Minimalism and Digital Archives

This is something of personal topic, and may not be of interest here, although perhaps others may have had similar experiences.

For some years now I’ve changed my approach to holding on to “stuff”. In the past I was quite the hoarder. I had to have a copy of everything myself, from old consoles and computer parts, to stacks of CDRs containing of all sorts digital information. But I came to the realisation that among other problems, this desire to hold on to things often came at the expense of personal freedom. Freedom to easily move, to clean, to feel uncluttered. To not feel loss if something should happen to any of those things. Freedom to focus on what matters most.

That revelation started a journey, as I began to quickly reduce my physical belongings down to few core items that I would use regularly. My goal was simple: I would only keep things that provided not potential but real value. For anything else I would instead use community services or buy the item temporarily for only as long as I would use it and then resell it (as I did with the Xbox One to play Crimson Dragon in 2013). Most of my day to day belongings can now fit into a single tramping (hiking) pack, and the few things I’ve kept in storage could easily be disposed of. I became a minimalist, and based on conversations I’ve had, one further ahead on my journey than most others who have embraced this philosophy appear to be. But there was something missing.

Recently my 4TB external harddrive died and I lost a very large collection of files.

This loss was surprisingly liberating. While my digital archive didn’t restrict my physical freedom very much, the mental overhead of caring about those files did. I don’t plan on replacing the drive; I’ll just stream (or temporarily download) music, video, and games from the cloud from now on and use the archives built by others. In a sense, digital minimalism might be the final piece of the puzzle in my journey to only holding on to things - be they physical or virtual - that provide real value to me. I’ll care less about keeping files for a rainy day and instead just keep a small collection of personal photos and documents. Apart from this site and some code repositories, there’s very little that I have stored in the public cloud that I would be unhappy to lose.

(One thing of value that I did lose in the harddrive’s death were the Panzer Dragoon prototypes. Hopefully someone in the community can upload these somewhere online so that we don’t lose them.)

So there’s a little story that I thought others might find interesting. Can anyone else relate? Or do you find value in holding onto your old things (e.g. old consoles and collections of physical games)?

Edit: After some reconsideration, I think it’s best to be able to travel lightly.

I feel the same way for the most part for myself. The only console I still have is my Xbox 360 so that I can play Orta from time to time. I have sold everything else off as I have digital copies on the PC of all my old favorite games. I have always been more of a PC gamer anyway, so disks have always been optional. The only game disks for PC I still have are for Half Life 2, Unreal, and Ultimate Doom. I used to collect comics but have sold them all off. I still have my old music CD’s in a box downstairs. I used to only buy the CD and rip it, but now with Amazon, I just purchase albums digitally. I do still download and backup quite a range of files which I will talk about down the page.

The few physical items I do still collect keep are books. I just don’t think I will every part with my book collection. Every book I really enjoy I purchase and store for later reading. Quite a lot of the books I own I have read multiple times. I don’t really trust digital stores to stick around forever, so I would rather have the physical copies. The only other possessions I own are my telescope and lenses, my laptop and accessories, and furniture.

Unfortunately my minimalism doesn’t mean less clutter as I am married with two daughters. We have toys everywhere, my wife is a bit of a hoarder (or really just doesn’t like throwing paper away). I do my best to clear out my families items that aren’t in use, but I have had to let go when it comes to have stuff just laying around. I have hopes this will get better as my kids get older, but I am not holding my breath.

Now I do have quite the digital collection. I buy almost all of my games exclusively from and I have the install files updated and backed up on my desktop PC downstairs used as a file server (with RAID mirroring) along with my travel copy of the archive via a portable HD. Aside from GOG games, I have ripped all of my music, quite a few of my DVD/Blu-Rays, lots of PDF books and comics bought from Humblebundle or aquired via other means, emulators for all the Sega systems, some for Ninty systems, audio books, all my programming files and school files, user manuals for stuff around the house so I can throw the paper copies into the recycling, and a few other categories of files including our family pics, etc. My digital archive is about 2TB in size (mostly because of movie rips). Without the movie rips I would say I have about 1TB.

