4 Painless Ways To Avoid Being A Digital Pack Rat

Right now I am staring at a message that has been haunting me for weeks, hovering dangerously at the top of my Gmail inbox. It says, "You are almost out of space!" Yikes. Is this even possible? I scroll down to the bottom of the page to see that I am in fact at 95 percent capacity. Although I've been deleting emails to lower this number, it keeps creeping back up.  

My name is Amber, and I am a digital pack rat. Whether it's contributing to a bloated Gmail account or running out of Skype minutes, I am always living on the edge of capacity. Oh, and don't even ask how many old iPods and cellphones I have sitting around—it's embarrassing. However, this spring I'm feeling inspired to declutter my bits and bytes, streamline my tech toys and gratuitous gadgets, and live a simpler life.

Here are the four categories where I need help, and how I'm cleaning up my act.

1. Email

Little did I know that I had hundreds of drafts sitting in my account. Aside from deleting each of these messages, and deleting the contents of my Trash and Spam folders, I decided to cough up a tiny bit of cash for more space. Sure, I could have ported all my emails to another Gmail account, but I still like the idea of having all my correspondence in one place. So, for a mere $5/year, I bought 20GB of storage. It's a small price to pay for a more robust inbox. Iif you do buy extra space, just be aware that it takes up to 24 hours to process this new storage.

2. Photos

Every since I became a mom, I started to store a lot more digital pictures on my computer, from mobile to high-res images. For the most part, I have the files sitting (gasp) within my Gmail account (if they were sent from friends and family) or in a folder on my computer. Since these images are too precious to lose, a good idea is to back them up online (using a pro Flickr account or another service) and also store them an external hard drive.

3. VoIP

There is no better way to save money on long distance than to depend on Skype for its inexpensive landline and mobile plans. Right now, my account is hovering around $3.40. After I make a few calls I watch it slowly dip, knowing that it's only a matter of time before my credit is at a big fat zero. The great thing about Skype is that you can turn on auto-recharge so that your account is reloaded when the balance falls below $3. The recharge is the same amount of your initial charge. Managing your Skype credit is an important to do, especially if you're like me and your rely on it in your business and personal life.

4. Gadgets

In my not-so-spare time I review gadgets. For anyone in the tech journalism biz, you know what this means: I am the proud owner of an electronic graveyard. I have old laptops, cellphones, iPods. You name it, it's probably collecting dust in my basement. Although I imagine that one day I will need these tech toys again, chances are their life with me has come to an end. Fortunately, there are more tools than ever online for unloading your old electronics. One is Eqosquid, which matches you up with a cash buyer for your stuff. Even better, many companies and organizations offer recycling programs. Apple has one in place, and you can often get a small store credit in return for your old gadgets. There are also many charitable programs, including one from Dell called Reconnect, that make it easy and convenient to drop off your old tech stuff at participating Goodwill locations.

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[Images by Wordle]

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  • Evert Amaya

    Sorry Amber but you completely missed the mark here, please edit the title. Except for your gadgets entry, all your suggestions tell you only how to be even more of a pack rat.

    Here are my suggestions.

    1. Email

    When websites require e-mail information but you're more than likely never to revisit the website again, use something like guerillamail or other temporary e-mail services so there is little chance for these places to spam your inbox. Better yet, use login info from bugmenot.com if available. As for the e-mail already in your inbox, if you're on Gmail and are competive or like games, try the e-mail game available at emailga.me (note: I've never tried this route but have heard it works for some). My tool of choice? Otherinbox.com It automatically groups e-mail by type so all technology stuff go together, online shopping, etc. Going e-mail by e-mail can be a bit daunting and OIB makes things just a bit easier. Here's one example of how I use it: Filter Online Shopping, check oldest e-mails first. 6 year old receipts for products with a 1 or 2 year warranty? Unless you're OCD and you're going to try to make some weird Excel sheet about your purchasing patterns over the years... it's time to delete. The same is true for online sales and offers, if they're more than a month old it's like keeping expired coupons for the pretty pictures.

    2. Photos

    Easy enough... Picasa. Use the auto-tagging features to tag names to faces. If you're like me you just dump whatever is in your camera's memory card into your photos folder, probably in a folder to keep events seperate, and never look back again apart from the photo here and there you decide to upload to Facebook. You could theoretically use the thumbnails feature of your file browser to get an easy overview of pictures you don't need so you can delete them... but it's a lot prettier and smoother on Picasa. The thing is, most of us are not photographers, so we take bad pictures. I don't know how many poorly lit photos, that Photoshop simply will never be able to fix, I've taken. A picture where all you can see is a glow from a flash does not need to be taking up storage space. Run through the thumbnails of all your photos and find photos that are easy to delete like this. The other thing, going back to the auto-tagging... is tag all the information. Events, places, etc, part of why you're decluttering all this stuff is so it's easier to find what you need... isn't it?

    3. VoIP

    Really??? I'm not sure what VoIP has to do with decluttering. The only suggestion I can make about Skype is, if you use it that much, chances are you're better off looking into the subscriptions like Unlimited US & Canada, Unlimited North America, Unlimited Canada, etc.

    4. Gadgets

    Before you do anything, remember we are in the digital age of identity theft! If you value your personal information, remember to securely delete any data on your electronics. Here's a helpful Lifehacker article on how to do this with computers.
    If you can't sell or donate through one of the options you listed, you can also look up electronic recycling locations.

  • Brian Leitten

    So your solution to avoid being a digital pack rat is to buy more storage space; backup photos both online and on an external hard drive; and automatically buy more phone minutes? Sounds to me like you just fed your addiction rather than went to rehab.