The Constant Thinning of Electronic Collections

I don’t dare get rid of this USB 1.1 cable, what if I need it?

Years ago I helped my older sister move from Washington to Arizona. I was young at the time, and still in that phase of life where even if you kept everything you had ever owned — it wouldn’t have amounted to much. So I really didn’t get what someone with an established life would have to move — and it was a ton of stuff as it turned out.

At one point while helping her, I saw a tiny box of clothes they were getting rid of, and I made some bad joke about how it must have been hard to decide to get rid of such a large amount of clothes. That’s when my sister told me about the system she uses to keep their clothes thinned out all the time.

She said that each year she hangs all the hanging clothes so that they are hooked from the wrong side. She had some like system for the folded clothes as well. And then at the end of the year she donates all the clothes that have not been touched in that year — easily indicated by hangers still turned the wrong way.

I thought this was genius. Useless to me at the time, but genius nonetheless.

I’ve never actually used her method, but I use something very similar — and likely something many of you use as well. If I know I haven’t used something in the last year, or if I can’t remember the last time I used something — then I get rid of it.

The primary flaw in this system is it requires you to be honest with yourself. And honesty is very hard when it comes to things you like having, but know you have no need for. Which is why I seem to be endlessly trying to get rid of old electronics, and their chargers, and their associated cables.

For the longest time I kept way too many old cables and old electronics. Never having a need or use for them, but just keeping them around because it is seemingly easier than deciding if I need to get rid of them.

Now, if you are anything like me, you look at a pile of cables and sort them into three categories:

  1. Useless
  2. Useful
  3. Well, maybe

And it’s the last pile that is always the biggest and always the hardest to deal with. There’s too much of this old electronic crap we hang on to in fear that the moment we get rid of it is going to be the very same moment we really need that item again. I still had FireWire 400 cables when I cleaned out my garage this past summer, and there isn’t a single computer I have in the house to use those cables with. In fact I am not sure when I last owned something that needed such a cable.

Last year I realized that I had just been moving around, and adding to, one large duffel bag full of old electronic shit. I never took anything out of the bag, I just moved the bag from place to place and occasionally stuck more shit in it.

I knew I needed to come up with a solution.

So I employed my sister’s solution.

I cleaned off two small shelves in the garage, grabbed a garbage bag and a bag of zip ties. I started by making two piles: keep and garbage. Once the garbage was done I coiled every cable and put a zip tie or two on each one. I then put a small piece of gaff tape on each electronic device over the ports to charge/use it. I then neatly stacked everything on the shelves and was left with two items which didn’t fit.

After purging a bit more, I had everything on the two shelves. All stored in a manner which would require me to cut a zip tie or remove some tape if I wanted to use any of the items.

Instead of waiting a full year, I just waited 8 months. When I went back in to the cabinet this summer I pulled out everything. I then looked to see if I had used anything — and when I realized I had not used any of it I had to stop and laugh. I then made three piles:

  • Keep it.
  • Toss it.
  • Sell it.

I also pushed the storage size down to just one shelf. Everything that I wanted to sell went on sale right away and is kept in a box marked as “for sale” so that I know I can just donate that box in another couple of months if I don’t sell any of it.

The only cables which I exempt from my rule are Lightning cables, and Ethernet cables. Both of which I could need at any time and are well overpriced if I had to buy them again. They are useful enough that they are worth keeping — and I tend to break them with regularity.

I just took a look at that shelve and snagged a couple more things to sell off. I love this system. It keeps things easy. I don’t have to decide whether or not to keep something, I just have to follow the rules I have set out for myself.

I’ve been doing this a year now, and I haven’t even noticed that I got rid of a ton of stuff. I am actually getting a little too aggressive at purging things, as I realized that I am very slim on 30-pin dock cables — I guess I’ll just purge the 30-pin devices.

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