Earlier this year, I published a two-part series (HERE and HERE) announcing my theme for 2021: “less.” I’ve been writing a lot about wardrobe-related subjects lately, but I’d like to switch the focus back to my overall life for a bit. If you enjoy my wardrobe musings, they’ll be back soon, as I’m committed to cultivating a smaller and more workable wardrobe as part of my commitment to “less is more” this year. However, some other topics have been more top of mind in recent days.
The other night, as is often the case, I had trouble sleeping. A cascade of thoughts raced through my mind, and I was unable to settle down enough to get the rest I needed. When I woke up the following morning, I was not just tired; I also felt unsettled and angry. At the root of those feelings was the fact that I have shifted off course once again. I’ve allowed “more” to permeate various facets of my existence, such that it has disrupted my peace and serenity.
We’re now over a third of the way through the year, so I’d like to increase the focus on my less theme. I was going to do an overall update on how I’m incorporating this theme into my life, but I’ve decided to take a different approach so I can delve deeper. I’ll periodically write about an area of more that I’d like to pare down. I’ll share the current state of affairs and let you know what I plan to do to address the situation through the lens of less. We’ll start today with a longtime problem of mine, information overload.
Information Overload – A Common Problem
I’ve written about information overload a number of times previously, including in the following posts:
- Dealing with FOMO and Information Overload (August 1, 2014)
- What Information is Essential? (February 1, 2018)
- Essential Information Part Two: Digital Detox (February 25, 2018)
I feel like dealing with information overload is like peeling an onion. I’ve made progress as I’ve peeled various layers away, but then I’ve often uncovered new areas that I need to address. Additionally, today’s culture is so primed for information overload that it’s difficult for us not to get swept up in it, at least to some degree.
Most of us have a smartphone, tablet, or computer (or all three!) near us all day long, with Google and the full spectrum of the Internet always close at hand. Our email in-boxes are often overflowing with information, much of which is unsolicited. And then there’s social media, which serves its millions of users an influx of links to multiple areas of interest and curiosity. Is it any wonder that many of us feel like we’re drowning in information?
I was going to call this particular area of more in my life “digital clutter,” but information overload is a better descriptor, as some of my information is in physical format. I love to learn, and I enjoy researching the many topics that interest me. This often leads to my feeling overwhelmed. Years ago, I subscribed to a large number of blogs and magazines, and I also used an app called Pocket that enabled me to save articles to read later. This led to my having a large pile of magazines to look through and hundreds of articles to consume – and since new information was always coming in, I never got through it all.
After years of continuing on that way, I eventually got to my breaking point, and I cancelled the subscriptions and deleted the article backlog. But as is often the case, the clutter returned. It happened gradually, but steadily, and now I’ve reached another breaking point. The level of information overload isn’t as extreme as it was the last time, but it’s adversely impacting me just the same. So, now the time has come to do another round of information decluttering.
Let’s begin with the digital information. I started my digital decluttering efforts this week by paring down the browser tabs on my phone, tablet, and computer. I often have as many as fifty tabs open on each of these devices! From time to time, I go through and delete a handful of them, but that often just means saving articles and videos to “read later” and “watch later” folders, both of which have become extremely overloaded. When I pared down the tabs this time, however, I either consumed the information immediately or decided that I was not going to do so. The only things that I bookmarked were a few recipes that I very likely will go back and use later.
I feel a bit lighter and freer after having taken the above step, but there’s a lot more work to be done. I just looked and there are 35 videos in my “watch” folder and 121 articles in my “read” folder! I’m tempted to just delete all of those bookmarks right now, but I think I’ll allow myself until the end of the month to read and watch the content that I consider most important.
When May 31st rolls around, whatever is left in those folders will be deleted! After that, I’m going to have just one folder for content to view later (for both articles and videos), and I commit to deleting everything that’s left over at the end of each month. No more carrying things over for months on end, as that’s what’s gotten me into the current state of overload! As for my browser tabs, I think I need to have a weekly time set aside for paring them down, perhaps on Friday afternoons. No matter how much I insist that I won’t let the tabs build up again, I know it’s bound to happen at least to some extent, so it’s good to have a plan in place for addressing this issue.
Email Backlog and My “Considering” Folder
There are two additional pieces of digital overload for me to address, but I wanted to call them out separately. The first is my email “Updates” folder (the part of my in-box designated for messages that aren’t personal or urgent), which also contains some articles that I intend to “read later.” I go through my email on a regular basis, but if something is either too lengthy or if I’m not in the mood to read it, I skip over it and intend to get back to it at a later time. Well, “later” often ends up being much later – or sometimes never.
