The Practice of Creativity

Are You an E-Hoarder? Spring Cleaning for Your Writing Life, Part 1.5

Posted on: April 26, 2012

Is your desktop (or smartphone) awash in files and icons that you rarely use? Is your Inbox crammed to capacity? Do you break out in a cold sweat when you think about the last time you backed up and sorted photos stored on your computer? Do you have hundreds of bookmarks? Digital acquisition feels easy at first, but like any kind of clutter it adds up and over time can contribute to disorganization and psychological stress.

Last week I started a series about springing cleaning for your writing life. Spring cleaning brings both physical and psychological benefits including increased energy, clarity and an uncluttered space. I focused on reassessing clutter in one’s physical writing space. In doing my own bout of spring cleaning, I couldn’t help notice how cluttered my desktop looked, how I was a bookmark acquirer and how all three of my email accounts haven’t been purged or organized in quite some time. After I posted, I realized that e-clutter deserved some time of its own.

E-clutter covers a vast array of digital items: email, contacts, bookmarks, photos, videos, text messages, blog posts, e-books tweets, documents, newsletters, etc. Items that as Jamie Derringer says, in her article about e-clutter, can “turn your computer into a virtual disaster area, making it nearly impossible to locate items without conducting a search.”

Managing the digital world too often fails to get (or sustain) our attention. E-clutter is easy to ignore, unlike physical clutter, most of the time as it fades into the larger digital background noise of our lives. While I’ve trained myself that if I bring five books home it means that I have to give away five, I’m less diligent when I subscribe to blogs, accept a specialty coupon by email, or bookmark every passing fancy to ask: What’s my capacity here? Do I really need this bit of information? How often will I use it? Where will I store it over time? These are the kinds of questions that are useful to ask as we go about our day navigating the digital landscape.

The psychological payoff for decluttering our physical environment holds true for our digital lives. It takes time, patience and a strategy. If you’re interested in putting e-clutter on your spring cleaning agenda, here are some helpful resources to get started:

I’d love to know: What’s your story with e-clutter? How are you managing it? Is it on your spring cleaning list? Any worthwhile tips you can share?

(post appeared today on She Writes)

(Photo credit-Google Images)

4 Responses to "Are You an E-Hoarder? Spring Cleaning for Your Writing Life, Part 1.5"

A great way to clean-up email is to find if your tool sorts by thread or conversation. That way you can delete all but the most recent emails in one conversation. Going forward, you can delete older items related to an item you are reading immediately. Another tip is to vo back 2 years and delete everything. You will be surprised at how seldom you will miss anything. Fir regular file systems, if you use SharePoint or other file system, don’t use folders. Place everything on one level and use one or more categories. That way you can filter a view in any way that us convenient, and nothing gets buried. I know this is counter-intuitive, but it really works. Spend the first half hour every Monday going through files. If you can’t remember the subject, project, or r the people,


Hey Cathy, these are GREAT tips. For my work email, I was on a schedule where at the end of the month, I would just spend an hour or so deleting email–I think I need to up that to twice a month at least. I love your suggestion about deleting all threads to a conversation. I’m going to try that going forward. These are super helpful tips–thanks!


I can honestly say I don’t do this. I don’t like a lot of icons on my screen.


I’ve even made New Year’s resolutions, I know, really not a good idea because no one keeps those. I’ve promised myself to go on and clear out a day of irrelevant e-mails along with a few files that I haven’t touched for 5 years after I read my morning e-mail. That does work once in a while. I’m going to keep trying to do that along with cleaning out some extraneous clothes from my closet right after I get up. When it works, it’s like getting to the gym. I feel good all day.


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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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