killing the (virtual) clutter

You’ve all heard me ramble on before about minimizing clutter in our home. As a lifelong packrat, I must say that I’ve come a long way: over the last few years I have slowly gotten rid of probably half of my clothes (and I still have plenty to wear), I no longer save magazines like I used to (except for Real Simple…I’m sorry, I just can’t…they’re too PRETTY!), and I’ve learned to let go of random little trinkets that were slowly eating up all of my space, to name a few things.

Lately, though, I’ve still felt very buried under clutter. I finally realized that it was no longer physical clutter that was bothering me — it was virtual clutter. A messy desktop on my computer; a million photos saved on my hard drive that meant nothing to me, amidst a very small percentage that I actually care about; a list of Facebook “friends,” probably 80% of whom are people who aren’t really my friends; a Twitter follow list of people I thought I should follow because they could maybe someday tweet about something that may be a business opportunity for me; a Google Reader filled with blogs that I follow because I’m afraid I’ll miss something if I don’t; and a bunch of email inboxes filled with messages I constantly feel obligated to check and/or respond to as soon as they arrive.

I realized it was all sucking the life out of me.

I started feeling like this a few months ago, but I really realized how big of a problem it was when I attended Lara Casey’s Making Things Happen workshop last month (number 81 on my 101 in 1001 list!). When we were asked to make a list of the 10 biggest distractions that hold us back from productivity, the first few I immediately wrote down were Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader. When I really thought about those three distractions, I realized that it wasn’t the applications themselves that were the biggest problems, but my need to feel like I know what’s going on with everyone, at all times. While staying in the loop on what everyone else was doing, I was neglecting my own priorities and tasks and constantly feeling like I couldn’t keep up.

The day I returned from MTH, I unfollowed about 100 people on Twitter. Will I miss a business opportunity because I unfollowed someone who could have become a client? I guess I’ll never know. But living simply for the “what ifs” is exhausting, and I can’t do it anymore. I unfriended or hid many people on Facebook who bring me down with their negativity or who simply were never good friends to me. (Sorry, girl from college who was horrible to me: why did you want to be my Facebook friend in the first place when you were never even a friend to me when we were face-to-face?) I deleted a bunch of blogs from my Google Reader that I didn’t actually enjoy reading — I just felt like I should have been reading them for one reason or another, so I let them eat up a few minutes of my time every day. No more.

I also created a new email address where all Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, Daily Candy, GoodReads, etc. notifications now go. I take that email address offline while I’m working so I’m not constantly distracted by that little number in the red circle, taunting me and begging me to stop whatever I’m doing to see what just landed in my inbox when it has zero importance compared to emails from real, paying clients.

I still have a ways to go, but thus far my internet detox has allowed me to be more productive with my time and I honestly don’t miss a thing. I am rarely on Twitter anymore, and while I miss chatting with some people who always had interesting things to say, I don’t miss wondering where time went while I was trying to catch up with everything in my Twitter feed. Paring down the virtual clutter has carved out so much more time for work and other things that really matter, like family and friends.

Anyone else up for the challenge of killing the virtual clutter? If so, I want to hear what’s distracting you and how you handle your internet detox!


  1. I loathe digital clutter. I’m an Extreme Purger in daily life (I’m not sentimental about anything!) and once I realized how miserable extensive social media was making me, I started purging all that, too.

    At first, I worried about deleting people from Twitter. What if they unfriended me too? What if I miss them, since I’m so used to reading about their daily lives?
    Then I realized how silly that was. If I’m unfollowing them, why do I care if they unfollow me back? And now, a few months later, I don’t even think about them anymore and couldn’t care any less about what they are doing!

    I found a lot of blogs I were reading often made me feel worse about myself. People my age talking about buying three new Louis Vuitton bags because they just have SO MUCH spare money. People talking about how they are now a size 2 and so humiliated to go to the beach. Blogs are supposed to be fun, and entertaining, and educational. They shouldn’t make me upset and unhappy. A massive unfollow later, and I no longer miss them, either!

