After more than 20 years in the same house I decided recently it was time to declutter. Clean out. Pare down. We started yesterday in my home office and quickly realized that “cleaning out” was far too polite an expression.

It’s an archaeological dig.

Found the original copy of my college thesis

I was down in the basement rooting through an old file cabinet. I found the original copy of my undergraduate thesis for Harvard. It’s not in digital form so I decided to save the bound copy. I’ve always been rather proud of it: A Comparison of the Poetry of Stéphane Mallarme and the Paintings of Pablo Picasso. I kid you not.

A complete documentation of my children’s childhood

Moving on… I found that I took motherhood *very* seriously. I have three children and for years I maintained a file for each of them for every single year of their lives, well into college. During the early years, of course, the files contain those awkward drawings and misspelled stories you can’t part with. Their report cards. The slip from the pediatrician with their height and weight. And so on.

But I’m severing the umbilical cord(s). I’m shipping boxes of files to each child. Let them have fun on a rainy afternoon sifting through their childhood. I’m movin’ on…

Luckily, client files also live on the computer

And more… today I tackled client files going back almost a decade. I threw out most of the paper folders because I have (to my immense relief) digital folders on my old computer dated neatly, 2000, 2001, 2002, etc. Yes, I’ve also put them on a back-up drive.

Oh and I forgot to mention newspaper articles – crammed into bulging folders – that I wrote in the 1980s and early 90s for The Atlanta Constitution, Cox Newspapers Washington Bureau and Roll Call. I’m tossing most of those out but keeping a few yellowed clips for old times sake (none of the articles seem to be online, as far as I can tell).

Declutter your office and your brain… let the clutter live on the Web

Thanks for listening. Now let me make this little brain dump relevant to corporate blogging and social media.

I read a great article in Wired several years back that pretty well sums it up: We Are the Web. I highly recommend printing it out and reading if you didn’t catch it in August 2005. It starts out with Netscape’s IPO in 1995 and does a year-by-year analysis of the Web up until 2005, calling it “10 years that changed the world” and “a decade of genius and madness.”

There is also a side-bar on the birth of Google, of course, written by John Battelle.

Author Kevin Kelly refers to the Web as the Machine. The Machine will do a lot of the work for us, he posits. It may do some original thinking; that remains to be seen. But it will certainly do almost all the remembering and cataloguing and keeping track of stuff. As he puts it:

A riff from Kevin Kelly’s article on how the Machine (aka the Web) will become our memory…

The human brain has no department full of programming cells that configure the mind. Rather, brain cells program themselves simply by being used. Likewise, our questions program the Machine to answer questions. We think we are merely wasting time when we surf mindlessly or blog an item, but each time we click a link we strengthen a node somewhere in the Web OS, thereby programming the Machine by using it.

What will most surprise us is how dependent we will be on what the Machine knows – about us and about what we want to know. We already find it easier to Google something a second or third time rather than remember it ourselves [my italics]. The more we teach this megacomputer, the more it will assume responsibility for our knowing. It will become our memory. Then it will become our identity. In 2015 many people, when divorced from the Machine, won’t feel like themselves – as if they’d had a lobotomy.

— from We Are the Web, Wired (August 2005)

Anyway, I find this comforting to a degree. Also a little scarey and Big Brotherish. But as far as feeling free to throw out all that “stuff” — phew, I couldn’t be doing it at a better time. And now for the closets… the endless T-shirts, mismatched socks, prom dresses that will never be worn again, etc.*

The business corollary… if you’re worrying about where to put all those bits and pieces of information you run across that you might use on a company or organizational blog or stats you need to back up an assertion or images to illustrate a blog entry, no need to fret. Whatever it is you need, it’s stored on the Web somewhere. And you can just leave it there til you really need it.

Your thoughts? Your New Year’s Resolutions??

* If I’m not online much for the next week or so, it’s because I’m offline and thigh deep in heavy-duty black trash bags.

This post was first published in 2008.