So in essence, I would say I like the minimalist lifestyle, but I still like to own/have fun stuff to do. If I was single, I probably would get away with a bed, table to eat at, a sofa for people to sit, a few large book shelves, and a PC desk with a monitor to be used as a TV for streaming video. The reality with kids though is completely different! :wink:

A year ago I moved from what was basically the family home into one of my own, which was a lot smaller. It gave me the opportunity to get rid of a load of stuff that I didn’t want or use anymore.

I whittled this down to one (decent-sized) box of photos, old school stuff, etc from my childhood and ‘early’ family life, and then several plastic tubs for all my old gaming stuff, which I could never get rid of, and some sports stuff (football programmes, scarves, etc).

And that’s all I have in storage (it’s in the loft). Everything else is out in the house and in use.

As for digital stuff, that’s where I am a hoarder. I have two 640GB drives set up in a mirrored RAID array, and they house all my digital stuff. Comics, music, videos, game ISOs, et al. Some stretching back 10 years! I like to have as much in much digital archive as possible, because it takes up so little physical space but provides hours of entertainment and nostalgia.

If ever there was a fire in my house, I would be absolutely gutted to lose all of the physical stuff just as much as the digital stuff. That tells me that I only keep the things I really value.

This is why I bit on an offer Amazon had last December for $5 US for unlimited cloud storage. I think the renewal price this year will be around $40-$50, so I may renew just for the peace of mind. This is also why I keep the portable hard drive with me in my backpack, just in case. I would hate to lose any files.

I can totally relate…

Three years ago I had so much stuff - old comics, manga, games consoles, games, DVD’s and I came to the realisation that being in my mid-twenties with stuff piled up to the walls wasn’t the best look. I had no option but to drastically reduce my posessions.

The cataclyst for this was watching an episode of a TV program that featured someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and how they kept their house - virtually no posessions whatsoever and I thought, “I’d like to live like that”.

It took about 2 years of constant “mini-purges”, trips to the charity shop and dump (recycling centre) to get it all down to a level I wanted.

Now my floors are always clear, I could count on one hand the amount of physical media I own, I gave away all my comics and manga to charity and I am unable to leave the house unless the bed is made. If I had to put a figure to it I suppose I have reduced my posessions by at least 75%.

I suppose I have became quite obsessive about tidiness, my last relationship ended partly due to it. Even now I constantly think of the things I could get rid of.

On the digital front I do a fresh install of Windows at least every month. Important files are kept on a USB Stick and ever since I discovered Spotify CD/mp3’s are mostly redundant. The only programs I install are Firefox, 360 Security, Nvidia drivers, Shell Start Bar, Steam and ONE game (usually the Sims).

If the house caught fire the only thing’s I’d grieve for are some family jewellery that I inherited. Even if my beloved Saturn and games went down in flames I wouldn’t care - at the end of the day its just a games console (blasphemy!).

I actually wondered if holding onto the past was a personal flaw of mine.

I will hold onto the good, and let go of the bad.

Edit: Forget what I wrote. I wasn’t thinking clearly.

I suppose I should clarify my previous post.

My extreme method of minimalism is one that suits me, how other people live their lives is none of my business.

Likewise, I would feel bad if I had somehow came across as diminishing the value and joy that people can derive from physical posessions.

On a crazy note, I could’ve sold my stuff on eBay and managed to make a wee profit but the drive to simply get rid of it overriding everything else I simply just dropped it off at the charity shop or gave it away. Probably the symptom of something quite unhealthy.

Sorry. I wasn’t thinking clearly when I wrote my previous post.

I gave this a lot of thought actually. Basically, there were a lot of things I wanted to do, but for one reason or another, couldn’t, so it’s hard to let go.

I could let it all go now I guess. Since most of it belongs to a past that can’t be changed. The Saturn and Dreamcast are still great hobbies, but they go nowhere.

Panzer Dragoon still has a future. If nothing else, Sega should re-use the lore somehow. So I will hold onto that, and the hope of that at least.

