Clearing my (psychic) clutter, Day 19: Contact clutter


I wiped almost a thousand people from my life today in less than two hours.

To be fair, many of them were ‘bots, duplicates and other sync-rot from Google Contacts and Address Book. But a fair number were people, actual human beings, whom I’ve met along the way, one way or another, and either lost touch with or wanted to lose touch with, but didn’t have the nerve to delete.

Pruning one’s address book or Rolodex back in the hard-copy days could be a melancholy affair. Did you cross out that dead (or dead-to-you) person, or let it ride? Did you pull the little white cards from their metal (or later, plastic) spools, conceding defeat, acknowledging opportunities abandoned and hills not conquered? Or did you leave them in there thinking “Maybe…maybe this year I’ll go back and reconnect with Ken over at Spacely Sprockets?”

Today, it seems easier but really, is it? The select/delete action is so simple, but so brutal. Just like that, these people and the promises those relationships once held are gone forever, again and again and again. Almost 1,000 of them, in less than 120 minutes. For every one that was a relief to let go of (and trust me, the photo exercise from Brooks’ workshop primed me for some serious eradication action), there were 10 that were harder, and one or two that made me downright melancholy. Decluttering photos made me feel lighter; decluttering my address book just made me feel that much closer to death.

Okay, it also made me feel like a loser. When I’d see all the information I’d plugged into some of these entries, contacts that I added to be a friend or opportunity collector more than anything else, I felt like there was a big, red “L” stamped on my forehead. Talk about sunk costs! These entries represented hours and hours of my life I’ll never get back: hours I could have put into making something or reading something or just actually being with someone.

We have versions of The Container Store and IKEA’s excellent storage solution porn aids all around us. It is so much easier to feel virtuous rearranging and categorizing than it is to take a cold, hard look at what we legitimately have at our disposal that is of utility.

I’ll talk more about my criteria for cutting (and keeping) later on, in a screencast showing how I organize my contact management system (if you can call Address Book that without laughing).

In the meantime, may I repeat my mantra of the past almost-three weeks: Let go, let go, let go…


Image by Sreejith K. via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. I came across your website about the time you started clearing your clutter. Now I am half way through Brooks book, and am clearing right along with you. For me that feeling of being closer to death is becoming liberating. Once we’re aware of how we place our energy into situations that don’t nourish our Spirit we are finally free to invest in the things that do. Thanks for the inspiration, and keep up the good work.

  2. Interesting. This is one on which we may have to disagree. The cost of keeping contacts — just in case — is so minimal that I don’t see any downside. And searching for them is a snap too. Maybe that’s a hangover from my time as a working journalist, when having somebody’s phone number where you could find it was like currency.

  3. Tracy – Glad to hear it. That part about being closer to death feeling liberating, esp. It’s so counterintuitive to throw your arms around death—like that feeling right before you leap from the plane in skydiving, I guess. But ultimately, so useful.

    Jeremy – I hear you. And I didn’t pitch all of them. What I looked at was what was still of bona fide utility. Some of these folks I really never want to talk to again. It gave me the heebie jeebies to see them on the list. (Thankfully, there were only about 20 of those.)

    Most were people whom I’d feel uncomfortable about contacting at this point without a refresher introduction. I suppose your j-background makes you more fearless/shameless in this regard, but that’s where I am.

    And then there were a number of people who really belonged on a mailing list for my autoresponder, not even my business contact list.

    I suspect I’ll build it back up quickly enough, but now I’m starting with 800+ people/businesses I genuinely want to track. It was just too overwhelming, all of those people.

    (I do wish there was a way in Address Book to do an “all-but” list like there is in iTunes, and then PORT IT to the iPhone. Honestly, that’s what put the bee in my bonnet: sick of scrolling through a million Johns, Steves and Marys.)

  4. Wow.
    Your comment on the organizing utilities is so true. Because we have [access to] the tools to keep all of our stuff. . . I think makes us lazier about getting rid of our stuff.
    So. . . just thinking Rah! Rah! for Colleen.

Comments are closed.