Get Your Digital Clutter Sorted

I am all too familiar with digital clutter. While I have a neatly organized storage box, with clearly labeled and sorted storage bags for cables, accessories, chargers, and manuals — once out of sight it is out of mind. Just last week while retrieving an extra power cord from the storage box I discovered some extraneous clutter. How did we end up with so many extra sets of headphones? Those quickly found themselves in the bin. A TomTom, remember those? Google Maps and our car navigation kit suit me just fine. And an old Nokia smartphone; how long ago was that upgraded to an iPhone? Both ended up in the hands of extended family members within days.

My own experience shows none of us are immune to digital clutter. Minimizing the clutter frees up space, opens the opportunity for better upgrades to new devices, and reduces the amount of time you waste on moving, storing or sorting through your digital possessions.

Here is a list of digital items to consider decluttering & recycling:

  • DVDs & CDs: Like a good book collection, those of us who came of age before the advent of Spotify, iTunes, Netflix and other Cloud video and music services, have garnered an extensive collection of DVDs & CDs. If you haven’t watched/listen to your collection or don’t even have a player that works for them it’s time for them to go. Not ready to let go? Discard the covers and store the discs in a case.
  • VHS tapes: does it need to be said? Definitely, time to dispose of them.
  • Computer manuals and CD-ROMS: If you no longer own the device or the software has a newer version, toss it. Nearly every manual or software update is available online.
  • Cables: Keep unique power cables for charging your devices, but if you have 10 versions of a universal cable maybe at least 8 of them need to go.
  • Keyboards, Monitors, Mouse: Apart from monitors, computer periphery is relatively inexpensive to replace. Invest in a good set that you actively use and dispose of the rest.
  • Digital Cameras/Video Cameras: Most likely you use your smartphone to capture photos and record videos. Is it time to let go of the one-use device?
  • Thumb Drives: Nearly everything can be stored and accessed from the Cloud. And with the size of images and documents that old 1GB (or smaller) thumb drive is useless and outdated.
  • External Hard Drives: Like thumb drives, old external hard drives don’t have the capacity to store all our photos/documents/videos anymore. Consider upgrading and migrating your files to an NAS of minimum 1TB (Networked Accessed Storage).
  • GPS Devices: Do you use an app like Google Maps or have an integrated navigation system built-in your car? Old GPS devices are outdated, requiring constant updates.
  • Old Mobile Phones. If you have no one you can pass it on to, recycle it. Or see if you can get some money for it through a buy-back company. Holding on to a collection of phone covers? One phone, one cover is enough.
  • Health tracking devices: From watches to smart bands there is a myriad of accessories that sync & connect to our other devices. Have you bought an upgrade or received a replacement version? Pass on working models to friends or families and recycle the ones that are broken.
  • MP3 Players: Once the must-have of portable music players, with music streaming services or player apps on our smartphone your old MP3 player is heading for the recycling bin.
  • Headsets: Your current headset and a back-up are sufficient; anything else should be tossed.

Of special note, I must comment on the storage of the packaging your devices came in. I’ve heard lots of excuses from clients justifying holding onto the pretty box.

  • The product is more valuable with the packaging (resale value); what is the likelihood you will resell the item?
  • If it breaks and I need to ship it back or return it to the store; if it is under warranty the company will take it back in any packaging.
  • If we ever move the box will protect it and be convenient; when is your next move planned? How did you move your digital stuff in the past?
  • It is pretty, it seems a waste to throw it away; either find a new use for the box or set a date (1 month, 6 months) for when you will recycle the packaging.

Is your digital clutter more than you can manage? Do you need assistance determining how best to sort & store your digital belongings? Melissa can help. Email or call for a Free Consultation. 

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Paperwork Getting You Down?

Deciding what to keep, what to toss, and how to digitize.

I recently spent an entire afternoon organizing and filing paperwork. Those are lost hours I will never get back! Once the job was done I committed myself again to keeping up to date with my filing, and put in place a number of systems that should make it easier for me to keep my commitment. Years ago we were promised that the world would become paperless. More than a decade on, many companies are beginning to see the financial benefits of going digital with their communication, invoicing and reporting.  So much so that many (though not all) of the services I use now provide me with a login to access my digital paperwork on the company’s system.

But living half-way between a paper and paperless environment raises questions about what financial and other personal documentation still needs to be kept, and for how long.  Below I have outlined the recommendations for retention of various documents (according to Dutch regulations) along with some strategies to manage the “paperwork”, whether it arrives in your real-life or digital mailbox.

