Mop And Pail, Dustpan And Broom

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-12-04 17:00:00-05:00 No comments

This past weekend saw me neck-deep in some cleanup work — recycling to the reclamation center, books to the charity shop, long-lingering junk to the curbside. I also spent an evening and change reorganizing things on my PC, another long-overdue project. That gave me a new level of appreciation for how PCs become trash accumulators that rival any closet, garage, crawlspace, or basement.

Some of this is my fault. One of the settings I didn't pay enough attention to was how much to retain in the Recycle Bin for a given drive. Apparently this number was set way too high — and when I thought about it, I realized it was because I'd dialed up that setting at a time when I had far more of an overweening paranoia of trashing things by accidentally deleting them and only discovering my mistake weeks later. Almost half a terabyte of space reclaimed from that alone!

The other way it's my fault is that I'm a digital packrat. I keep copies of everydamnthing, even when they're redundant or now entirely useless. After a round of bullet-biting I let go of another few hundred gigs of dross — not just for the sake of the space, but so there were that many less things to try and track the lifetimes and provenance of.

I know why I do it. It's the same reason anyone stuffs their closets and can't unstuff them; it's because you're attached to the idea that somehow, somewhere, some time, something in that pile will become USEFUL. And you don't want to say to yourself, I threw that USEFUL thing out six months ago, arrgh. But this is the fire-engine-reddest of herrings. The exacerbation you experience in a moment like that has a stopwatch lifespan. It's not something you need to build a significant part of your habits around. It comes, it's annoying, and then it's gone again.

The single biggest exercise I undertook to cement this insight, I executed when I moved cross-country and got rid of about two-thirds of everything I owned. And I mean everything — including most of my book collection. I feared the process of winnowing that down would end with me sprawled on the floor of my office, clutching to my chest whatever of my library I could close my arms around, unable to Let Go. Turned out I barely had to blink when letting go of most of it, because my own standards for what was worth keeping and what was worth dropping had been evolving without me realizing it.

Same goes for digital content. Okay, I reserve the right to pack-rat my photos, in big part because storage is disgustingly cheap and there's little to no sorting involved — tagging by year is about as complex as I need to get there. The other thing I will always keep everything of is my writing. Not because I think it'll all become valuable archival material for understanding my work (I'd need more than, like, six fans worldwide for that to happen), but because it's a worthy habit and text files are tiny.

But things like archives of software I know I'll never install or use again ("but they might be useful for reference!!!"), or endless failed experiments in Photoshop, or what have you — nah. I am not a curator of anything other than my own work, and I shouldn't try to be. As if I don't already have enough work.

Tags: psychology technology