We live in a period when many physical objects are being replaced by software and digital data. Peter Diamandis, entrepreneur and founder of the X-Prize, summarised the process in his book, Abundance:
Just think of all the consumer goods and services that are now available with the average smart phone: cameras, radios, televisions, web browsers, recording studios, editing suites, movie theaters, GPS navigators, word processors, spreadsheets, stereos, flashlights, board games, card games, video games, a whole range of medical devices, maps, atlases, encyclopedias, dictionaries, translators, textbooks, world class educations, and the ever-growing smorgasbord known as the app store.
Cumbersome objects like these used to clutter up our homes. Now you don’t need to own any of those things. You can replace them with apps on your smartphone, and data in the cloud.
My approach to decluttering has been to jump on this dematerialization trend and push it as far as I can with my own possessions. Technology has made it possible to get rid of the majority of my physical possessions, whilst losing none of the benefits of owning them.
One of the major reasons I kept possessions was because they had meaning for me. Meaning is ultimately information. And information can be stored digitally, requiring no space in my luggage. My old paper journals were important to me because of the ideas I had written down in them, not because of the paper that those words were written on. By scanning my journals, I captured the information in them, moved that digital data into the cloud, and shredded the original notebooks.
This is a key strategy I used for extreme decluttering: I identified the meaning I attached to each possession, worked out how to digitize it, and then moved that information into the cloud. I scanned all my old photo albums. I digitised all my music and movies. I replaced all my paper books with a digital library. I got rid of the physical possessions but kept all my valuable data.
You can declutter to a far more radical extent if you replace your physical possessions with software and data. By digitizing as much as I could, I made many of my physical possessions redundant. It’s no sacrifice to get rid of redundant objects. In fact, it is a relief.
Replacing physical things with software has increased my quality of life. Dematerialization is a process that everyone is gradually adopting anyway, whether they are aware of it or not. I am just doing it more consistently. I recommend that you embrace the trend.