Know This Love: Digital clutter and my life’s work

We all have a lot of stuff – some might say “junk.” If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be so many books and gurus on decluttering your life, organizing your space and so forth.

When I moved from Minnesota to California, I got rid of a lot of things.

Even now, when I occasionally have to buy things for my place (like a dehumidifier this week), I’m keeping my possession load as minimal as possible. It makes sense not just in terms of physical space and financial logic, it also correlates with greater emotional freedom, as I’m not weighed down with old stuff.

But that’s all in the physical realm. This week, I had the opportunity to consider another form of clutter: that within digital spaces.

A couple weeks ago, I had to buy a new computer after my old one crashed. Rather than paying the store to transfer my data, I opted for the cheaper, do-it-yourself route and bought a hard drive enclosure online.

After a couple weeks of trying to find the right screwdrivers for the job, I finally hooked it up to my new computer and started transferring files.

It was then that I ran into trouble. Without going into great detail, I was unable to transfer most of the writing I’d done in the last decade. (It was not, by the way, my fault. I didn’t screw anything up. It was an error a technician would have run into as well — no, really!)

Now to give you perspective, my writing and music are to me what wedding photos are to a happily married couple, or baby pictures to adoring parents. And I was faced with the possibility that the work of many thousands of hours, not to mention untold emotional investment, might be lost forever.

Ultimately, after two and a half hours on the phone with a support technician, we managed to find a workaround to get my files onto my new computer. I was exhausted but elated.

I told Clinton, the support call guy:

“You’re my best friend now, for the next 24 hours at least.”

He just laughed in response.

I told him he deserved a raise and a promotion. He said unfortunately it didn’t work that way, or he’d be a manager in no time.

The experience made me consider how much emotional investment I have in this digital space called my hard drive — that is, just as much as, or more than, what I have for things in my physical space.

There were more than 1.5 million files on it. Many are very important to me, but most I’ll probably never look at again: old school papers, notes, phone numbers and emails from former flames whose names I hardly remember.

Of course, in the case of digital clutter, it’s easy to just throw it in the trash and click “empty.”

But even with that, it takes time and energy to go through everything and decide what to keep and what to throw.

And while I will probably always remain attached to my poetry, my music, my essays, my column installments – this reminded me that they do not define me; that now and then, I need to clear some space — maybe even start over.