What to Keep

Last Statements

  • Monthly utility statements for Gas, Water, Electricity.
  • Monthly statements for TV, Internet, Phone, Mobile.

One Year

  • Salary statements, until you have your annual statement, then dispose of the monthly specifications.
  • Yearly statements for Gas, Water, Electricity.

Two Years

  • Rental contracts.
  • Mobile phone contracts.
  • Health insurance policy (renewed yearly) and related reimbursement declarations.
  • Local tax authority charges and statements.

Five Years

  • Annual salary statement.
  • Bank statements.
  • Tax submissions.

Indefinitely, upon renewal or termination

  • Pension statements.
  • Mortgage documents .
  • Title to your automobile.
  • Notarial documents (marriage or divorce contracts, birth records, wills, etc.).
  • Passports, visas and travel or residency permits/documentation.
  • Employment contract/s.   
  • Insurance Policies (exclusive health insurance)

What Can Go

  • If it doesn’t meet the criteria above, it’s time for it to go!
  • De-clutter as you file. Recycle envelopes, fliers, and manuals (anything void of personal information) and toss or shred/recycle paid invoices.

Go Digital

  • Check with all your service providers, local council and bank to determine if you can receive invoices, statements and/or communication via email. You will be provided with a personal login to access your documents.
  • Set up automatic payments via your bank or service providers. This will reduce those monthly reminders via post.
  • Scan your documents and save in an “Important Documents” Folder in the cloud. Vital documents such as passports are convenient to have scanned and saved, both for security in case of loss or theft, and to save time when you need to provide them for a new job, mortgage, etc. Bank or salary statements can be saved digitally and the paper versions recycled.
    • As an alternative to Dropbox or Google docs try the Docady app, a secure and safe application to store and organize your important documents.
  • If you live in the Netherlands sign-up with Mijn Overheid, a nationwide digital messaging service used by nearly all townships and government institutions. It will notify you when your driver’s license expires, when the tax office has made a new childcare supplement calculation, or your township has determined your latest home-tax valuation. You will be required to login with a DigiD.

Thumbs-down Facebook

emojis FB

This week Facebook rolled out new emoji icons for mobile users, adding six alternative responses to the classic “Like,” thumbs-up. My initial response was the opposite of “Like,” though I couldn’t at first put my finger (or thumb) on why I was having such a strong negative response to a small change that most users seemed to have been wanting for some time. 

It was only after I looked at Facebook from the perspective of my business (as a professional organizer) that I realized why I dislike the new emojis so much: these seemingly innocuous new options are just a further disruption/impediment to the order and calm I try to instill each day in my own life and the lives of my clients.

Let me tell you why.

  1. Clutter.  Many of us only consider the clutter we experience in our physical surroundings but, increasingly, it is our virtual environments that threaten to overwhelm us. We are bombarded each day with an excess of media, images and words, an assault which our brains struggle to continuously process. From a design perspective, I appreciate that Facebook has thus far kept its digital presence clean and streamlined. The logo is simple, the color scheme soothing (blue, grey, white, black) and the user interface restricted for the benefit of uniformity. The addition of additional instant responses opens the door to future modification and personalized configurations, and the possibility of losing that streamlined tidiness that keeps virtual clutter at bay.
  2. Choices.  Mark Zuckerberg himself said:  “I do think it’s important to give people more options than just ‘like’.”  Well, now we have six new options. Will this be it, or will Facebook add another six in a few months’ time? Will we continue to request more and more elaborate emojis to use as shortcuts, so that eventually modern language is reduced to merely a string of symbols? Facebook is a platform for connectivity to other people, albeit virtual, and within that framework we should strive to communicate meaningfully with each other. The choice to use emojis rather than express ourselves with words abruptly shortcuts much of the conversation we may have with each other in order to explain and support those simple “Likes”.
  3. Decisions.  Now instead of just a simple “Like” we will have to take more time to decide if our response warrants a more emotional icon and, if so, which emoji represents that best. It feels like there are just too many options. Before the new emojis, the decision was simple:  “Like” it if it sparked something in you, ignore and move to the next post if nothing resonated. Now you have the option to decide to respond to everything with love, extreme joy, sadness, anger. That feels like an emotional rollercoaster I will decide not to jump on.

We can continue to ask our social media outlets for more customization, more personalization, and more options. But ask yourself:  is more always better? Or is the “more” sometimes actually offering me less?