One night on November 28, 2006, there was a fire across the street. The fire started out small but the builders of those shops had used wood liberally in its construction and the chemicals in the photo lab were highly combustible. 70 firefighters were called and it eventually burned all night until 11am the next morning.
During the flames, smoke billowed into our house as the fire leapt high. We packed up a few things and prepared to evacuate, partly because of the smoke and also in case the fire leapt the street. Moment of truth - what do you bring? I brought my 2 laptops, my hard drive, and photo albums. Nothing else and no regrets.
In the time since, I've moved three times - to Hyderabad, India, to London and finally to San Francisco. Every time I move, I say to myself - I want to live a lighter life. There's a cost to stuff - it has to be cared for, stored, organized, thought of, sifted through, stepped over. It takes up physical and mental space. And if my house ever did burn down to the ground, I'd want to be completely okay. I'd want to spend zero time mourning and instead spend those moments comforting my friends and family.
What does a light life look like? It's not about having nothing. It's about recognizing that even memories are information, that the people in your life are what are truly irreplaceable, and instituting robust systems that are a special kind of insurance:
1. Regular conversion of photos, DVDs, CDs, and books into data - and throwing most of the "stuff" away! (or donating it). Painful but a critical first step to a lighter life.
2. Well-documented lists and scans / snapshots of identification documents (e.g. birth certificate, passport and driver's license), financial information (e.g. W-2, credit cards, tax returns), important passwords, and everything you keep in your wallet, all stored as data
3. At least 3 tiers of regular backup which address both possible hardware failure and location-based catastrophe (e.g. fire); at least one tier needs to be off-site (e.g. cloud, Crashplan)
4. Password protection and ideally remote wipe or self-destruct on all backups
Do it. You will be one day be so glad you did.
Future posts on living a light life:
1. Automated payments on all bills
2. Personal "CRM" (relationship management) system
3. Regular housekeeping
4. Good inbox management tools and techniques
5. Monthly self report cards
6. Integrated synching calendar and task management in the cloud
7. Putting everything you haven't touched in 6 months in a box
8. Reducing snail mail
9. Efficient health maintenance