There are three reasons why you should keep digital things:
1. You love them and you want to keep them forever.
2. They are important and you need to keep them forever.
3. You need them for now and have to hold onto them for a while.
But exactly like physical clutter, we also keep things for two other reasons:
4. What if I want it one day?
5. Uhh - that old rubbish?! I totally forgot I had that!
Reasons 2-5 are easy. Keep 2. and 3. are non-negotiable. Delete 4. and 5.
Reason 1. is interesting. How do you work out what you actually want to keep forever?
The KonMari method
Approximately 10 squillion people have written about Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I am not about to cover the same ground here (and anyway, that's sooo 2016!) But I mention it because there is a whole section on decluttering your paperwork. Her advice also applies to digital clutter, and was the springboard for this article.
If you haven't heard about this book, have a look at what other people are saying about it. Better yet, let the book speak for itself.
Step 1: Collect
Get all your digital stuff into one place so you get an idea of the volume of material you are dealing with.
This may be easier said than done, so check out Steps 1 and 2 of my How To Start A Digital Archive article for help.
Step 2: Put Like with Like
Roughly group the things you have been keeping by category. Don't get too granular about this. Treat your categories as "piles" of stuff to go through one by one.
This is a good point to work out why you are keeping things. Remember Reasons 1 - 5 from earlier? As you are going along:
(a) put to one side everything that falls into 2 and 3 (i.e. the things you need to keep). This shouldn't be a lot of stuff. Forget about this for now, and concentrate on the rest.
(b) delete things that fall into 5 (forgotten rubbish).
This will leave you with a bunch of "maybe piles". These will be a mix of things in 1 (things you love) and things in 4 ("what if" items).
Step 3: Declutter
The goal of this step is to deal with the "maybe piles".
Marie Kondo's general rule of thumb with paperwork is: discard everything. As with everything else, only keep those items that "spark joy".
My advice would be to think at the category level first of all.
For example. I have decided that I only want to keep things that I have made myself. So I am going to delete the articles, pictures etc. that I have downloaded. If I need them again, I can easily google them. In fact, it is better for me to do that, because my saved documents will be sitting there going out of date.
Whoosh! I can delete that whole category, instead of having to make a decision about every single item.
After choosing the categories of stuff you want to keep, your "maybe piles" will be fewer and smaller. Now you can sift through what remains. Choose the items that you want save, and move them to a designated space.
You will now be keeping only the things that you need or love!
If the idea of deleting everything else makes you uncomfortable, don't worry! Create a folder called "Delete Me", and dump everything in there. You can always pop in there to grab something if you need it, and then delete the folder if/when you feel ready.
If you are anything like I was, this process could take a loooong time. But the beauty of the KonMari method is that it should only need doing once. From now on, you will be able to tell the difference between stuff you want to keep forever, and everything else. Only save things to your designated space if you are keeping them for Reason 1.
Thank you so much for reading all the way to the end! I hope this guide has given you a bit of help and inspiration. If you are thinking about what are the next steps for your 'designated space', then have a look at my How To Start Your Digital Archive article.
I publish a new article every Tuesday, so if you would like to have these sent to you, then sign up for my monthly email. And please do connect with me if you like; I would love to hear about your digital KonMari journey!
Have a great day!