On HoardingS


Anti-hoarding may be the most underrated bonus of gadgets, ever. Not that my dad would know anything about that. (That's his desk!)

Today, Boingboing linked to a BBC piece on "extreme minimalist lifestyles". There's a guy with a laptop and a few spare drives, a bed, some sheets, and-I'd assume-some clothes and at least a toothbrush. The crazy thing isn't that he's doing this. The crazy thing is that this isn't surprising or extreme at all. It's just the way things are now; the subject of that BBC piece isn't sacrificing much. The few, powerful gadgets he uses afford him access to libraries, music, movies, the rich web, and social networks.

The gadgets we used to stack on shelves and stuff into drawers-camcorders and cameras and GPS and alarm clocks and so on-have converged into our smartphones. So we have fewer electronics. And the most clutter-prone kinds of media, like CDs and DVDs, are available in bit-form: existing in the ether but more accessible than ever.

Because of that, the collection of stuff I own has gone down, not up, in size.

This is kind of a big deal for me, because the one thing I dislike about my dad is that he's a hoarder. I never wanted to become someone who holds onto junk like he does. Disclaimer! He's not one of those disgusting hoarders who can't stand to throw out pizza boxes or newspapers or dead pets. But when it comes to gadgets and media, he just collects and never throws anything out. He actually rented an office space in downtown Hong Kong just to stash his multiple 14-inch monitors, dvd players, satellite dishes, and thousands of bootleg DVDs. He has a pile of mail so neglected that it was eventually substantial enough to become the base for a (yet another) monitor. Some day that stack is going to become part of the fossil record.

But here's the thing: He likes his clutter. He gets VERY, VERY mad if you try to help him fold up a box or throw out some paper.

The thing is, we always turn into our parents. I may not have a crap-filled Batcave like my pops, but I do hoard. I don't clean out my inbox, tag my photos, or archive, well, anything. I just kind of shove this river of junk around. Is that still considered hoarding? I don't know.

I tend to think digital hoarding isn't as bad because it's not a heath or fire hazard. And digital storage-unlike real estate-tends to get cheaper, not more expensive over time. Plus, the search bar will always be there to help us sort through the noise. But maybe hoarding is about the destructive act of obsessive accumulation, not merely the mess that happens with it. What if it's about the mental burden of ownership-even if you're talking about messy RSS feeds and virtual desktops instead of stacks of newspapers.

Just writing this gives me the itch to clear out some old data. To get back some of that new computer feeling. But, at the same time, I'm not sure what I would do to trim down my store of digital junk. Maybe the key is to slow down the acquisition of new data. Which is why I've been super into rented movie downloads and music subscription services instead of just acquiring more big files. There's a limit to what you can throw out. After a while, less is less.

These days, my bookshelf is filled with books about the ocean, some fiction, and a few of my favorite books on technology. There's only about a third of what's I originally had. (I just moved and got rid of a lot.) But I'll always have a place on my shelf for treasured things. I'll even transform some precious items from digital to physical and give them a spot on the shelf: family photos, the most influential books in my life. This will never change. It's just nice that everything else can be garbage, or at least dormant and digital.