Confessions of a Data Purger

April 2015


Early in my marriage, if my husband couldn’t find something in the house, he assumed I threw it away. This was a fair assumption. I grew up in a home where everything had a place and a purpose. I didn’t understand why my husband held on to so much food, files, long-forgotten sports equipment and neglected knick-knacks. So, I would periodically purge contents to maintain the clean, minimalist aesthetic I craved.

We had many, many fights over this, especially when my overpurging stopped but the allegations did not.

Now, with so much of my life and work contents stored electronically, I crave clean screens and manageable Inbox and Word folders. Thus, I have become a chronic data purger.

Here are a few items in my methodology for gathering and then getting rid of files and folders I generate on a regular basis:

• I use the program Sticky Notes to write weekly to-do lists and stay organized. Those notes are color coded and change daily on my desktop.
• To make room for Sticky Notes, I minimize the number of icons on my desktop screen to those I use daily (Word, Excel, Production Schedule PDFs, etc.).
• I also never have more than three programs open at once to keep my machines from slowing down. I do, however, tend to make liberal use of my web browsers’ multi-tab functions.
• Every month, I comb through sets of Word documents within a surprisingly few main folders to see what can go and what must stay. My system is to create a main folder for each client and then subfolders for each project for that client. Old work goes into a subfolder for “Dormant Projects,” so only active ones are seen first (but old files can quickly be resurrected).
• Every quarter, I dedicate a Friday afternoon to doing a major “sweep and delete” of my email accounts. Outlook makes this much easier, but the messages still pile up.
• So, twice a year I just work from backward by date and kill all but the past six months’ worth and flagged emails. I also have an “Important” and “Must Keep” folder on each email client to avoid deleting vital messages.

But, truth be told, I overdo it.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to ask the much better organized Maureen to resend an email or a file I can’t find. (Maureen probably could give an estimate, but she’s way too nice to admit that.)

Part of my problem is naming files. They are either too broad or too specific. Or someone doesn’t follow the same system and throws off my version control. I would probably lose my job were it not for Microsoft’s Search function.

Another problem is data sprawl. Like a lot of people, I store files on my laptop, my desktop, my tablet and my phone. Not all of these devices sync. Therefore I’m using more cloud-based services to cut down on the time wasted trying to remember which device holds what files. This is important given the amount of traveling I do.

My purging is taking up more time now that I have so many electronics to maintain. But it still feels good when I wake to a beautiful morning and a clean screen. It’s cathartic to clear out old files and emails, and thanks to Carbonite and an external hard drive, I know there’s always a backup. I also safely store thumb drives when they are full. These come in handy when my husband accuses me of deleting his old online gaming files, boxed sets or unlabeled CDs.