I spent time over the weekend helping my brother set up the electronics in his living room and bedroom after he moved to a new home. Not only had he collected a significant amount of clutter in eight years in his previous home, but the seller had also left behind a mess of technology that we needed to wade through.
The whole situation made me realize de-cluttering your technology inventory isn’t something that needs a home move to necessitate. In Six Steps to Declutter Your Digital Listening Skills, I took a look at what to do to simplify your listening habits. In this, article we’ll talk about how to apply a similar strategy to de-clutter the physical technology you’ve accumulated in your digital life over the years.
Step 1: Put Down the Remote and Ask Yourself Why
Most people mindlessly hit the power button on their television remote after a long day and don’t stop and assess whether they’re getting value out of the technology in their lives and around their home. That’s why it makes sense to take an evening that would normally be spent watching TV and focus on being more intentional about the technology you’re using.
Start by asking yourself a series of questions about your technology usage habits:
- What technology brings the most joy to my digital lifestyle?
- What technology do I use simply because I’m expected to?
- What technology do I just not use?
Next, ask what you want technology do for you in your home life:
- Do you want it to help you learn about the world around you?
- Do you want to know what happened in your local area?
- Do you want to know what’s coming up?
- Do you want to be entertained?
- Do you want to find entertainment for your children?
Step 2: Lay Out A Series of Goals for What You Want Technology to Do For You
Once you’ve answered these questions, you can define a series of goals for the role you want your technology to play in your life. For example, your goal(s) may state:
- I want to use technology to educate myself on some new part of the world
- I want to understand what’s going on in my local neighborhood
- I want technology to do work around the home that I normally do
- I want to use technology to escape from the rigors of my job
Step 3: Give Your Goals Context and Meaning
Once you have your goals defined, expand on each goal (i.e. the what, where, when, and how) to provide the means by which you’ll accomplish these goals.
For example, if you want to use technology to educate yourself on some new part of the world, define:
- What you want to learn about (e.g. geography or world history).
- Where you want to learn (e.g. in your home office staring at a computer screen or in front of the big screen in the living room).
- When you want to learn (e.g. in the morning before the kids wake up or in the evening when you get home from work).
- How you want to accomplish this (i.e. by watching documentaries or reading articles).
Alternatively, if your goal was to use technology to escape the rigors of your job, you might wind up defining:
- What escaping really means (e.g. listening to audio or watching movies).
- Where you feel the most at ease when you escape (e.g. your workshop in the basement or your media room).
- When you want to escape (e.g. immediately after getting home from work or after you’ve put your kids to bed).
- How you want to accomplish this (e.g. by finding things to do in your workshop while you listen to audio or by checking out entirely and turning the lights off to watch a movie in your media room).
Step 4: Take Physical Inventory
Taking a physical inventory of your technology may seem like a logical first step, but it can lead to emotional decision making as you uncover unused technology around your home. Most of this technology has naturally lost value over time, though may have a story behind it (or a perceived use for it) that may prevent you from wanting to part from it. As a result, I recommend taking physical inventory of your technology only after you’ve laid out concrete, forward-reaching technology goals in Steps 2 and 3. Otherwise, you may wind up holding onto unneeded technology just because you think you’re going to use it or because it provided historical meaning or value.
To conduct the physical inventory, simply take a trip around your home and categorize or catalog all the technology you have laying around. It may make sense to organize in a way that aligns with the goals you laid out previously. For example, if your primary goal centers around home automation and life simplification, you can categorize your inventory in terms of the work it can (or can’t) do to for you, such as: devices that aid in cleaning, tools that manage the home’s electrical or lighting systems, or devices that provide security for your family.
Alternatively, if your primary goals center around learning, you may want to categorize the technology in terms of how it helps you learn, such as: tools that provide content about the world around me, devices that give me access to a plethora of information on the internet, or tools that expand my mind.
If a natural categorization method doesn’t emerge, just list out the technology you have and the type, such as: viewing devices, listening devices, home automation equipment, cables, etc.
Step 5: Execute by Aligning the Technology you Have with the Goals You Want
Once you have your technology inventoried and categorized, it’s time to begin physically decluttering your life. Go through your home and do the following:
- Physically remove the devices, technology, tools, and cables that don’t align with your goals or simply have not been used for a long time. These probably wound up in some kind of “junk drawer” category on your physical inventory or were hard to align with your goals in some way.
- Physically re-align the remaining devices, technology, tools, and cables that you need to support the goals that you laid out in Steps 2 & 3. If your favorite TV is in your living room, but your goal is to escape the rigors of your job and you want to do so in your man cave, it may be time to move your prized TV to a different location.
- Finally, fill in the gaps by acquiring the things you need but don’t yet have. If your goal was to learn about the world around you, but you don’t have the tools needed to accomplish that (such as a learning-focused subscription service), sell the devices you no longer need and use the proceeds to purchase what you do need.
As I went through a version of this process with my brother over the weekend, I found the digitalist in me wanted to make him hold onto every piece of technology that he owned and find a way to cram it into one of the rooms in his house. Had we tried hard enough, I’m sure we could have found a place in his home to hook up one of the many Blu-ray players he had accumulated over the years. But at the end of the day, his simple advice (recommending I not hook the Blu-ray player since he couldn’t remember the last time they’d used it) reminded me about the importance of being intentional about the technology we use in our daily lives.
Perhaps this process will help us make more meaningful choices with the technology in our lives and allow us to find more value in the things we do keep. Worst case scenario, maybe it’ll make your next home move a little less painful.