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Confessions of an Idea & Information Hoarder

At the end of last week, I did a FB Live where I talked about idea and information hoarding. Despite a lack of live engagement (granted it was only my 2nd FB Live ever), I received some interesting private messages and emails in response that assured me I’m not the only one.

While, I am a rather creative up-cycler, if I do say so myself, I don’t really “hoard” in the traditional sense in most areas of my life.

As I say in my video, my kitchen is pretty organized, and I make a regular effort to keep it that way. My bathroom drawers have dividers and like things stay with like things. Everything is visible from the top.

My closet is beautiful, paired down (nearly) to the point where I love every single thing in there and there is no excess. My dresser has everything folded KonMari-style, and it’s a joy just to open the drawers and look inside. 

My car (on the inside) is immaculate – it has everything I might need in an emergency, but zero trash or other items that don’t belong.

But when it comes to creative supplies – scraps of fabric and trim, beads, buttons, paint, pens, tape, glue – and my costume box (er, half a closet), things start to go a bit haywire!

However, I feel like I have a genuine excuse for that. I’m a creative! I like to make things out of other things. There’s a certain brilliance, not to mention massive satisfaction, that comes when you’re able to make up a stop-gap solution from stuff you have lying around the house. But it also means I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to saving little bits and pieces of material or wire, or other random things that most people would just throw away. But that’s not the hoarding I’m concerned about. It doesn’t feel like a weight on my shoulders.

What does make me feel heavy and trapped are the paper and electronic files that I seem to have amassed.

I discovered I have a problem with hoarding information and ideas …

  • Design magazines I’ve been hanging onto for 10 years – for when I’m ready to make a new vision board.
  • All my tax return dating back to the first time I made enough money to file taxes when I was 17 – because I know they say 7 years, but for some reason I just don’t trust that.
  • Every journal I’ve ever written starting from age 8 – because, let’s be real, that shit might be worth money some day! (insert sarcastic smirk)
  • Essays I’ve written, including every paper I wrote in college (before we saved everything on hard drives or online), in paper form with grades on them. Mostly A’s – as though I need proof?
  • Books I’ve been meaning to read, but never got around to – because I still think I might need whatever’s in that book someday soon. I mean, won't I?
  • Binders from every business I’ve started myself, or start-up I’ve supported – because there might be some legal reason to need these files in the future?
  • Articles ripped from magazines and printed from .pdfs that I felt were not important enough to read at the time but would really enhance my life if I read them “someday” – even assigned reading from grad school that I never got around to.
  • Collateral samples from every marketing/communications project I’ve ever worked – because the hard copy employee newsletters from Providian Financial Corporation circa 2001 might be totally interesting to someone some day?? Who am I kidding?!? (To be fair, there was some really cool stuff in that box, but I’m still not sure why I’m hanging onto it.)

I did, at one time, have all these files and binders and samples and papers very very organized with the exception of those couple of shoe boxes chock full of reading materials that I promised myself I would “get to one of these days.” But somewhere along the way, with all the moves (7 times in 10 years), those boxes have multiplied, exponentially.

And that's just the physical files. Then we have the electronic ideas and information, too! At any given time, I inevitably have 10-30 browser tabs open. Stuff I feel like I need to read or watch. And I could bookmark those things, but I know that as soon as I close out I’ll never go back to them.

I have tons of files on my computer that could certainly be cleansed, but because I work on so many different kinds of projects, I do like to be able to pull from the archives of old work examples or frameworks. I not only consider this actual evidence of what I’ve learned, but sometimes it’s really handy to be able to go back and look again because unlike a lot of people I know, I don’t keep the details of every project in my head – there’s just not enough space in there. So, ok, there’s an argument for keeping one, very specific type of information.

But where to find it all? Is it on my hard drive? In email? In Dropbox? On Gdrive? Which Gdrive? (I have no less than four email addresses associated with Google.) Ooh, I know! Maybe I saved it in my new (rediscovered) best friend, Evernote!!

I forgot to mention the myriad scraps of paper, 8.5x11’s, poster paper, notebooks, all scribbled with handwritten notes and ideas! This is the stuff I have the hardest time letting go of!

I have all these ideas all the time. I feel like I need to write them down to get them out of my head before they flutter away and disappear into the ether forever. They’re ideas for new businesses, new posts, new events, new activities, new article, solutions to client problems. So I scribble them down on whatever is handy at the time. I write them on little scraps of paper, big scraps of paper, in my phone, in word documents, on Evernote ... they are everywhere and they are totally disorganized. And I collect information to support those ideas ... clipped articles, photos, web links, torn out pages of magazines. It's seriously OCD. And my crushing fear is that if I don't keep them somewhere, I'll forget and I'll NEVER have that great idea again! But what is the opportunity cost of my keeping all this stuff around?!? Clutter in boxes. Clutter on my computer. Clutter in my phone. What if I just dumped ALL of the old ideas and information to support them and allowed myself some space to welcome in NEW IDEAS??

And what if I let those ideas go, and BETTER ONES showed up in their place? I dunno if that’s what will happen, but I’m willing to risk it just to open up some space. I’ll keep you posted.

So where do I draw the line? Today, we have access to unprecedented amounts of information. But does holding on to all this information give me some sort of advantage? Does it actually represent what I’ve learned – what I know? That straight answer is NO.

Over the last several days, I’ve been working hard to pare it down. To let go, sight unseen of several boxes loaded with “future reading material.” Because if I haven’t needed it yet, why would I need it later?

I already feel better!

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Now, I’d love to hear from you … what are you holding on to that might be really holding you back? Are you willing to let it go? Please share in the comments below!