Written by : Amy Blankson 

5 Tips for Digital Decluttering

You are having a great day—productive yet carefree. You open your closet door to put something away when out of the corner of your eye you glimpse what looks like 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. And they have names: USB, FireWire, pin-dot, 2-pin. And the cords connect to so many obsolete devices: your old digital camera, that practically antique PalmPilot, your grandma’s dot-matrix printer, your shattered iPhone 3. This is a monster pile of digital detritus, and it’s time for it to go.

The GOT syndrome

In the past 10 years, the speed of innovation has increased exponentially. Periodic upgrades have become expected and anticipated, 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.
It’s hard to let go of a gadget that you spent $600 on just a year ago, only to find that its value plummeted as soon as the next model came out. It’s also difficult to get rid 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.

Creating a Habitat for Happiness

Instead, imagine having your closet and drawer space back to use on projects that you really care about! In my book The Future of Happiness, one of the strategies I share for increasing well-being in the digital era is to create a habitat for happiness in your life, which 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! 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. Yes, one Ethernet cord can be handy in a pinch, but fifteen cords are overkill.

2. Take care of special memories

I find that most of my digital clutter is 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. Companies like Wal-Mart and Costco will convert 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. Avoid cardboard boxes since they are food for potential roaches and other bugs. Use clear (and lidded, if you can find them) containers so you can easily find what you need.

4. Deal with the leftovers

Divide your pile of “not-needed items” into three boxes: sell, donate or recycle. For items that you are interested in selling, you can take them to Best Buy, which offers to purchase an extensive list of electronic items at reasonable prices. You can even use the company’s online trade-in calculator to get 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. To find an organization in your area that accepts technology, check out e-Stewards.org, a nonprofit website with some great information about how to donate your items. 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 the ways you have helped others by recycling and how you can use the money you earned by selling your old gadgets. And, of course, dream about how you can utilize your newly recovered space for things that add meaning and purpose to your life.

Amy Blankson, aka the ‘Happy Tech Girl,’ is on a quest to find strategies to help individuals balance productivity and well-being in the digital era. Amy, with her brother Shawn Achor, co-founded GoodThink, which brings the principles of positive psychology to life and works with organizations such as Google, NASA and the U.S. Army. Her new book is called The Future of Happiness: 5 Modern Strategies for Balancing Productivity and Well-being in the Digital Era.

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