Minimalism is just about reducing your life down to the things and experiences that provide value to you, rather than holding onto that which does not provide actual value. With my comment earlier about being “further ahead” than others, what I mean is that many others whom I’ve talked to about this understood the value to reducing their belongings, and indeed wanted to, but for one reason or another hadn’t gone through it. But I hope I didn’t give that impression that there was some kind of objective level that is the same for everyone. If you get value from having a personal library of physical books or a Saturn collection, don’t get rid of those things just to fit someone else’s approach to minimalism as it may be that what that person values is different from what you value. The problem is when people hold onto (or buy new) things just because someone else told them that they ought to value those things. Particularly in capitalist societies, there’s a very strongly engrained belief that more is by definition better. What I’ve found is that more is better only up until a point before the correlation quickly goes in the opposite direction.

It’s nice hearing all the different stories here.

Regarding physical books, there’s something about holding paper that is special, and disposing of a book feels somehow worse than getting rid of, say, a DVD. Still, I found that after getting an eReader I began to read a lot more. I could carry around multiple books in a very small device and choose a book depending on my mood. While I held onto my book collection for a while, I ultimately decided to get rid of it. DRM in the ebooks is a problem, and I wish there were more options for buying digital books DRM-free. I tend not to re-read books, so it’s not a problem for me personally (and it’s possible to strip the DRM if need be), but it would be nice if we had a mainstream DRM free ebook store to support. There’s no technical reason not to have it, and it worked out fine for music. While I enjoy the added freedom, I’m glad that some people are holding onto their book collections so that we can avoid a centralisation of human knowledge. I use a Kobo, so at least I’m not supporting a one bookstore world.

It’s similar with other media, I depend on the digital stores to hold onto purchases, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they were lost one day. Amongst the many file sharing services (legal or otherwise), the data could be restored again so long as it’s reasonably common. VHX and Vimeo are good services for DRM-free documentries. For music, I used to have a large 160GB iPod, but these days I use services like Bandcamp for buying albums and stream the music directly. Or just streaming single tracks from Soundcloud. I use a combination of Steam, Humble, and GOG for storing my PC games, rather than holding on to the backups myself (I have a few main games installed and the rest I can download from the cloud if I feel like playing them). I actually still have my Saturn and a few games in storage, but I may offload these at some point as they don’t get used often and Saturn emulation is at a good enough point for my purposes.

I deleted my original post. You will have to forgive me; I keep assuming the worst lately. It’s only healthy in certain places.

There were a lot of games I still wanted to play on my Saturn. Now maybe I should let it go because it’s all in the past, and the past can weigh you down, but I genuinely love that console.

Now I seriously doubt that most people would keep living without reasons to live. If someone were to suddenly tell them that they have to give up everything they love because it’s best for them, I don’t see that ending well. It would be like telling Daniel Jackson he shouldn’t study ancient languages because being a disposable cog in someone else’s machine is healthier for him. No, just prioritize.

Now I realize to truly make the argument I just did I need some statistics to back it up. I will do that more in the future.

Putting my hobbies on hold to find a job almost killed me. But they can wait. They aren’t going anywhere.

I did think about selling my entire console collection though in order to have one less thing to worry about and be in a position where I can walk away from everything easier.

I think I will reduce my clothes a bit more. I only have two good coats for example. I actually have a trench coat that looks good on me. I’ll wear that if the world ends. My brother and I are giving away tons of old games neither of us play, and I deleted most of my old writing. So I don’t have to worry about losing anything if my hard drives die. My best ideas are in my head anyway. Oh and do I have some tales to tell.

It kind of feels good to be less burdened by things that never really mattered to me. I tend to immerse myself in other worlds, so I need to choose fiction wisely. Lance here said that some games have such rich lore that one can spend years studying them. I agree. It makes me wonder what I have missed actually.

I have always thought, to be free of stuff/nostalgia will be very liberating as Solo said. But instead of breaking free and exploring a life of unknown, I am keeping all my stuff. The files on my PC date back to 2003, I have over 120 orginal and boxed Dreamcast and Saturn games, all official Saturn and Dreamcast magazines, hoards of Chao research, and for now I think i’ll continue. If my house went into a black hole I’d probably just move country and live free like Solo.

“More free” is probably a better way to put it. I wish I could live each day completely free. Sadly, money and other such necessities are a real hinderance to a truly free lifestyle.