When I a few weeks ago wrote about cleaning up amongst files when we are ”visiting” a folder anyway in one of these newsletters, and asked for readers’ suggestions of how to keep the number of digital documents we save and store at bay, several people got in touch. One of them was Jonas who emphasized the common phenomena of that we think we know if a document or email can be considered irrelevant and hence can be thrown away, but we are not entirely sure, so we leave it where it is. For now.
It remains, but not for long
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could rid ourselves of something with ease and still keep it in case we need it - but only for a while? If so, we would probably get rid of more, since we have a period of safety-margins during which we can change our minds. But even if we use this kind of sluice, we will still get rid of plenty of things that are no longer relevant. The things we leave where they are ”for now” without moving them into an intermediate solution, are often left there indefinitely.
Easy to throw away when it’s time
Jonas told me that if he has a document or email with a clear expiration date, he has a way of notifying himself to not throw it away until after this date. His method is having a ”To be saved for a while”-folder in his email inbox that has twelve subfolders representing the months of the year. The email that he wanted to save until March is placed in the March-folder. When March arrives, he deletes the entire folder - knowing that he assessed the relevance of its contents long ago, and that he can safely throw it away without regrets. The email is practically deleted until March arrives, but he can still find it with ease in case he would need to.
Isn’t this an excellent way to actually have the cake and eat it too - at least for a while?
Do you recognize the feeling of hesitation about if it is safe to throw something away that probably is garbage, but which you might still need at some point? If so, think of a way to temporarily save documents and emails.
Perhaps you will follow Jonas’ lead and create folders for every month of the year in your inbox or amongst your other documents. Another option is using flags, categories, labels or some other way of indicating when it is safe to remove something.
Personally the tag-function in my filesystem (OS X) serves this purpose. I now have 12 different tags representing the months that I can choose between when wanting to indicate that a certain file is due for the wastepaper basket in a while. And on the first Monday of every month, the excellent file-fixing program Hazel presents me with the files and documents that can be safely removed and deleted this month. I always enjoy getting rid of files that are just cluttering my digital space and make room for relevant things instead.
Easy to throw away after a while as well
If you design your own version of a structure for temporarily saving files, the growth ratio of your emails and documents will not be as drastic as it has been. It will become easy to get rid of things you no longer need, even if you were not sure you could throw it away to begin with. ”For now” suddenly has an expiration date.
What is your solution?
What is your trick to ensure that the irrelevant items get thrown away, even though you need them for a while longer? Comment and let both me and other readers know your trick.