    Now, I can focus on the people I really DO care about, who actually have worthwhile things to say and share, and not waste time on everyone else!

  2. I’m feeling the exact same things as you are – both with physical and virtual clutter. It’s slow going, but I’m getting there. Right now I’m flipping through all of my magazines, pulling out anything particularly inspirational, and recycling them. I feel so much better, and hopefully after all of that I’ll get rid of the pages I tore out as well. (I’m saving Real Simple for last – you’re right, they’re too pretty!)

    Digital clutter is even harder for me to let go of, but in planning for an upcoming trip where I’ll be unplugged for three weeks, I keep thinking of the mountain of email and unread posts in my Google Reader that will await me when I come back. That was enough of an incentive to unsubscribe from any blogs I don’t actually enjoy (although there are way too many I do enjoy!), and all of the email shopping lists I’m on – since I’m trying to reduce the number of things I have anyway, I really don’t need the constant influx of emails encouraging me to spend!

  3. What a great idea!! You’re so right, I feel like I’m doing the exact same thing in terms of spending all my time in the wrong avenue. So, good for you. Keep us posted on how this continues to work for you!

  4. That’s a great idea. I like to think I value my time but then again I waste time everyday on virtual stuff that doesn’t add value to my life. Thanks for the de-cluttering motivation!

  5. I just started unsubscribing to email lists. It feels so good to see 6 new messages in the morning (3 of which are still spam) and not 20.

  6. Cheers to productivity! I purged my google reader a few months back and it was so liberating. Why read stuff that frustrates you? For a while it was fun to gawk at blogs/bloggers that live completely different lives as I do but then I realized that my disdain/jealousy/insert negative thought here would creep in every time I read about something I wish I had or I wish people in the world didn’t do…or whatever.

    I’ve learned to just read what makes me happy, or read about people that I think I’d really love and care about in real life (if I don’t already know them) as well as blogs that are simply inspiring. It’s helped my mood, as well as saved me lots of time!

    Ignorance, indeed, is bliss sometimes.

  7. Couldn’t have written this better myself!! I am overwhelmed each morning and I quickly scan through my 500+ unread items in Google Reader… I go through them so fast, if at all, that I realize there’s just no point in keeping them in my list JUST IN CASE. You’ve motivated me to do some clean up, thanks!

  8. I am with you on this 200%. I’ve been doing less twittering and i accidentally deleted all my google reader subscriptions… so i guess life is telling me to quit. ;)

    I made it a goal to unfollow and unfriend alot of people and I’m getting there. I just wish it was easy to unfriend people on Facebook. Good idea with the email though… I simply created filters for all my newletters/sale mail to skip my inbox. I agree getting haunted by that little red mailbox is tempting.

    I have to admit that I noticed you not being on twitter much. ;)

  9. Great post; I try to keep my google reader fresh, and this inspired me to clean out a few more blogs that don’t do anything positive for me. I also hid a bunch of non-friends in my Facebook news feed. I find that when I clear out the excess, I can take the time to read the things that really matter, rather than scroll through endless posts that I’m half-interested in.

  10. I cannot thank you enough for posting this. I think I really needed to “hear” this for myself and start an internet de-cluttering myself.
    Thanks again.

  11. Right now I am in the “save everything because we might need it for the wedding” mode. But you bet that I am going to do this after the wedding! I am printing this post. It will serve as an excellent guideline for my virtual decluttering session!

  12. This was so inspiring – perhaps a push I needed. We just returned from a week-long trip in the mountains where I was “unplugged” from everything. It was so nice to relax because I was on vacation but more importantly I found that I didn’t miss Facebook updates/emails, the blog posts I was missing out on or the A-mazing discounts I was missing that were flowing into my inbox. I love your idea of creating an email account completely separate for your media accounts and having an actual personal email. I am also trying to put more focus on reducing text messages and having actual conversations with people – it seems more face to face and valuable. I hope you continue to find yourself freed from the digital world that can hold us back from enjoying our lives :)

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