I screamed during “E.T.” I was 6 and a family friend sat with me in the very front row. Needless to say, that movie blew my little mind. One of the things that stood out for me was the contraption Elliott helped E.T. build so that he could “phone home.” Remember? It had a Speak & Spell and an umbrella. Pretty cool stuff. It makes me wonder what they’ll use if they ever do a reboot. They’re welcome to my old iPhone 4S; it would run a Speak & Spell app, and maybe it could do everything else, too. If space doesn’t have wi-fi, I don’t want to go.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much having a smartphone has aided my transition to minimalism. Much of this is due to the fact that it basically serves as a spare brain – a smarter, better organized spare brain. It turns out that more and more of my “stuff” exists only virtually. Most of what I use and most of the work I do lives on this little screen in my pocket. The best part is that if I break it or it gets stolen, the important parts can be quickly cloned and loaded onto a new one. The new one might even be a better model.
Ten years ago, I went everywhere with a huge bag I referred to as my “filing cabinet.” It probably weighed 15 pounds. I would have textbooks, library books, a cookbook, a day planner, my mail, a journal, a bunch of pens, old receipts, a wad of paper napkins, my lunch, gloves, an umbrella, a hat, lip balm, and who knows what else. Now I don’t carry most of those things. Almost all of them are represented digitally. I don’t need to carry as much outerwear because Dark Sky tells me whether it’s likely to rain later. I don’t need to go to the chiropractor anymore, either.
One of the most significant innovations for me has been the advent of the e-reader. Many book lovers are stuck in the 18th century, and they like it that way. I love books at least as much as anyone else, but I’m firmly in the digital camp. I can read in line at the post office. I can listen to an audio book while I fold laundry. No more discovering that my library book has a page torn out. No more food stains or smashed bugs. No more 15-pound carry-on bags just for my vacation reading. No more melted book lights. Even if digital books were the only feature on my phone, it would still have changed my life. The best part is that every year, there will be thousands more e-books available. In my lifetime, essentially every book ever printed will be there at my fingertips. Why, then, would I need to keep hundreds of pounds of printed books in my house, only to relocate them over and over again?
Frequent relocation has been a catalyst for me. It’s helped put my possessions in perspective. Even professional movers will only pack the stuff and move it. They don’t unpack it for you. I’ve realized that everything on my phone is available whether everything else I own is taped inside a box or not. I traded in all my DVDs and CDs two years ago, and I haven’t missed them. The books, including cookbooks, are steadily getting culled. What’s left is furniture, workout equipment, kitchenware, linens, clothes, tools, cleaners, and food. The handmade items I still have cause a certain amount of stress, because it’s so sad when something like that gets ruined during a move. Virtually all of our stuff is functional, rather than emotionally relevant.
Meanwhile, my phone is full of emotional relevance. Any given day, I’m texting my husband, my parents, or a friend, and usually I wind up laughing until I cry over something. I’m playing games with my brothers, both of whom win 99% of the time. I’m skimming Facebook and finding out who’s engaged, who’s pregnant, who’s moving, who got a new job, and who adopted a puppy. I’m obsessively reading the news, playing podcasts, and looking at dazzling nature photography. I’m checking stats on my website, looking at my bank balance, or replying to e-mail. My life is conducted on my phone. It does everything but cook dinner, and I’m probably looking up a recipe for that, too.
This makes it sound like I’m looking at my phone every 5 minutes, which I’m not, but only because my schedule is managed by a digital brain. I set up reminders for everything I need to do daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. I don’t think about those things anymore; I just follow the instructions from Past Self as a favor to Future Self. I can focus on writing and know that no matter where I am, I can drop everything and take notes, research something, take a picture, or email or text someone. My house is my base of operations, unless it’s temporarily a tent or hotel room. My home is this magical device of portable work, instant information, entertainment on demand, and emotional connection on impulse.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.