letting go, emotionally. It’s one thing to make a decision whether or not to keep an article of clothing with sentimental value attached, and it’s another to look at a scanned picture of, say, a family reunion and decide whether I want to keep it: Why would I want to keep this picture? Do I need it? Does it bring me joy? Does it still matter or really matter? Am I going to want it one day and regret that I don’t have it?

Hundreds of image files piled up all over the place. What makes me crazy is the idea that having come from a pre-digital era, I know that I wouldn’t have all these pics if the digital era hadn’t been invented. When we all used manual cameras and took our pictures to be manually developed, did we take a hundred pics a days? When our primary concern was Kodak or Fuji, did we collect receptacles in which to store all of our developed pictures? Unless we were photographers, most of us did not. We did not cart around boxes bursting with 15 years’ worth of albums and loose paper pictures.

Our technological advances have enabled us to hoard, and it goes unnoticed because you don’t have to a clear a path to walk through the house when what you’re hoarding is electronic files; authorities are not going to bust into your house and report you to the producers of Hoarders.

Living in the digital age doesn’t mean I have to sentence myself to a lifetime of carrying around every single image and document and version of my three resumes (one with administrative experience, one with writing and editing, and one with combined admin and writing/editing, many of which I’d organized differently for the application of different sorts of positions).

All of this to say, I’ve been sitting on a list of the minimalism tasks I want to begin in the near future, but I’m starting this one now. When I got this new laptop, I sat and looked at my flash drives and sighed. I did not wish to clog up yet another hard drive with unnecessary files, only to transfer all of them plus additional hundreds of accumulated files when I get my next laptop.

It’s been chugging along. I’ve trimmed things down considerably. I’m not done, but I will be soon. I’m not finished yet, but I’ve learned. I’m not allowing this to happen again!

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