sunday life: in which I fly naked

Posted on November 8th, 2009

This week I declutter my background reading

read it now

read it now

I can get disproportionately excited about new online devices. Like, a while back, I was frothing about Instapaper, a 2.0 equivalent of the Post It note.

It works like this. You’re wasting time online and stumble upon an interesting blog post or New York Times article. You can’t read it now; you’re meant to be finalising a spreadsheet or something. Printing it out is just wrong. After all, you have one of those Please Consider the Environment email signatures. And you offset your Virgin flights.  Perhaps you could email it to yourself and flag it.  But that seems way too clunky and cluttery.

What to do? Glad you asked. Once you’ve installed Instapaper (three easy online steps, or thereabouts), you simply click a “Read Later” button on your Bookmarks menu and your article is filed in a special folder in cyberspace. For perusal at a more languid juncture.

Is it just the Capricorn in me, or is that really nifty?

Well, I certainly used to think so. But this week I had a look in my special cyber folder and the sheer volume of tagged URLs sent me into a spiraling fug. It resembled the stack of books piled next to my bed that I’ve “been meaning to read”. And the folders of saved emails that-might-come-in-useful-down-the-track. And the basket next to my couch bulging with newspaper clippings and back issues of Vanity Fair with cornered pages, marking Christopher Hitchins essays I might need to refer back to one day.

And it suddenly occurred to me – my entire life is flagged-for-follow-up. I’m one big backlog of informative material waiting to be attended to. If only there were a rainy Sunday long enough to get through it all, I might finally … get on top of myself.

Regular readers of this column might be able to guess what comes next. Yes, a good, hard look at myself and my unhelpful habits. Followed by a burst of decluttering of things that no longer serve me.

I hang onto articles because I’m scared of what will happen if I need them one day, and they’re not there. This fear binds me to my stuff. Like many people, I buffer myself with my just-in-cases, instead of flying naked, instead of seeing what will happen if I head out into the clamber armed with just my inner-resourcefulness.

I’ve flown naked before. I hitchhiked through Greece when I was 18 with just the clothes on my back (so, not literally naked); I lived in Paris for a fortnight with no money, no passport, not a single possession to my name (I’d been robbed). Lately, I’ve been thinking I’d like to fly naked again.

I hate making sweeping generational generalizations, but it must be said that those Y kids can teach the rest of us a bit about flying naked. They don’t get excited about Instapaper. This is because they don’t hang onto things. They skim read at the time of receipt, delete and move on.

The under-30 crew were schooled during a time when you could look up references online in 2 seconds, instead of via the Duwey system when the librarian got back from lunch. They’re au fait with flying naked. Back when I was studying law, some time after the last ice age, if you lost a case note, you were stuffed. Little wonder we hang onto every scribble.

But, let me be the one to break it: times have changed. Information can be Googled or Binged (or is it Bunged?) instantly, emails retrieved from servers.  Further, ideas move around so fast. There’s no point hanging onto today’s idea because it’s bound to be RT’d or Digg’d (or is it Dugg’d) to death by tomorrow anyway.

My 20-something brother doesn’t save anything. Why would you, he says. That’s just looking backwards. Where’s the flow of information? Roll forward and gather no moss, is his adage.

I still love my Instapaper discovery. But what I loved more this week was going in to my special folder, selecting all and hitting delete. Then hauling my Vanity Fairs  and New Yorkers into the communal foyer of my apartment for the neighbours to take. Information shouldn’t be held on to; it should be passed on, like a hot potato. Information in, information out. Sweetly, it’s left more room in my life and my special folder for fresh ideas.

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  • http://twitter.com/deansmum Chris Robinson

    Sarah,
    I save way too much, both online and in the physical sense, but have been decluttering today. The incoming visitors have inspired me to sort through many unneeded things which have been banished, never to be seen again. In a break I checked twitter, followed your link, and now later when i collapse in my chair exhausted from cleaning and clearing I will endeavour to rid myself of old emails, bookmarks, and the like.
    Such a cleansing day, thanks for the inspiration!
    Chris

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  • Self Confess hoarder

    The older you are, the worse you are at throwing things away even if it has no use to you any more. Instead… we tried to give it away, even if it has no use to others as well. Your magazine piles, reminded me of something we often do when we can’t bring ourself to throw away things. Give it away even if others don’t need it. Then if they throw it out, the blood on their hands!

    I am looking at 4 iPhone boxes on the office book shelf now… Hoping someone will want them. They are so nice… but I will never have use for them.

    Gen Y certainly has no problem throwing things away!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.agoodsort.com A Good Sort

    Sarah, love your article and approach to life. Twenty years ago, we used to be good sorts, now, we’re just good at sorting. Other people’s stuff that is.

    We’re home organisers, yes there is such a thing, and we’d love to declutter your house (no feng shui involved – just a bit of heave ho).

    Divide and conquer and we’re not talking playtex bras.
    Tricia & Sally Ann
    The good sorts from A Good Sort!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.livingsavvy.com.au jo – livingsavvy

    Sarah, this made me chuckle. As someone who is inspired to reflect and look inwards when reading the stories of others and who likes to share stories so that others can reflect my reading pile is growing….combine this with PhD studies where I tell the stories of young men with a dream to play in the NRL and well I am sure you can imagine…..
    Magazine articles and such I scan and save on computer for that possible day in the future that I may need them again, before sending them to school for collage. Newspapers I recycle within a few days. I started to use my books on my to read list as door stop in the bedroom (as aesthetically I am not a fan of books on book shelves)..now I need a forklift to close the bedroom door. I had a win last week and read two of these books – felt very pleased with self until I thought now what do I do with them?
    I have also received a notice from my local library letting me know that several books on King Arthur and his knights of the round table reserved during my study time have arrived (YIKES..the list is growing) ….So what do young me with a dream to play in the NRL have with King Arthur and his knights of the round table, I hear you all asking…..

    [Reply]

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  • Jess

    I a Y kid but I find myself totally relating to this post. I have documents of URLs saved under categories, Blogs (divided into subcategories), Interesting Articles, Websites with interesting design/widget/something else I liked once upon a time. Plus SO many articles I have ripped out of mags to keep ‘for reference’. I’m not sure I can fly naked but I it makes me feel like I am not such a ‘freak hoarder’ as my lovely boyfriend thinks I am!

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