How to declutter your digital life with the KonMari method

Spark joy in your life with the KonMari method applied to all things digital
Photo: KonMari

In the last few years, Japanese organization consultant Marie Kondo has sparked something of a minor cultural revolution.

It all started with her 2011 book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” In it, Kondo outlines a Tyler Durden-esque approach to decluttering that doubles as a philosophy/self-help system called the KonMari method. It calls for adherents to gather up all their possessions, keep the things that spark a “sense of joy” and discard those that do not.

The simplicity and tangible mental and physical health benefits of decluttering have made the KonMari method a big hit. The success of “Tidying Up” has turned Kondo into a bona fide celebrity. However, though KonMari is great at helping people declutter their homes and workplaces, it does not address the digital space. Kondo’s omission is significant because electronics play such a huge role in modern life.

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These days, people live a bifurcated existence. We eat, sleep, and travel in the real world but increasingly we work, interact, and entertain ourselves in digital spaces.

So, while Kondo prepares the official digital KonMari guide “Joy at Work,” perhaps this humble offering can serve as an effective stopgap. Here are five suggestions on how to declutter your digital life by discarding things which don’t bring you happiness.

Free Your Smartphone from Unused Apps

In many ways, smartphones have made life more efficient and streamlined. After all, having a single pocket-sized communication device, payment method, and digital music library has made going out easier.

But the sheer volume of games and apps that are available through the Google Play and Apple App Stores make it easy to fill up your phone’s memory.

As Apple and Android operating systems can identify unused applications, uninstalling apps that are just taking up space is easy. Again, to achieve the best results it’s important to be honest with yourself.

For instance, if you have an unused calorie counter app on your phone, it’s an easy uninstall. Consider, does knowing exactly how much fat, sodium, and calories are in a Baconator spark joy? Or is it the burger’s heart-stopping flavor that makes you happy?

Organize Your Email Inbox

The KonMari method is not just about getting rid of things, it’s also about organization. One area of digital life that most of us desperately need to organize is our email inbox. Because of nearly unlimited email storage space, there is a high risk of becoming buried under a digital mountain of unread and superfluous messages.

However, you can bring some much-needed order to this area of your iLife the same way you can decide which ironic t-shirts you can’t bear to part with. Break up large quantities of stuff into more manageable subcategories.

For instance, move all of your work-related emails into a labeled subfolder. Once that’s done, prioritize answering email questions that can be resolved in a few sentences. Do the same thing for messages from friends and family that still send you emails in 2019.

Any messages you’re holding onto because they have an attachment you need, download the content to your hard drive. After that, put those files in a folder and delete the emails.

You should also unsubscribe from every product, service, or Crossfit journey newsletter you have no interest in. Taking your unread messages tally from triple to single digits will leave you feeling suffused with divine energy.

Say Goodbye to Old Game Data

One key benefit of modern video game consoles is that you can download games right to your systems’ hard drive. On the one hand, modern gaming conforms to the KonMari method because it eliminates clutter such as memory cards and annoyingly fragile discs that stop working after you so much as leave a fingerprint on them. On the other, all that game data can fill up even the biggest external drive with remarkable quickness.

To address this issue, go through your games library and delete anything that does not spark joy. During this process, try to be as honest with yourself as possible. Acknowledge the reality that replaying “Batman: Arkham Knight” to unlock the Riddler trophies achievement won’t be that satisfying.

Also, consider giving your unused PS3 or Xbox 360 and games to an underprivileged child. Or better yet, take it to the nearest GameStop, trade everything in and use the store credit to buy a Nintendo Switch and Switch Online subscription gift card.

Playing the original “Legend of Zelda” and other 8-bit classics will definitely spark some joy.

Evaluate Your Digital Komono

KonMari’s organizational system calls for the gathering up and dividing of possessions into five categories; clothing, books, paper, komono (objects from the kitchen, bathroom, and garage), and sentimental items. In terms of digital KonMari, applications are clothes, digital media are books, and emails are paper.

Now, ideally, your sentimental items—your music, TV shows, movies, e-books, games, essential apps, important documents, and photos—should already be segmented by labeled folders on your hard drive and/or cloud storage solution.

If not, KonMari those files on your next free weekend. But if you already organized like an adult, consider your various miscellaneous files and applications as digital komono.

Old documents from work or school projects that have already been turned in should be deleted. Programs that you barely or never use should be uninstalled. And all those classic rock/hip-hop mashups you downloaded a few years ago should be sent to the Recycle Bin.

Once your digital komono has been properly sorted, download a junk file cleaner for Mac or PC. It will open up drive space for you to preserve more of the things you love.

Curate Your Social Media

Finally, the last part of digital life you should KonMari are your various social media accounts.

Log on to each platform and consider what kind of feelings they evoke in you. For instance, you might find that Twitter has become an invaluable source of news and connection to distant friends. Or that Facebook makes you feel depressed and anxious because it’s eroding your sense of objective reality. You might even discover that you still have a Tumblr account and that Myspace Tom is lurking in some forgotten corner of your social media closet.

Whatever your findings, deactivating some of your social media accounts will be a very joy-filled experience.