Facepalming at my computer

DOWNSIZING. This is pretty much how I feel about the process.

I decided almost immediately when I started this whole shift to the travellin’ lifestyle that one of my first moves would be to get my digital life in order once and for all. I still find it ridiculous that a digital life is even a thing, but I think that’s my resistance to becoming completely consumed by technology rather than my resistance to reality.

I’m a reasonably organised person, but somehow in all the years I’ve lived my life on computers, I’ve failed to have a proper, consistent system for keeping all my digital crap in order. Moving your digital life around is unlike moving your physical life around in that you don’t really see all the stuff you’re taking with you, no matter how big or unruly it gets. If you’re anything like me, when you get a new computer, you just chuck everything from the old one onto the new one and never really pay a great deal of attention to what’s in all those boxes. They just come with you because they’re there. At least when you move house, you’re motivated to get rid of some of your old shit so you’ve got less to lug up and down stairs and shove into closets.

So this time, I’ve declared, will be different. This time I’m going to clean out my digital past and try to be as ruthless with it as I’m trying to be with the clear-out of my physical stuff. The first milestone on this particular adventure will be upgrading/downsizing to a Macbook Air (wooo, new toy!). I’m currently on a nearly 3-year-old 13″ Macbook Pro. It’s in fantastic shape, but the smaller and lighter I go, the better. And this computer has 500GB of space on it where the Air I’ve currently got my eye on has about half that. So I’m immediately being forced to chuck some things out.

Rumour has it that Apple will be releasing new Macbook Airs in September when they’re meant to announce all manner of other new gadgets, so I’m waiting to see if that will bring a higher capacity 11″ than the 256GB you can get now, but I also think that maybe it’ll be good to be confined to less. Because much like all the extra crap sitting around my house just because it has space to be there, I don’t actually USE most of the files taking up all that space on my computer. I’m only using about 242GB of my current space, but that’s too close to the line I’m shooting for, so I’ve already started the process of cleaning out.

Not surprisingly, the majority of that space is music (97GB) and photos (52GB). The hardest things to get rid of.

So the first thing I attacked was my image folder. I started with around 57GB of photos, and I didn’t really get rid of much in terms of unique content. Most of what I cleaned out consisted of:

  • Doubles and triples of the same files
  • Random images saved from the interweb in college for now-forgotten reasons
  • Album art
  • Vast selections of AIM user icons
  • Alternate versions of the same picture
  • Bad pictures of food

It took HOURS to do this. And it was, in some ways, a pain. But it was also just as nice as when I did the same purge on my physical box of photos in my parents’ basement last year, in that I got to look through 10-15 years of photos and memories from all different points and places in my life. And it’s nice to be reminded of what you have and where you’ve been and people you don’t see anymore.

I won’t be getting rid of most of the rest of what I have because I think it’s great to be able to look through your own history like that. Particularly as a way to combat homesickness or general travel fatigue. It’s built-in therapy. As well as an instant storytelling aid for people you meet along the way. So once the actual chaff was chucked, I was happy that I’d pared it down as much as necessary.

The music is the next thing to attack, and that’s a little less straightforward. The 97GB I have now is AFTER clearing the doubles generated by moving my collection between computers. It’s so easy to justify keeping everything because it’s only taking up digital space. But I’m willing to bet I’ve never even listened to about 10-15% of what I’ve got on iTunes at all. This comes from the massive amount of music I got from other people over the Washington College network. Things that I grabbed just because they seemed like ‘good things to have’. Quite a lot of Beatles and Zeppelin for example. I love the Beatles, but I don’t really like Led Zeppelin enough to own nearly their entire catalogue. And there’s a lot of other stuff in there that I like well enough, but just never, ever listen to and probably never will. Half of it is probably a digital rip of the CD I once had and sold or gave away because I knew I wasn’t going to listen to it. So why is it SO HARD to delete the files?

Thanks to Spotify, I can listen to most any of this stuff whenever I want without having it on my own computer, but for some reason it’s still hard to shake my stubbornness about not having it MYSELF. I think this is because I’m one of those people who still buys CDs (and the occasional collectable vinyl release) because I really value the idea of having a proper music collection, at the very least of your favourites. No matter how ruthless I get about purging my earthly possessions, music is important.

I think some of the experience of having music is lost when it all only exists digitally. I still love putting in a physical album and listening to the whole thing. I like album artwork and liner notes and knowing who helped the band out and seeing flippant comments and inside jokes among the credits. I like the deliberate effort of physically going to the shelf and choosing the thing you want to hear at that very moment. And if I ever need to put my stuff in storage, a good bit of what’s there will be the music I refuse to get rid of. My CD collection isn’t nearly as big as it once was when I was a student with nothing but disposable income and space in my parents’ house, but I still have the stuff I really love, and I still buy releases by my favourite bands. I always will.

Despite all this, I know I need to cut back on the digital front. I also know I’ll never miss the stuff I do decide to delete because I don’t miss it now. I barely know it’s there. No one can give equal attention to over 21 days worth of music, and according to iTunes, that’s what I’m currently sitting on. So, as a first goal, I will set 70GB as a target. I should really get rid of more, but hopefully once I get to 70GB, I’ll be on a roll and it’ll be easy to keep going. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Outside photos and music lies a whole mess of other files I need to whip into shape with a proper filing system, but that’s a story for another post.