How to declutter your contacts and photos saved during a long career

Reading: How To Declutter In the Digital Age

Self Care

How To Declutter In the Digital Age

What the heck you do with Al Franken’s old cell phone number?

By Lauren Zalaznick

A huge shelf that stored all of our photo albums, negatives and loose photos fell down. So in the re-organizing process, my closets got a lot cleaner and neater. Marie Kondo would be proud. Well not really, because in real life you have to keep a lot of things that do not give one joy. My joyless examples: bubble wrap (in case we need it); batteries (pain-in-the-neck gadgets that they go in); cat carrier & rabbit carrier (need when they go to the vet); line tester, various extra cables, light bulbs; toolkit (blech to all); tax returns and other paperwork, assorted crap in a hideous filing cabinet (no joyfulness of any sort). But they are going to be very well arranged.

News Flash: physical photos are very efficient. They bring joy. They are easy to sort and label. Therefore they are easy to find. Very easy to create an album. Very easy to toss the bad ones. Downside: harder to preserve for all eternity.

Conversely, the idea of digital photos is great. The reality is not so much. It seems like it should be easier to sort them–then locate individual pictures, store them, meta-data the living crap out of them. Except it’s not. Upside: Keeping them forever is really easy. Except it turns out I’d like to dump 95% of the bajillions of iPhone photos I’ve taken over the past 10 or so years, but that process is so cumbersome off a hard drive that it will never happen. Or at least it is less likely to happen than sorting the final couple of hundred analog photos left in a shoebox that got short shrift in between the analog and digital eras. Lord knows I’d like to dump 99.9% of my photos off social media, but I think the word “eternity” has found new life in the form of Google and Facebook and is now called “fuhgettaboudit, your awful hair from 1999 is here to stay.”

Just for fun, on various plane rides and in the full throws of an OCD attack, I have also been cleaning out my Google address book. I’m up to the H’s. On the one hand, it is very satisfying to get rid of people’s ex-AOL email addresses, a fleet of Fax #’s, and remembrances of things past like your AIMs and MySpace pages. I see peers’ long trail of corporate email addresses as they’ve moved up from divisional to corporate addresses; also as one company after another has merged and been subsumed by the bigger corporate parent. It’s hard to fully “delete” people though, even when they’ve died! Or the many who I haven’t talked to in years and years or, actually, maybe never talked to in my life but have their info? Why I have Al Franken’s cell phone number, I just don’t know. Contestants from “Top Chef Masters“? Maybe I need a hot dinner reservation at some point, so I keep them? Camp friends’ home addresses from 1978? Hey, you never know.

I wonder what the cutoff age is for people to remember their home phone number. Twenty years? 30? I certainly remember mine, along with favorite phone numbers from throughout my life. Perhaps the best was the first one I had after college–995-0123. Then I liked my second one, which we had to get when we moved across 9th street–645-7067. (Sorry if anyone now has those numbers and are going to get crank calls from readers.) My first job/MTV Networks phone number was also really good: 258-2580. But now I think maybe I’m making up whether I actually had it or whether it was someone else’s. Either way, what could have been better?

Truth be told, I never liked our current home phone number. That may have contributed to the motivation for why, in the recent closet purge, I took out our last remaining physical phone in the house as well as the associated answering machine. Just saying “answering machine” makes me embarrassed that we still had one. Until yesterday. We didn’t dump it, however, before we recorded the messages on our iPhone from precious people from the past whose voices we had preserved on the machine for years and years. Some of whom are alive and very, very old. Some of whom are no longer with us. Now they’re loaded onto our iPhones, onto the hard drive digital files–or soon to be the freakin’ cloud–which no one can deal with as far as I can tell. But they will live with us for a digital eternity.

This piece was adapted from Lauren’s LZ Sunday Paper email newsletter. 



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