I have emails going back to the beginning of the year, but I think it’s a good practice to clear them all out at the end of a given month. I also plan to unsubscribe from mailing lists so that I get less email overall. I mostly don’t subscribe to blogs anymore, and instead bookmark the ones I like and visit them periodically. I’m going to clear out that list, too, and keep it down to maybe ten blogs at most, as it just gets to be too much, such that looking through the list of blogs feels like a chore instead of something enjoyable to do. If I find that I miss checking out a particular blog that’s not bookmarked, I can always switch it out with one that I’m not as interested in any longer.
The final area of digital clutter I’m going to address is my “considering” bookmarks folder. This is where I bookmark wardrobe items that I’m considering purchasing. I like to use “the power pause” as much as possible when it comes to shopping to give myself time to determine if I really need – or even want – an item that has caught my eye. There are always lots of clothes, shoes, and accessories that I like, but that doesn’t mean I need to buy them all.
Saving the bookmarks allows me to go back and purchase things later, but the problem is that links tend to build up in my “considering” folder, as is the case with videos to watch and articles to read. I’m embarrassed to say that there are currently almost 200 bookmarks in my “considering” folder! Many of the items probably aren’t even available any longer, but I need to review the links and pare things down. This is something that I should also do monthly so that it doesn’t get out of hand. I’m going to review my “considering” folder within the next few days to get it down to a more manageable level, and then I’ll incorporate a monthly practice for keeping things in check, just as with the articles and videos.
That covers the digital overload, but there’s also some physical excess that I need to deal with. I’ve gradually accumulated magazine subscriptions again since I stopped them all a few years ago. For a long while, I just had two active subscriptions, but then we inherited my mother-in-law’s magazines after she passed away and I also received some low-cost offers that I accepted against my own best judgment.
Publishers lure us in by offering a few free months, but now I’m being charged for additional issues and I need to figure out how to cancel these subscriptions. Not too surprisingly, they don’t make it as easy for people to cancel as to subscribe, but I’m going to take care of unsubscribing this month. I’ll then go back to having just two magazines coming to my house: one news magazine and one entertainment magazine.
I also have a stack of magazine articles that I cut out whenever the magazines started to pile up too high, as well as another stack of catalogs that I’ve received from retailers from whom I’ve made online purchases (and some other random retailers that must have gotten my name and address off of a list). I enjoy looking through the catalogs, but they get to be overwhelming as well, plus I don’t exactly need additional encouragement to buy clothing and related items. All of this physical information is just too much – and it’s getting in the way of my joy and my peace! By the end of May, if not sooner, the stacks of articles, magazines, and catalogs will all be out of my home by way of the recycling bin.
There’s a Theme Here…
There’s a theme here, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I accumulate a lot of information because I love to learn, and I’m also afraid of missing out on something great (that dreaded FOMO so many of us struggle with!). I keep bookmarking information that interests me, and because I don’t take the time to read, watch, or delete it, it becomes overwhelming. Once that happens, I think I need to have a large amount of time in order to deal with it, so I keep putting it off until “tomorrow,” which extends out over days, weeks, and months.
Stop the insanity! I feel like I need to make three changes here. First, I need to be more discerning about the things I save for later consumption. Do I really need to read all of those articles, watch all of those videos, or save all of those wardrobe-related links? Of course, the answer is no.
Saving less information in the first place is a good start, but I also need to allocate time to review and consume it. I’m not sure how much time I want to dedicate to this activity, but I’ll probably start with an hour or two per week. The third and final change is that I need to commit to deleting anything I haven’t read or watched by the end of each month. As for the “Considering” folder, I may not want to delete everything if purchases are still pending, but I at least need to review the links, which will likely result in my deleting most of them. I like the idea of being more thoughtful about what I buy and using the “power pause,” so I’m going to keep saving the links, just not so many of them!
Conclusion – and Your Thoughts?
I already feel a little better, having taking a few steps toward reducing my information overload and coming up with a concrete plan for continuing that effort. Now it’s time to execute on that plan and maintain consistency on a monthly basis. I hope that my ideas will be helpful for those who also struggle with the accumulation of information, but I welcome your suggestions for combatting this issue as well. Many times, readers chime in with ideas I never would have thought of myself, so I appreciate the sharing.
Here are a few questions to help you formulate your thoughts, but as always, feel free to comment however you’d like:
- What types of information overload do YOU struggle with?
- What methods do you use for keeping overload at bay – or for reducing overload when it becomes an issue?
- What ONE TIP would you offer to a friend or family member who finds him/herself with too many things to read or watch?
I look forward to reading about your experience, as well as your tips and suggestions. I’ll be sharing more about my “less” theme in future posts, and I’ll be back next week with a new essay. Have a wonderful weekend!