Your Digital Afterlife – Do You Have A Plan?
Managing your Digital Afterlife has been a discussion popping up more and more with Professional Organizers over the past several years.
If someone passes or is incapacitated, life around them still goes on. Whether it’s paying the mortgage and the cell phone bill or contacting the insurance company, things must be addressed.
Every day, our online and digital presence becomes more a part of how we do business and interact with others.
When the person-in-the-know is no longer in control of those accounts, it is not as simple as opening up a drawer in a desk and knowing what comes next.
It’s not always that obvious
Some things are not necessarily obvious when someone passes away:
What should happen to the various social media accounts? Google has “inactive account manager”, Facebook has “Legacy Contact” and Twitter has a policy in place that family members can utilize. But you need to plan-ahead for these. And what about the sites that do not have policies at all?
What about all the digital photos in a cloud account? What is owned and by whom? What can the family member access and obtain after a death?
It was our turn to start
I am the person in charge of paying the bills at home. I started cataloging our accounts, passwords, and details such as “this payment comes out of the bank automatically on the 15th of each month” or “this account auto-renews each May”. This is a living document that evolves over time and needs real time upkeeping.
My husband and I both have a list called “in the event of my death” which describes the steps, in sequential order, to handle everything in the event of the other spouse’s death. For example: “People to personally contact prior to posting the news on social media” or “How to handle my personal social media accounts”, and “What to post to my professional network”.
This file is security protected and backed-up, and my husband knows where to find it, and how to open it. There’s more to that: ensure that the back-up executors know about this file and how to access it.
Where to start?
A good place to start gathering a list of items you should be tracking is GYST. GYST or “Get Your S___ Together”, is a great website to help you think about organizing all aspects of planning for death, not just digital details.
Digital Beyond has a big list of online companies in the market of managing post-death information and many help you store this information that you are gathering. It also maintains a list of states that have enacted laws related to digital estate management. They also offer sample legal language for you to include in your own Power of Attorney or Wills to address control issues.
Your afterlife plan needs maintenance
This process isn’t something you do once and leave aside. It requires important upkeep:
Update the passwords if you’ve changed them (This is assuming you’re not using a password management system that records changes automatically)
Add new accounts as you open them and delete those you close
A conversation that should not wait
This isn’t just a topic for addressing with aging parents; this is something that can impact anyone, at any time. It is rather urgent to have plans of this nature if these don’t exist.
Please do not wait until it is too late and do not delay this conversation, as unpleasant as it can be. It is in your best interest (and the interest of yours), that these plans are made, thoroughly and on time.
Digital clutter is real. Although it is present in many ways, its lack of physical appearance allows us to ignore it.
Digital clutter appears as a disorganized desktop, misplaced electronic files, multiple copies of the same documents, and misspelled file names, among other things.
Digital clutter causes us to spend precious time looking for information, going through duplicated files and folders, forgetting tasks, and missing appointments. All this probably unnecessarily fills up our hard drives and before we know it, we have 10,000+ messages in your inbox as well.
Organizing our email system might be a daunting task. However, email is so front and center in our lives that a change in this area can produce substantial changes to boost productivity and increase our efficiency.
Here are some email management tips to start reducing electronic clutter.
Setup a new folder for promotions and store-related matters. If your email service does not allow creating folders within the inbox, consider setting up a separate email account just for stores, ads, and orders. After setting up that folder, go through your current retail subscriptions and move each one to the new folder. Instead, if you need to create a new email account, change the email address retailers use to communicate with you to the new account’s email address. Only check your new retail folder or the new email account when placing orders. Clean out the new file or inbox monthly.
Email and Breakfast Do Not Match
Avoid reading your email first thing in the morning. When you do, you let someone or something else prioritize your day. This practice sets the day off to a stressful tone—instead, schedule times during the day to read your email. You will notice an increase in productivity in your email response time and other tasks.
“You’ve Got Mail”
For most, the chime of a new message creates an immediate reaction to check the email. Turn off notification sounds that make you jump and see how much more productive you become. When distracted, even for a second, by an email notification, you lose momentum and efficiency. And remember that the multitasking phenomenon is a myth. Attempting to multitask makes us absent-minded and derailed.
Add important senders right to your address book. Otherwise, their messages might arrive as spam or junk, and you will miss important information and dates. Keep your contacts updated for your peace of mind.
Managing Emails Efficiently
Strive to read each email only once. Using folders and category options in the email is a necessity. Use the following categories or actions for each email message:
- Delete – When the message is not needed now or later, delete it at once.
