Digital Minimalism

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Minimalism is usually approached purely in terms of the physical.

“Clean up your living space.”

“Decorate in white and black.”

“Get rid of your extraneous objects.”

But could we extend minimalism to digital items?

On the surface, it’s a pretty silly idea. An mp3 doesn’t take up any space in your house, it doesn’t require dusting or new batteries, and it doesn’t clash with your white and black decorating scheme. Why minimize something that’s nothing more than electrical impulses?

May I suggest that, though they take up no physical space, digital items do take up mental space. It’s an easy process to reduce their mental footprint, but that footprint is there nonetheless.

Take a computer desktop. Sometimes desktops are mostly empty, with just a few icons and the Recycle Bin. Sometimes desktops are messy, almost covered with shortcuts, folders, and other digital files. If you have the second kind of desktop, how often do you have to go searching for the right icon among all the others?

It’s a rhetorical question, of course. No need to answer. But think about it. If you have taken the time and energy to become minimalist, removing unnecessary objects from your living space, why did you do that? Part of the reason was probably to reduce mental strain from having so many things to focus on. The same reasoning pertains to a computer desktop. Having a lot to focus on will increase mental strain. I know I get edgy when I look at someone’s cluttered desktop.

But the desktop isn’t the only place that can be cluttered. Who hasn’t had to spend several minutes navigating up and down folders trying to find the specific file they want? I know I’ve done it often enough, even with a decent folder structure. That’s time and energy wasted because you haven’t minimized your digital life.

And email inboxes! I do a lot of communication with colleagues in my position, and it often takes (metaphorical) ages for people to get back to me. I’m convinced that part of the problem is that their inbox is so messy that they simply miss my email. I have about 75 emails in my inbox at work, but they’re all marked as read, so I don’t miss any  new ones coming in.

No one can deny that the digital life is almost as important as the physical one in the world we live in. If you’ve taken the time to minimize your physical world, think about taking some time to minimize your digital world as well. At worst, it’ll be a little easier to find that old email that you’re looking for. At best, you’ll find that it clears your mind in much the same way physical minimalism does.

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