When there’s a will, there’s a footprint

My decluttering efforts have turned to digital file purging and consolidation. This was prompted in part by a desire to dispose of old PCs and peripherals at an upcoming free eCycle event. I’m also interested in reducing the size of my email file before it crashes (again). However, this obsession is mostly driven by revising our estate documents this year.

No, I’m not dying. I’m just trying to make things easier for those who will remain when I DO inevitably die. It’s been 13 years since our last revision of estate documents. A lot of life happens in 13 years. And lot of laws change, too.

Today’s wills now include a “digital estate”– social media presence, files on computer and storage media, passwords, online accounts and backups. I know how time-consuming it was sorting through the 60+ boxes of papers my parents left behind. To avoid having my name eternally cursed by those who will inherit and/or manage my my digital estate after I’m gone, I intend to tame the massive collection of data generated by 40+ years of evolving technology. I’m taking responsibility for my own mess.

My goal is to get everything organized on one LARGE external hard drive, with a few essential estate-related documents on ONE flash drive.

Yeah. I hear you: “Good luck with that.” It’s a big job.

I’ve been using various incarnations of computers since 1975 for school and work. I built my first “computer” using a wire-wrap board and an Intel 8080 chip shortly after graduating from college. My personal collection of data started around 1980, when I received a TRS-80 with dual floppies from my older brother Michael. I wrote my graduate thesis on that machine. Gradually I added new uses: dial-up modems, Compuserve, Kermit file transfers, email, web surfing, finances, taxes, archiving pictures from digital cameras, digital music, graphic design, presentations, website creation … the list continues to grow.

As the tech support for our household of three, I’ve set up, maintained, and networked approximately one new PC per person every 5 years since the mid-90s. That generates a LOT of outdated machines and boxes of media. Not all of it has aged well. So far I’ve found 11 different forms of digital media in our house. In order of obsolescence:
— 5-inch floppy disk (I recently destroyed those using scissors)
— 3.5-inch floppy disk
— SCSI internal hard drive
— SATA internal hard drive
— Zip drive
— XD card
— SD card
— Micro SD card
— CD/DVD disc
— USB flash drive
— External hard drive (current count = 8, with archives created by up to 5 backup programs)

I’d love to say I can safely ditch files older than, say, 7 years. However, I have older digital pictures, presentations, writing, medical records and travel memories I want to keep. It’s also probably a good idea for me to keep selected receipts that document cost basis and value for the house and big-ticket purchases, like furniture. And I legally must keep certain files related to fiduciary and corporate matters.

Although new PCs can read disks formatted by older Windows machines, some files and media are no longer useable because the program that created them isn’t available and/or compatible on newer operating systems. Some files can be converted to newer software versions, some can’t. So, before disposing of an old PC or peripheral, I have to be sure I won’t accidentally eliminate my only way to read certain types of media. I’m keeping an offline Windows 7 machine for the summer so I can archive as many file and media types as possible.

The upshot of all this is, I must comb through ALL the files. If I don’t do it, someone else will have to do it (or just destroy it all in a fit of hopelessness). I hope to be finished by fall.

Digital decluttering ain’t for sissies.