- 2-Minute Action – if your response or action to this message will take less than 2 minutes, process the message at that moment and then delete it, if possible. If the answer or action necessary takes additional time, leave the message in the inbox as a reminder to tackle later.
- Pending Matter – Messages with information to be referred to in the short-term future and notifications to remember can stay in the inbox until the time comes to act on these. Limit inbox messages to follow-up and immediate action items to allow these messages to stand out.
- File – File messages or notifications containing information for future reference. These messages might deserve a permanent electronic file but it is important to remove them from the inbox.
Let’s keep in mind that an inbox that contains 4,230 messages will not be of much help in improving efficiency or boosting productivity. Such an extensive email list will hide essential messages that should rather stand out for the inbox to become a productivity tool.
More importantly, an inbox with this many messages is evidence of delayed decisions. An inbox where all messages are kept the same for lack of action about what to do with them is no different than the basement, or the garage, or that junk drawer where things are kept “just in case,” but no one knows what is in there for sure.
Digital clutter might not be as obvious as physical clutter but it affects us the same. And whether the clutter is digital or physical, it creeps up by postponing decisions and actions. So, decide and act promptly and consistently when processing your email messages. Increase your inbox control to decrease your digital clutter.
I discuss the concept of mindfulness quite often. Mindfulness is fundamental to a meaningful life. Mindfulness is being in the moment, each moment, noticing our actions, reactions, and feelings toward others and the environment.
Mindfulness puts seemingly ordinary, routine, everyday life events under a magnifying glass for close inspection – the things few people notice.
So, this blog might make no sense to you (and you will probably think I am just extra weird). With that warning in mind, continue reading if you want to try this.
You have probably heard that clutter is, at its core, a bunch of postponed decisions. Let’s put the concept of timeliness under that magnifying glass to illustrate its importance and consequences.
Clutter, Mess, and Chaos Creep In
If a drop of tomato sauce falls on the floor while you cook, one of two things will likely happen: you take four seconds to wipe the area clean at that moment, or you keep cooking undisturbed because you can always clean it later (Oh, later).
You continue with your culinary endeavor. Then either you or someone else inadvertently steps on the spot one or several times. The inoffensive tomato drop that could have taken four seconds to clean is now significantly spread on the kitchen floor. Also, mixed with shoe dirt, it has transformed that four-second job into a floor moping task that adds five minutes to your schedule. But that is just the time. Consider the effort of prepping the mop, mopping the floor, and then cleaning that mop afterward.
The Toxic Build-Up
It is your choice to postpone taking any action – of course! But understand that the timeliness of actions does matter, and when we delay decisions, consequences usually follow. Often, those consequences come in the form of additional time and effort required to achieve the same goal. That extra effort needed to accomplish the same goal grows with each passing minute. The prospect of that extra effort growing as time goes by decreases the likelihood of any action or decision-making. As times goes by, the consequences of inaction compound. And you still need to address them later.
The tomato drop example might seem insignificant. But unnecessarily postponed tasks and decisions can bring much more impactful consequences. Life constantly provides us with opportunities to neglect or delay actions and decisions of all kinds. And the consequences related to ignoring them might not bother us, especially if you do not take notice immediately. But sooner or later, you will find out that the mess accumulated due to neglected or postponed decisions and actions is such that you no longer feel capable of bringing your home environment under control.
Neglected Actions Create Chain Reactions
Let’s suppose that because dad is an early riser, he gets assigned the chore of emptying the dishwasher and feeding the dog in the morning. There is an understanding that these activities should happen before the rest of the family gets up.
But dad starts wasting precious morning time doing anything but those two chores under his responsibility. As the rest of the family members go to have breakfast, the equipment they need is still inside the dishwasher. Everyone tries to get what they need directly from the machine, and dad tries to complete his unfinished task at that (very inopportune) time.
Everyone trips over the dishwasher’s open door and steps over a wet kitchen floor. It turns out the stuff coming out of the washer is still wet because the dishwasher is a piece of junk, and no one has bothered to replace it or call for repair service. So, the floor is now a mess that will require mopping with cleaner instead of a piece of towel paper to dry some water.
Do not forget the dog that has not eaten. The poor thing is in the middle of it all and pretty hungry. Dad knows he should have fed the dog and starts mixing the stuff into her bowl. He takes up considerable counter space to complete the task while others deal with their breakfast in the reduced counter space left.
But everyone has responsibilities and places to go – delaying breakfast is not necessarily an option.
