C shot me an email last night, effervescent with more than even her usual sense of enthusiasm. Her desk at work had reached that critical point where, like it or not, cleanup was absolutely necessary. “I’m getting somewhat organized!” she bubbled excitedly. “It almost looks like someone diligent works here!” We laughed and discussed our common clutterbutt philosophies, how we wait for things to get to critical mass, and I joked I had a list to share with her – the contents of my “inbox” folder on the computer. “Hang on a minute!” I responded, while I copied the directory listing to a file so I could see what I had, work out what each file was, and send her the list demonstrating just what a packrat I am. I admit, I try. I do my best to cut down on the clutter, keep an eye out for articles that help me manage my mess, but I think it’s something of a lost cause. I accumulate more and more digital dryer lint as each day passes.I’m not a tidy person, not in any sense of the word. I thoroughly believe that an empty desk is evidence of an empty mind, but I really don’t get to work with paper very much. Any documents I deal with are digital; any words I might write are electronic; whether it’s work or play. I am not entirely sure why I ever learned to write in cursive; about the only thing I ever use it for is to sign a check. My handwriting is illegible. My clutter, therefore, really isn’t “on” my desk; although, curiously, right now, I can’t even see the surface of my desk. Nowadays I work from home. So the table is completely covered with documents of all types; work, home, old bills, new bills. This clutter is minimal, compared to what I know exists deep within the bowels of this computer. That seems a particularly unusual analogy, but “bowels” is probably about right when I consider what’s inside there. There’s a broad generalization out there that ninety-nine percent of everything is “rubbish”, or words to that effect. That’s surely all the more true when it comes to Internet downloads. I can’t even count the number of “free” e-books I have in that folder. At one point, it seemed I was religiously reading Boing Boing and downloading something daily, proclaiming my support for Creative Commons by downloading every piece of CC media I could get my hands on – and then, well, not doing what you’re supposed to do with them. “Hang on for what?” C asked, before my list had even got past the text of Coleridge’s “Rime of The Ancient Mariner”, which I vaguely remember downloading when I had the idea that performing it to the theme tune of “Gilligan’s Island” might actually be quite fun. (Go on, admit it, you’re humming it and thinking “Water, water everywhere/And not a drop to drink” right now). I realized I’d barely started inventorying the junk that would be found in the “inbox” folder. When even listing what’s in the folder becomes a monumental task that I’m almost tempted simply to leave a note to myself – must find out what all this crap is – and drop it in the folder itself, you know critical mass has been passed. I was so pleased with myself when I first got this computer. The inbox folder was the first thing I created. A deeply symbolic and powerful action; the place where all that incoming material would arrive and simply touch – no, brush – the ground, before it it would be dealt with, filed appropriately, or moved on. It currently measures 110 gigabytes. Let’s put that in perspective; it’s nearly 200 CD’s worth. Thanks heavens we’re not using those little blue plastic diskettes any more. It would take a pile of those a quarter of a mile high. “I got so focused on cleaning out and organizing, I tackled my purse!” followed up C, as I begin to move into the more mysterious, virtual infinity of the inbox. Ah, I remember this section well. This is the section filled with Great Ideas. The product of an over-fertile imagination – over-fertile, some might say, because it’s filled with… well, you get the idea. Every Idea in this area has an uppercase I. Every idea here spawns two, child Ideas, each as capable as the last, stretching out and out and on and on. An application form to write technical books for a publisher who lives in my hometown and whose name seems curiously familiar; I’m sure I went to school with him; spawning its two child Ideas; listing all the people I remember from school in an effort to get back in touch with them, then writing the aforementioned technical book. Some ideas for a technical book including writing a program that plays checkers on the web; followed by a bit of research that discovers that checkers is, in fact, ‘solved’ after what must have been an incredible amount of number-crunching. More Ideas with uppercase I’s, spawning in all kinds of different directions, mathematical, computational, recreational, geeky, nerdy, cheeky, but after a while beginning to peter out, become more dilute. Ideas that merely got as far as creating an empty file or folder, little more than just a name; perhaps a name that I’d come back to later, a name that within it had the essence of securing that doctorate degree or the independent wealth which, some day soon, perhaps I’d be focused enough to sit down and actually work for. It’s ironic. In there is a copy of a TED talk by Adam Savage where he talks about his “obsessive” personality. I’m not that bad, am I? “Found a letter you wrote to me on April 1st.” Coincidentally, the inbox gets to a poignant collection of notes and downloads. Drafts of emails I was writing, the lyrics to a song I sung. Several pictures of C. Several. More than I could ever print out; more than I even knew I had. The ones I saved just because; the ones of her letting me know she had made it safe to work. These are treasures. One night we’ll sit and go through them; through our email archives. We’ll remember how we got here, we’ll try to remember the particular days and dates involved. But right now all these treasures are being devalued; surrounded by so much other junk; junk I’ll never revisit, junk I never really wanted in the first place, never even knew I had until I went through this inventory process. Things that I should have cleaned up as part of this move – if I moved physically, then I should have moved mentally as well. If all these files, these documents, had been written in dead-tree notebooks, I could never have brought them here. There’s only one thing for it. I drag all the precious files somewhere else, somewhere safe; they’re surely irreplaceable, and just get rid of the rest of everything, select them all, and hit the Delete key. Are you sure you want to remove the folder ‘inbox’ and move all its contents to the Recycle Bin? I giggle a little. The Recycle Bin. It’s not actually throwing it away, at all, is it? Just putting it somewhere else for a little while; at some undefined time in the future, well, that’s when it’ll actually disappear. I’ll be emotionally detached from my junk by then. I won’t even know when it actually got thrown out. It reminds me of the plastic bag we have in the laundry room. It’s where all the dryer lint goes; and, when the dryer lint bag is full, well, that’s when we’ll put it out in the trash – unless we decide to get all Boy Scout and use it to make firestarters. I click on “No” – I’m not certain I can make that commitment, not yet. I might throw away something I’ll need one day; but at least the precious things have been put away safely now. I just won’t look in the original folder – until I need to. Strangely, this tangled mess of junk in my inbox folder is somehow very self-defining. The geeky, nerdy, cheeky, disorganized, random, and yes, thoroughly under-utilized collection of stuff – well, that suits me down to the ground.