We all know we need to declutter stuff we don’t use anymore. I’m no minimalist at all, but I do like to be able to find things I know I should have. I also don’t want to run into broken stuff that was only moved out of the way to be thrown out another time and is still taking up space in our living space.
When we moved from the Netherlands to Norway in 2008, we had to rigorously select what we wanted to keep as we only had so much space in the moving truck. But we have so much room in our new house now, that it’s starting to overfill again. But it’s at least visible how much physical clutter we have. Still need to weed out the physical junk, but it’s worse with digital clutter.
Saving for later
I once lost my draft thesis text and had to type everything again from the printout I thankfully had made. After that I made it a habit to save important files and backup them and save a copy for good measure. These directories were saved for eternity and copied over to every new computer I got. Despite attempts to organize my file directory, entropy is inevitable, especially when hard disks only seemed to increase in size. If you’ve got the room on your hard drive, it not really urgent to avoid double saves, especially after an experience as I had with my thesis. The main reason to weed out double saves was to ensure that you’d only work with the latest version of a file.
One application to rule them all?
Keeping up with all pieces of information I collected was getting a problem. So when I learned about Evernote, I quickly saw the potential for a system that could organize my files for me. I don’t really remember anymore when I started using Evernote, but is must have been around 2008 or 2009. I have been a premium subscriber for a long time and at a certain moment we decided that Evernote would be our archive for everything. We bought a Scansnap scanner and started scanning in everything directly into Evernote, from our recidence permits, bank statements and invoices to recipes, Christmas cards and drawings by our kids.
Then, in 2015 Evernote changed their management and subscription model drastically. and pissed off a lot of long-term users, like me. I was an early adapter of Springpad and was ready to move over, when they unfortunately and suddenly folded. Microsoft has been quietly building Onenote, which became my alternative note app. I exported everything out of Evernote but never quite imported everything into Onenote. Instead I started new in Onenote and quickly built up a knowledge and information repository there. Yet, I could never really get the hang of Onenote. Sync is not a strong point for Microsoft and I have had several notebooks that I had to copy to a new notebook because of corruption. Not good for a forever archive system!
The last few years I became more interested in open standards and open source developers. I’m trying to move away from the big names with their greedy fingers in my personal data, although I’m not ready to sacrifice all convenience and ease of use. But a few years ago I moved to my latest note taking app, Joplin, a very capable, free and open source Evernote competitor. Joplin works well and uses markdown, a lightweight markup language where you basically type formatting elements in your normal text. I have been learning and using markdown for a couple of years now and prefer that for writing longer texts over a WYSIWYG editor, so that was a big plus.
Back to basics , but with a twist
So here I am, with a fractured collection of archives that contain partly duplicated, partly new and partly outdated information. Just like a house full of clutter and junk distracts, does this digital clutter also distract. So I’ve made a start this year to clean up and refresh this pile of junk once and for all. I will be writing more about this process, so do come and and visit regularly to follow along. For now, I have made a number of decisions.
The basics of my system
I want a application-independent system, to avoid the mess I ended up with after I stopped using Evernote. I’ve decided on a simple folder structure with markdown files and related resources as the backbone of my new system. On top of that I want another second brain-like organizing system with living and organic connections between pieces of information that is independent of the folder structure. I’ve decided to use Obsidian (not open source, but modern, powerful and free) as my second brain. I tried out Zettlr (which is open source and free), but For I prefer Obsidian. The beauty of using markdown files is that I can easily switch between Obsidian and Zettlr, as they use the same source files. And I can as easily switch to another markdown based system in the future!