In the past couple of weeks, I have been going through my possessions and trying to cut down to a set of essentials. I've been deeply influenced by the work of The Minimalists and I will be writing an article specifically on Minimalism in the future. At the moment, the aim is to reduce the number of physical possessions and reduce clutter - my digital life is also cluttered but that matters less at the moment.

I have many books, CDs, DVDs and pieces of electrical equipment such as hard discs - these are all candidates for digital replacement. I've been moving them into the cloud, so digitally how am I doing?

Music: digitally compliant but hoarding

All my music is stored on a hard disc at home and in Apple's iTunes Match service. As I understand it under the iTunes Match terms of service I could legally dispose of my CDs. Now that they are all digitised and uploaded, I no longer need the physical media because the iTunes Match service provides me a license to use them. But I will not - the CDs will end up hoarded in boxes somewhere.

I still have two cassette tapes of music. My parents bought me my first cassette of Bach organ music and I cannot find a replacement for it yet. The other cassette is me playing bass in a college band - I've digitised it but I feel the need to keep the cassette. All other cassettes have gone - the final ones (AC/DC - High Voltage Australian edition and the Blood Brothers soundtrack) were replaced last week. I believe I have some 7" and 12" vinyl lying around somewhere in the universe but I'm not going to make a big effort to find it.

Electrical Equipment: Hmmm, in progress

I had too many computers until recently. I have significantly reduced my home computing power but probably not enough. I have a very good top-end Macbook Pro - 16GB of RAM should suffice for 3 years. I still need to wipe and sell my old Macbook. After this, I will be left with a Macbook Pro, an iPad, an iPhone and a Kindle. Each have their own purpose - arguably I don't need both an iPad and a Kindle, but the convenience, cheapness and size of the Kindle means it is not a big issue to have both.

By reducing to one main computer, I've reduced my storage problems somewhat because I only have one to backup. However, my London Time Capsule died last week - it overheated and the power supply blew. I'm not sure I will buy a new one - a local hard disc is good enough for backups and I was able to use the wireless modem that came with my ADSL service instead of the Time Capsule. I still have two Airport Expresses and these are useful for sharing printers on a home network, so they will stay for now.

I have too many external hard discs. The reason for this is that I used to do a lot of video editing and Apple ProRes files get very big very quickly. GoDaddy is currently doing a 100GB storage service, so most of my archive files will be going into the cloud very soon - even sooner if I can figure out how to write an Amazon Glazier client.

All my regular personal files are on Dropbox or Skydrive.

Films and video: on track

[caption id="attachment_8923" align="alignright" width="300"] Cloud-free zone[/caption]

As I have mentioned on this blog before, I resisted the urge to buy a Blu-Ray player because I strongly believe downloading movies is the way forward and there are many legitimate ways to obtain most movies (I use an Apple TV and Netflix). This week, I got rid of most of my DVDs on the basis that I could get pretty much anything online if needed. I have not been able to find a legitimate copy of my favourite film (The Cannonball Run) since, but I know I will be able to see it again if necessary. The ones I kept were a few television series that I'm yet to watch, a documentary I helped fund (How to Start a Revolution), the Star Wars films on DVD (because they contain the original non-modified versions), Superman Returns, THX-1138 and a birthday present I haven't watched yet. Realistically once I've watched all of these, I don't need any of them. I'm unlikely to watch them again and if I do want them, they will be available somewhere. The main exception being the original unmodified Star Wars films in letterbox format - sorry, but Han shot first.

Books: some exceptions but on track

I own many paper books and I haven't read approximately 25 of these. Most of the unread books cannot be obtained on the Kindle. I have upgraded all my O'Reilly books to digital (where possible) and O'Reilly nicely syncs them for me into my Dropbox. I have given many other books to charity and replaced them on the Kindle if I think I need to refer to them again.

[caption id="attachment_8924" align="alignleft" width="300"] Cookbooks are not in my cloud[/caption]

I need my cookbooks to be paper and I won't be changing my mind on this for some years, partly due to the interface on the Kindle and iPad, and also because I do not like using these devices in the kitchen.

There are some disadvantages to going completely digital on books. Despite the fact that most books written in the last 15-20 years (if not longer) are typeset digitally and then transferred to paper by the publishing houses, it seems there is no effort to mass digitise older books. This is how it seems - I hope to be proved wrong. For example, I just purchased a copy of A Regular Guy by Mona Simpson. Mona Simpson is Steve Jobs's sister and I would expect there to be a constant demand for this book. It is not to my knowledge available digitally, so I had to buy a print copy.

Also, there are several different readers (e.g. Kindle, iBooks, etc) with different DRM mechanisms. Whereas DRM (Digital Rights Management) is becoming less commonly used in the digital music market, DRM is very common in the digital book market. There are some books that I cannot buy in Kindle format - for example, I wanted to buy The Tipping Point and the only way to get it was in Adobe ePub format. So the market is not as flexible as it could be. That said it is improving every day with more titles appearing.

The interface, although great for most reading, needs to improve on the Kindle. Joan Bakewell made a point in the Telegraph recently about not being able to easily flick through a digital book and I think this is valid. My particularly bugbear with the Kindle is when I accidentally swipe to the next chapter and am then not able to find where I was. But these interfaces will improve with time.

Notebooks and paper: partial fail

I love good quality stationery - particularly Moleskine notebooks and fountain pens. I've given up on fountain pens because one has to be careful taking them onto aeroplanes - they either have to be full or empty. I cannot get away from paper. I still print off minutes of meetings because I find it easier to write on paper than edit on a laptop or my iPad. Usually, the life of this paper is short - I update on a computer and then shred the paper. But it is fair to say, I still prefer writing on paper for impromptu meetings.

The post I get in the UK can be classified into three classes - event cards (birthday, Christmas, etc), finance/bills and junk. Bank statements and bills are still delivered to me using paper. There are some very good reasons why I cannot change this at the moment which I cannot go into here. In the future, I will be able to change.


So to summarise, I've moved many of my essentials into the cloud but there are still many improvements to be made. Some of the gaps are due to the deficiencies in the interfaces of the software available and some because the media is not available digitally (and legally). I will keep going because reducing physical clutter is good and also being able to access my digital possessions from anywhere in the world is very convenient indeed.