I used to scavenge through drawers to find the right socks, but that was before I learned to talk to them.
“You’re probably wondering why I gathered you here,” I announced to a rapt audience of dress, athletic, and miscellaneous socks.
I don’t usually anthropomorphize undergarments, but like many I’d been inspired to do so after reading Marie Kondo’s international best-seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Once I got past the awkwardness of talking to inanimate objects, Kondo’s method helped me organize my possessions with a simple and elegant system.
I felt quite proud of the weekend I spent decluttering my material life until I sat down at my tidy office desk and realized my digital life is a mess.
Were my desktop a house, the jumble of material filling it would likely give Marie Kondo a heart attack.
Terabytes of data strewn across multiple hard drives. Years of personal and professional files buried in folders and subfolders. Photos, videos, and documents uploaded to Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and just about every other cloud in the sky. Between Evernote and Google Keep I have enough information to fill my entire apartment with sticky notes. Not to mention that because of my work as a freelancer I have multiple accounts with many of these services.
All of this held together by nothing more than a tenuous array of browser tabs and sheer force of will.
So while I can now always find/talk to my socks – which is nice – I am still a hunter-gatherer when it comes to searching for my digital possessions. Finding the information I need is a tedious endurance effort requiring that I sift through a torrent of data.
We each struggle to organize this electronic cacophony, and digital tidying has become a popular topic of discussion. Thousands of blogs encourage us to declutter, delete, and defrag. The advice is often helpful. But unlike Kondo, these efforts focus on the things you want to delete, instead of emphasizing the things you want to remember.
Which is a shame. Because the entire purpose of organizing is not about what you give away. It’s about what you keep. It’s about providing the peace of mind that everything you value is in its proper, easy-to-find place.
An organized apartment lets me find what I need, exactly when I need it. My goal isn’t to have a tidy house, but a tidy house certainly helps me with my goals. You can’t get out there and seize the day until you first get your socks and shoes on.
And that’s the true power of an organized life – it lets me spend my short time on this planet pursuing goals instead of perusing stuff. Searching for meaning is a noble effort. Searching for stuff? It shouldn’t have to be an effort at all.
The problem is that no matter how well I organize my digital life, the things I keep are still segmented. I have to use and remember different systems, applications, and accounts each day. No amount of decluttering unifies the system to make finding my data as easy as Kondo makes finding my socks.
I can use Siri to search calendars, Cortana to search local files, Alexa to search purchase history and Google to search the internet. That’s all great, but that’s not what I need.
I need a way to search the intranet of me. Not the web, but my web.
Our digital lives are not bound by a single platform, service, or device. So why should the way we organize those lives be limited by any one of these things?
Marie Kondo showed us how to organize our material lives. The next Marie Kondo will empower us to do the same with our digital lives.