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Ways to Minimize the Material Impact of E-Clutter

Last updated by on 9 Comments

What is Electronic Clutter?

Material clutter is not the only ‘object’ that we become indebted to. These days, it’s just as easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed out by a different type of clutter. I’m talking about electronic clutter (or E-clutter). You can’t touch it and you won’t need a Two Men & a Truck to move it around, but it’s there. And it’s controlling your life – if you let it.

Kind of ironic, isn’t it? Living in a digital world takes no substantive material ‘space’, yet it can have such a profound overbearing impact on our ‘mental space’. For some of us, it might make the battle with material clutter seem easy. I’m going to highlight a few of the biggest types of e-clutter and how to fight them.

electronic clutterEmail Clutter

Using your inbox as a to-do list? We’ve all been guilty of it. Keeping emails around as mental reminders. Well, those reminders are like having post-it notes all over your house. They are there until you get rid of them. Here’s a few tips on how to limit email clutter – which may be the worst kind of e-clutter of all:

  • Use GMail. GMail is where it’s at. I made the switch from Yahoo about 3 years ago, and I’d never look back. I’m not going to list all the benefits here, you’ll just have to trust me on this one. GMail makes email organization soooo much easier.
  • Archive Everything: Seriously. Just do it. If it was important enough to require a response the first time around, it will come up again. This is particularly effective after coming back from a vacation. Scary? Yes. Effective? You bet.
  • Auto-Archive: Have permissive spam that you get from retailers you like or non-profits you work with? Auto-archive it so that it skips your inbox. Check it when you get free time.

MP3 Clutter mp3 clutter

I have a simple rule here. If I always skip a song when it comes up in the play list, I delete it. Some songs you just grow away from with time. It’s OK to acknowledge it, remove the nostalgia, and move on with your life.

RSS Clutter

I need some help on this one. RSS is incredibly addicting. I subscribe to over 30 blogs/websites and try to at least skim through every post that comes through. It’s time consuming. Please offer your tips on this one! My best strategy thus far has been to delete the feeds that I always skim through and never stop to fully read. I’ve also organized my feeds into topic categories: work-related, fun, personal finance, self-help, etc. Still, I’m struggling on this one.

Document Clutter

I’ve found that the best way to get rid of old documents is to sort by ‘date modified’. Anything you haven’t modified in two years most likely needs to be updated or you can just delete it. Important docs that I always access have found a shortcut on my desktop. Also, uploading docs to Google Docs has become an effective way to have everything in the cloud, and it’s all searchable.

Facebook/Twitter Cluttertwitter

E-clutter at its finest. There are a few apps out there designed to make these two productivity killers more efficient, yet they can still dominate your time. A best practice here is to follow or friend only people that you are truly interested in getting updates from. I think that we feel compelled to follow someone who follows us or to accept every friend request. You don’t need to do it. If you find yourself always skipping over someone’s updates, unfriend them.

Digital Clutter Discussion:

  • Have you tried these strategies? Did they work? What problems did you run into?
  • What’s been the most difficult type of e-clutter to get control of?
  • What’s a worse problem for you – e-clutter, or material clutter?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Nathan says:

    I also am a warrior in the battle against e-clutter. It’s a struggle, but if I don’t work at streamlining things, it can get overwhelming. Here are some of my recommendations:

    I’m running back on XP, but I think Vista allows users to tag most files. This is a good system and tags can be as detailed (“Vacation Summer 2009”) or as general (“Work”) as you’d like. If you’re the type that likes to keep large files in My Documents (I’m a folder-for-everything-kind-of-guy), Google Desktop is an easy way to retrieve relevant needle-in-a-haystack type files. Simply install it, let it run its indexing, and your entire desktop is searchable just like the rest of the internet on Google (but private; the rest of the world can’t see your files.)

    For managing the bookmark jungle, I use Delicious and tag pages. It’s easy to retrieve from any computer and the framework doesn’t really allow things to get out of control. (Note, unlike Google Desktop, this information IS public unless you note items “mark as private”.)

    Facebook is still way over-cluttered, and its difficult to manage since most of the clutter comes from advertising and your friends’ status updates. Firefox users can install a plug-in using Greasemonkey that eliminates the ads on the right column. If you’re as nostalgic as Facebook’s earliest designs as I am, try, a recent release that reverts the site back to its most basic features (unfortunately, the friend status feed doesn’t die in this “light” version).

  • Craig says:

    On RSS I set different folders for different categories. Maybe finance, sports, fun, etc. This way I can categorize all the blogs I want to read in their respective categories and clears things out so much. Then usually there are some blogs that don’t update and I just delete those.

  • Jeff says:

    I think RSS is also the hardest. If you use google reader (im assuming you do because you use gmail) you can look up stats for the articles you read….if there is one blog that you read significantly less than others, i’d delete it. I also use categories for my rss, and that helps too. Good Luck…The interwebs are a big mess.

  • Some of suggestion you give are great but I don’t subscribe to just deleting files you have not modified in 2 years and deleting music you skip through. My approach would be better organization and maybe archiving files you haven’t touch in an organized manner. Often, we don’t use the information because it’s difficult to find and cluttered. So organize and archive old files. Why delete when storage is so cheap?

  • Lisa says:

    Really helpuful! I’m completely guilty of using my e-mail as a to-do list and am currently on yahoo. I’m also guilty of using it to go down memory lane. I’ll skim old e-mails to see discussions I had with my friends way back. I have been told by many to switch to G-mail, and I’m thinking it’s time.


  • Evgeniy says:

    I like the services google. Now waiting for invite to the google wave.Material clutter I consider worse. The problem with e-clutter can easily solve the computer shuts down:-))

  • Stephen Settle says:

    Rss is really helpful. You can categorize according to the respective fields and it makes them more easier to read on.

  • Craig says:

    Archiving everything with gmail is a great way to keep your inbox empty and spankin’ fresh!!

  • Melisa says:

    I have been checking out some of your articles and i can state clever stuff. I will definitely bookmark your site.


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