Cleaning My Digital Slate

June 11, 2024

Admitting That I Have A Problem

Over the last several years, I have amassed what I like to call a "digital hoard". What do I mean by that? I consider it a collection of digital "entities" spread across multiple services and accounts. Entities take up space on a hard drive or rows in a database somewhere. They could be on your laptop, on a server in your office, or in the cloud. Files in Dropbox, pages in Notion, tickets on a Trello board. These are all digital entities.

I didn't call them "assets" because an asset is defined as a "useful or valuable thing". Most of my digital things are neither useful nor valuable.

Some people can go happily about their day, adding to their digital piles in their digital rooms. It doesn't take up any space in their brain. Unfortunately, my digital hoard does not live rent-free in my head. I don't know if it's my ADHD, my anxiety, or some other neurodivergent trait I can't quite put my finger on, but I have a bit of an obsession with organization and cleanliness. I am acutely aware of the piles of files and software/services with content that I control. I have come to the realization that, in aggregate, it is no longer useful.

My name is Mike, and I am a digital hoarder.

You may be thinking that's a little dramatic, and is. Hoarding disorder is a serious condition that could have profound effects on the people that suffer from it, as well as their friends and family. I'm not making light of it, I just didn't know how else to refer to my tendency to hold onto all my digital crap.

So what's to be done? Well, I think I have a plan. Before we get to that, a little backstory...

A Little Backstory

My wife and I moved from Chicago to Portland about 5 years ago. We sold our house along with 90% of our possessions, packed what was left in a small PODS container, and drove halfway across the country for a fresh start. I remember feeling like a great weight was lifted off my shoulders when I saw what was left of what we owned. I don't like having a lot of crap and I don't get emotionally attached to physical items. I have a small box of mementos that I would be a little bummed out about losing. Aside from that, our small PODS container could have burst into flames and I wouldn't have really given a shit.

We recently decided to move back to Chicago to be closer to family. We ended up packing a slightly larger PODS container this time. Aside from the small box of mementos I mentioned, I would be indifferent to that PODS container falling into a canyon.

So what does this have to do with the digital hoard? After spending two weeks packing up the house we sold in Portland, I became increasingly exasperated. I just kept finding crap to pack that I didn't really need or use. I vowed to purge when we got to our new place in Illinois. This led me to thinking about all the digital crap in my life.

Lightening the Load

I have tried just about every project management, note-taking, task list, and todo app in the universe. Every time I sign up for a new one, I end up copying all my data from one tool that didn't work for me over to a new tool that ends up not working for me. Ironically, my preoccupation with cleanliness and organization ends up rendering these tools useless to me. I waste too much time trying to optimize the tool for my use case, get frustrated that it still doesn't meet my needs, and move on to the next one. I never delete anything from the old one because I might decide to give it another try some day. The list of logins in my password manager for these tools keeps on growing. I'm frazzled and unorganized. I feel burdened.

Maybe I'll find some way to organize my digital life that works for me. I don't know what that looks like right now, but I do know what hasn't worked. According to the Mayo Clinic page on Hoarding disorder, one of the reasons hoarders hold on to items is because they believe these items are unique or that they'll need them at some point in the future.

I had to step back and ask myself some hard questions:

It has taken me a long time, but I've come to realize that I will never need a vast majority of the digital things I save.

So I decided that everything must go.[2]

I'm going to delete everything I can. Dusty Trello boards. Abandoned Asana projects. Huge swaths of files spread across external hard drives, a NAS, and multiple cloud storage accounts. I'm deleting emails and unsubscribing from newsletters. I'm closing accounts and cancelling services. I don't know how long it will take and I don't have a concrete plan (yet), but it's time to start fresh.

Why Write This Post?

Personal accountability, I guess? Internet Mike has committed to something, corporeal Mike must follow through. Maybe someone will randomly stumble across this post and reach out to see if I pulled it off. I'm planning on writing up subsequent posts to document my progress. After all, this is not a one-and-done type of thing. Eradicating 15 years worth of digital crap does not happen overnight. It will require a mix of tenacity, a high tolerance for boring/repetitive tasks, and probably a little bit of recklessness.

Stay tuned.

  1. What if another music streaming service doesn't pop up? Well, if every music service disappeared overnight, the world is probably in deep shit. I know anxiety when I see it, so if you're worried about not being able to listen to Boston because there's no more music on the internet, maybe you should be more focused on learning how to farm and scoping out land for a bunker. ↩︎

  2. OK, well, not everything. I'm stuck with the work-related stuff. ↩︎