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When I bought my replacement computer three years ago, I thought the 8 gig hard drive would last into the foreseeable future. After all, I was upgrading from a computer that had a 240 Meg hard drive, so I had multiplied my storage space by a factor of 32.
Three short years later, my hard drive is more than half-full. Granted, a lot of the hard drive storage space is used by computer program files—Windows 98, Microsoft Office 2000, and the like. However, I faced the fact that my computer is also full of clutter.
Even though I knew that cleaning my hard drive on a regular basis would increase the speed and efficiency of my system and make documents easier to find, somehow I had never gotten around to eliminating the clutter. Moreover, I had all the tools needed to do the job. Windows 98 included the Disk Cleanup accessory, and I had also purchased Software Remover Plus 3.0 and System Mechanic. Having the tools to do the job was not the issue.
Luckily, I discovered a book by Julie Morgenstern, Organizing from the Inside Out, (Owl Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, 1998, 262 pages). From reading Julie’s book, I realized I had set up psychological barriers to cleaning my hard drive. Julie discusses ten psychological obstacles to eliminating clutter from your home or office space. These psychological obstacles also apply to eliminating clutter from your computer.
Three of the psychological obstacles that fit me are need for abundance, sentimental attachment, and need for perfection. Julie describes people with the need for abundance as “People who struggle with clutter sometimes have a deep-rooted need for volume in their lives. If this is you, you like to surround yourself with lots of stuff. You are among the collectors of the world.”
Her sentimental attachment profile also fits me: “Often, it’s hard for people to let go of things they aren’t using anymore because they infuse them with a tremendous amount of meaning. These objects come to represent another time, person, or part of themselves that they feel will be lost forever if let go.”
A need for perfection completed my psychological profile: “…clutter accumulates because people refuse to deal with it until they have time to do the job perfectly. Consequently, they never get around to doing it at all.”
Of the many books I have read on organizational skills, Julie’s book is unique in that it offers advice on how to deal with the psychological obstacles to eliminating clutter. If the psychological obstacles are not dealt with first, the act of eliminating clutter simply will not happen.
I interviewed Julie for this column so that she could share some of her insights and ideas on eliminating clutter as they apply specifically to computers. “The Internet and email not only add to computer clutter, they also serve as great excuses for procrastinating about doing organizational tasks and other important projects,” emphasizes Julie. “We find it easy to say, ‘I’ll do such-and-such after I check my email’ or, ‘I’ll work on this after I see what’s on the web.’”
“The sheer volume of email dictates that we have to learn to get realistic, to set clear goals and priorities, and to establish some rules,” adds Julie. “For example, set a goal of opening your email messages, responding to them, and then moving on. In addition, develop rules on how long you are going to save email messages and other documents.” In Organizing from the Inside Out, Julie quotes a Gallup poll finding that workers in Fortune 1000 companies send or receive an average of 178 messages and documents a day.
“As for stuff on the web,” says Julie, “keep the source and toss the paper and the files. Remember, you are saving for retrieval, not for storage.”
In closing our interview, Julie gave me some targeted advice on dealing with my own psychological obstacles to eliminating clutter. “If you have a sentimental attachment to some files that you just can’t bear to delete or if you have a ‘need for abundance,’ begin by moving files to a zip disk or floppy disk. In a similar vein, I advise clients who have sentimental attachments to a lot of objects in their homes to start the clutter elimination process by moving most of these objects out of living spaces and into storage spaces. Once things are out of sight, clients begin to feel the rewards of eliminating clutter.”
“An effective way to handle the need for perfection is to make cleaning your computer of clutter an end-of-the-day routine. Spending just 10-15 minutes at the end of each day on this task is a great way to end the day. It gives you a chance to review the day’s activities, it keeps you connected to what’s in your computer, and it will give you a sense of accomplishment.”
I am following Julie’s advice and have set aside ten minutes at the end of the day to clean my computer. Now, I don’t just feel better about having a computer that runs faster and more efficiently, I feel better about myself.
Julie’s encouragement, positive attitude, and sound advice have made her a regular contributor to O Magazine and a frequent guest on the Oprah show, MSNBC, and Good Morning America. In fact, she will be a guest on the Oprah show tomorrow afternoon. For more information about Julie, visit her website at www.juliemorgenstern.com.
The Greg Gore Web Site on Computers and the Internet (www.GregGore.com)
was published in the Daily Local News, West Chester, PA on August 15,
2001. Greg Gore can be reached at gg@GregGore.com.
© 2009 by Greg Gore. All rights reserved