Are You an E-Hoarder? Spring Cleaning for the Writing Life, Part 1.5

Is your desktop (or smartphone) awash in files and icons that you rarely use? Is your Inbox crammed to capacity? Do you break out in a cold sweat when you think about the last time you backed up and sorted photos stored on your computer? Do you have hundreds of bookmarks? Digital acquisition feels easy at first, but like any kind of clutter it adds up and over time can contribute to disorganization and psychological stress.  

Last week I started a series about springing cleaning for your writing life. Spring cleaning brings both physical and psychological benefits including increased energy, clarity and an uncluttered space. I focused on reassessing clutter in one's physical writing space. In doing my own bout of spring cleaning, I couldn't help notice how cluttered my desktop looked, how I was a bookmark acquirer and how all three of my email accounts haven't been purged or organized in quite some time. After I posted, I realized that e-clutter deserved some time of its own. 

E-clutter covers a vast array of digital items: email, contacts, bookmarks, photos, videos, text messages, blog posts, e-books tweets, documents, newsletters, etc. Items that as Jamie Derringer says, in her article about e-clutter, can "turn your computer into a virtual disaster area, making it nearly impossible to locate items without conducting a search."

Managing the digital world too often fails to get (or sustain) our attention. E-clutter is easy to ignore, unlike physical clutter, most of the time as it fades into the larger digital background noise of our lives. While I've trained myself that if I bring five books home it means that I have to give away five, I'm less diligent when I subscribe to blogs, accept a specialty coupon by email, or bookmark every passing fancy to ask: What's my capacity here? Do I really need this bit of information? How often will I use it? Where will I store it over time? These are the kinds of questions that are useful to ask as we go about our day navigating the digital landscape.

The psychological payoff for decluttering our physical environment holds true for our digital lives. It takes time, patience and a strategy. If you're interested in putting e-clutter on your spring cleaning agenda, here are some helpful resources to get started:


I'd love to know: What's your story with e-clutter? How are you managing it? Is it on your spring cleaning list? Any worthwhile tips you can share?

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  • Hey Julie,

    Thanks for stopping by! Sounds like you're off to a good start with the desktop. Try cleaning in 15 minute intervals with a reward at the end.

  • Julie Farrar

    I'm definitely going to study all of these tips.  This week I did clean up my desktop, but my files are a mess.

  • Hi Evalyn,

    Gratzi! Thanks for your comments. I'm so glad that you have found some of this material useful. I think you will fall in love with the Chris Madden book and it will inspire new visions for your writing/creating space.

    I'm a 'pile' person, too and I have found the book 'Organizing for the Creative Person' helpful in understanding why I often need to file 'projects in process' in a way that I can still see some aspect of it. I'm a visual organizer--I need to see reminders, or I forget what I have and what I'm doing.

    I hope you're rewarding yourself as you go as you embrace your spring cleaning projects!

  • Evalyn Lee

    Michele: Thank you so much for this post!  It came just at the right time as did the idea of using an online timer!  Between learning about different platforms, wrestling research into submission, trying to structure my novel and just having the lives of my kids to manage -- this couldn't have been more comforting to read.  I've looked at your blog posts and have gotten ideas, which I've put in a file, and filed away properly on my computer -- as opposed to printing it out, my usual method.  Don't ask and I won't tell!  And I ordered the book you recommended in your block: A Room of Her OWn: Women's Personal Spaced by Chris Casson Madden.  I'm someone who has to visualise a project before I can complete it -- so I'm hoping that will help.  I've currently lifted physical files and piles of books off my floor and I am getting new bookshelves in the basement for those bags of books.  Now to tackle my the chaos on my computer -- but instead of making it seem like a time suck, you've managed to make me feel it's a doable and productive project that will be good for my writing!  Thank you so much!!!!!   

  • Hey Diane,

    Thanks for stopping by! That's great you're deleting what you don't want as apps. I think it's about keeping a kind of flow going--some stuff and and other stuff out. As far as writing---I love using an online timer and doing a 15 minute freewrite to get me on track.

  • I recently purchased an iPad and it was strangely anxiety-producing - having an almost blank screen with no icons of any apps. I then felt a bit odd adding new apps (like I couldn't ever delete them, right?!) Of course, now, I have many apps and I'm constantly adding and deleting when I discover that I'm not really that crazy about the latest one, after all. Anything to keep me from writing, which is a goal of mine.

  • Hey Anne,

    I hear you! I think more and more of us have to face the fact that we have lots of digital clutter. It strikes me as a question of: Just because I can have this (download this, etc), easily, should I have it? The classic 'do you need, love it or use it' rules applies to sorting through digital clutter, too.

  • Ann Rodela

    Just what I needed! :)

  • Hi Monique,

    Thanks for stopping by. The older I get the less I can tolerate multiple types of clutter. Remember to treat yourself after you do some recycling. I like setting an online timer to 15 minute intervals when tackling clutter.

  • Hey Nissi: To delete emails in a timely manner is so disciplined. Good for you!

    Hey CeCe: I just cleaned my desktop and it didn't take long. It was a matter of making new folders and deleting some programs and shortcuts that I don't use. You can probably get a ton done in 15 minutes!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • CeCe Harbor

    I like the idea of spring cleaning desk top isn't as extreme as the picture but pretty close. Thanks for the reminder that clearing clutter involves my electronic collateral as well.

  • Nissi Mutale

    I try and delete emails I won't need as soon as I have read them.

  • Hey Lynne,

    I'm totally with you. I have to do this process in small chunks. I cleaned up my desktop and am now working on my photos. Email often feels like the bane of my existence and so I need a better strategy for cleaning out my personal and professional accounts. I'll make sure to check-in with how you are doing.

  • Lynne Favreau

    I am incredibly distracted by clutter. Even when I can't see it, I know it's there and it itches at me. Right now, all I want ot do is go through all my bookmarks and weed out the things I don't need or are now bad links. I start and stop in fits, it takes so long and is a tiresome task. Thanks for the links, I'll be checking them out later.