Each person usually rinses their things and puts them inside the dishwasher. It takes about one minute to do. On this day, however, since the dishwasher is still partially loaded with clean items, dirty stuff cannot yet go in the machine. So, the first person to finish breakfast puts dirty utensils in the sink without rinsing (because rinsing is an action associated with placing things inside the dishwasher, and this is not the case this time). The action taken by the first person is the cue for all others to do the same, even when the dishwasher becomes available in the next three minutes. (You know, “so and so did not do it, why do I have to do it?” syndrome). Dishes are piling up in the sink and on the counter, with food remains, making them crusty (yeah!).
The day goes by, with the pile of dirty dishes and utensils over the kitchen counter and in the sink. It will take more time and effort to rinse those dishes and to place them inside the dishwasher now. Also, the process will require someone (as in mom) to have the extra time and willingness to do so. That one-minute job has turned into a ten-minute ordeal (with resentment!). And who will happily volunteer to take on the task at the end of the day when everyone is tired? And let’s not forget that now the kitchen needs to be cleaned up before dinner cooking even starts. Hello, kitchen clutter.
Often the action is not taken, or a decision is left unmade because we forget and not necessarily because we run away from it purposely. But that is yet another consequence of delaying or postponing. Like that alarm in the iPhone to remind you of your noon pills, for example. Can you count the times it has gone off, and you have ignored it, thinking you will take care of it in five minutes? Hours later, you realize you did not take your pills.
A Nourishing Home
When you live in a household, you are part of a system. Everyone’s actions and inactions directly impact the unit function. If you are relied upon to complete specific tasks, please understand that such chores are tethered to a time frame and not subject to when you “feel like it.” “Feeling like it” might never come, and it is not a reliable time frame.
When all household members understand and accept the home systems and perform their duties on time, no chore becomes too big to accomplish. Such home works efficiently, keeps the chaos at bay, improves family relationships, and enhances the positive energy flow. It is a nourishing, supportive, and efficient place.
Does this ring a bell? Observe these patterns in your life for about a week – on the big things and the seemingly insignificant ones. You will probably see the cause/effect of delayed decisions and observe their ripple effect in your life. You will make amazing discoveries!
What is more exciting than moving to your new home? Moving to a new home where everything has a place, everything looks beautiful, and the space is functional. That is! And that is why you should hire a Professional Organizer to help you throughout your moving process.
I used to joke and say I was sure that packers and movers always had a competition going on, and the winner is the person that can pack the most unrelated items the fastest. I have seen far too many packing jobs where we find trashcans with actual trash in them, together with kitchen stuff and even clothes. And when the packing does not include labeling or inventory, good luck finding what you might need from any of those boxes!
An Organizer will pack your move carefully, thus better protecting your belongings. The process is even more efficient given that the Organizer will apply careful labeling and prepare comprehensive inventories for the boxes. Having packed your move with care and purpose allows the Organizers to unpack your move with the same care and efficiency at your new place.
Move Only What You Still Want and Need
Often people pay to move lots of stuff that they do not want or need anymore. A Professional Organizer can help you decide what you want to move. Selecting what you want to move beforehand saves effort, packaging material, and money. Working with an Organizer allows you to purge unwanted items before packing.
The prepacking process has another benefit to it- things get allocated where they belong and with related items. This results in a logical packing that makes unpacking much easier later on.
Coordination with Other Parties
Organizers can work with your contractor or designer to ensure every space of your new home is maximized and efficient. The earlier in the process you engage an Organizer, the more opportunity they will have to work with contractors and other resources on your behalf.
Preparing Your New Home and Careful Unpacking
The Organizer can fit your new place with systems to suit your lifestyle – modifying closets, creating built-in organizing solutions, translating previous systems used in your last home, or lining shelves and drawers. The Organizer prepares your new home for you and yours to feel like you belong from the very start. With careful unpacking, everything finds a logical place, and everything is beautifully appointed.
My paternal family in 1939 (my father is the little boy on the front!)
I dedicate this blog piece to my cousins, with whom I share an unbreakable bond and a history that lives in my recurrent dreams of our weekly gatherings at Grandma’s. This photo journey has deeply impacted them all.
This Is My Story
It has taken me about ten years, but I just finished scanning family photos dating back to 1919! Pictures are my thing. After my parents’ death, I called everyone I knew and held an open house where everyone was invited to get whatever they pleased from home. My parents were well-known, much loved, and deeply respected people. There was never a doubt in my mind that their possessions too were to be deeply cherished.
There was only one exception to this free-for-all opportunity: nobody could touch a single picture. Those were the only things I valued, wanted, and needed. Photographs were utterly off-limits.
My father loved documenting everything and everyone in our lives. As a result, there was a room full of photo albums in my parents’ home. Dad always ordered duplicate photos to gift to every person that had the good fortune of appearing in any of his pictures (as in everyone we knew!).
When the time came to move the collected photo albums, the cost of this adventure was over $2,000. But the process of selecting the pictures that best represented our life history together could not be rushed. I knew this, and I paid that money with joy.
For many months, those photo albums occupied all the space in our formal living room that had remained unfurnished since we moved in. There were over 400 photo albums! As time went by, I selected the photos that meant the most to me and created brand-new albums with them.
Some months later, we built our new media room, and we made specific cabinets just for these photo albums. At a rate of about one album a month, I started the process of scanning all those pictures. Albums were originally classified by year. That helped me create digital folders for every year, and I organized all my scanned photos that way, electronically. And yes, I discarded those albums and the prints once these were scanned and safely backed up.
The process was deeply emotional, intense, and satisfying. I saw things I never knew existed in pictures. For the first time, I saw my twin sisters that died shortly after birth. I had no idea there was a single picture of them!
Like that, I went through every facet of the emotional spectrum with pictures of relatives and friends young and old, dead and alive, reviving the many adventures we had as a tribe. And so many stories came back to me while others came alive for the first time. People, parties, music, dance, meetings, joy, food, drinks, and laughter continuously filled my parents’ home.
As soon as the prints were all scanned, I remembered my neglected box of slides and movies. The slides numbered over 3,000. I knew there were specific, cherished moments of my life in those slides. I bought a $30 ““contraption”” that allowed me to stabilize the iPhone and the slides. I also purchased a $29 app (Photomyne) to scan and optimize the slides. The scanning process was labor-intensive but a breeze. The emotional voyage was something else.
So after about ten years (I can’t believe this took me so long!), everything is scanned and organized electronically by year. I enjoyed sharing some of these pictures with very special people from our past along this journey. I have discovered that images grab people’s hearts and make an unforgettable and deeply appreciated gift. So many relationships from the past have resurfaced, and many hearts were touched as a result of this process.
Pictures are often ignored inside our phones or in less than carefully maintained photo albums. They do not tell a story that way. Our kids don’t know about our childhood and youthful adventures. It is hard for them to grasp that we were once their age, with insecurities, excitement, drama, romance, and stupidity, just like them! However, reconnecting with our past brings all that emotion, color, adventure, and joy to our present. And guess what? It turns out our children are the most excited cheerful consumers of these stories.
Knowing our family history makes us more resilient as human beings. Pictures are invaluable to the process of recounting our stories. We need only to listen with the heart for a moment.
So that is my story. What’s yours?
Here are some fantastic words of wisdom from Joshua Becker, host of Uncluttered, and founder of Becoming Minimalist.
7 tips for decluttering
- Identify the purpose of a room and get rid of anything that doesn’t serve that purpose. If this sounds a bit stoic, hang in here with me for a second. Think about it. Your bathroom doesn’t need a Peloton. Your kitchen doesn’t need a video game station. Find purpose and balance for every space, or everything will remain confused and out of balance.
- Distinguish between decluttering and tidying up. Simply put, these things are not the same. It’s like the difference between rearranging the furniture and renovating a space. Decluttering makes tidying up a thousand times easier.
- Simplify walls. It’s easy to point at the messy surfaces, cluttered closets, and dramatically stuffed junk drawers, but one of the quickest ways to create more “breathing room” in a space is to declutter the walls. What’s hanging in your way?
- Start with the easier spaces and move on to harder ones. Overwhelm is a true mind-killer. Some people say “eat the frog” and tackle the most excruciating task first. While this may work for some, I find it’s better to get some quick wins, create momentum, and work your way up to the bigger tasks.
- Choose one of three options for every object: remove it, relocate it, leave it. Success and speed go hand-in-hand. When it comes to evaluating possessions, it’s time to be decisive and categorize each object and then move on. Rinse and repeat.
- Count the “clutter cost.” Think about your money, your energy and the days and hours of your life spent addressing clutter. And the time clutter takes away from what matters most. From this standpoint, who among us can truly “afford” to live a cluttered existence?
- Focus on the gains, not the subtractions. Minimizing isn’t just about getting rid of clutter. It’s about adding freedom and control back into your life. Celebrate your wins in the form of new freedom, not in the number of items you eliminate (although it can be pretty cool to keep count!)
Find clarity and enjoy your life. The more energy you put in removing the excess, the easier it will be to find and develop habits to better manage the things you keep.