This week was supposed to be an exciting one at work - I was due to get a new laptop. Being so frugal means I don’t always get to scratch my “new technology” itch at home so these moments are a rare treat for me. When I booted it up for the first time and opened the browser, however, I was in for a not-so-pleasant surprise.

My bookmarks…gone. My RSS feeds…gone. The tools and tweaks I used every day to make life easier at work…gone.

I had forgotten the fundamental rule you’re supposed to follow before getting a new PC - identify everything you want transferred and make sure you have a plan to get it there!

Our IT staff does a great job porting over your files, but every new PC is a “clean slate” when it comes to the software installed, which includes browser extensions and other tools.

If my work setup was a forest, it felt like a fire had just come through and cleaned everything out (Tweet this )

Funny thing about forest fires…

Fire ecologists recognize that fire is a natural process, and that it often operates as an integral part of the ecosystem in which it occurs.

Overall, fire is a catalyst for promoting biological diversity and healthy ecosystems. It fosters new plant growth and wildlife populations often expand as a result. (Pacific Biodiversity Institute)

Over the last three years I had built up a list of about 25-30 RSS feeds I subscribed to covering all sorts of topics from entrepreneurship and management studies to coding practices, personal finance and Dilbert strips.

After a few moments of panic and disappointment, I came to view the situation as an opportunity. An opportunity for new growth now that the old, established things had been wiped away.

With a clean slate, I decided not to try to reproduce the list as it had existed. What if I took the few that popped into my head first as the most important (i.e. Signal v Noise and Mr Money Mustache), added a few that I hoped to spend a bit more time on (Jekyll Tips and CSS Tricks to help in developing this blog) and let the rest grow organically in the coming weeks and months?

I’d certainly end up with a different list than I had been looking at and that seems like it’s actually a good thing. I had been reading from the same 25 resources for three years; maybe it’s time for a change.

Losing my feeds was the perfect opportunity to build some diversity of thinking and put hooks in to invest in the areas I’m passionate about now but haven’t been investing in.

I also took the opportunity to re-organize my bookmarks, only adding the sites I knew I needed right away; anything else could wait. If I ended up needing a bookmark often enough later, I could always add it.

On the flip side, my browser extensions ported over automatically because I synch them with my Google account. Once I got into the “forest fire” mode though, it was a natural extension to re-examine these as well. I uninstalled 5 browser extensions and didn’t add any new ones.

It was the time to clear out the unused and old to make room for the new.

Beyond technology

One of my favorite anecdotes from The More of Less by Joshua Becker (see my recent review here) was a story from Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists.

Frustrated with the life he had been leading, Ryan needed to do something drastic to make a change. He and Joshua Fields Millburn came up with the idea of a “Packing Party

We decided to pack all my belongings as if I were moving. And then I would unpack only the items I needed over the next three weeks.

There we were, sitting in my second living room, feeling exhausted, staring at boxes stacked halfway to my twelve-foot ceiling. My condo was empty and everything smelled like cardboard. Everything I owned—every single thing I had worked for over the past decade—was there in that room.

After three weeks, 80% of my stuff was still in those boxes. Just sitting there. Unaccessed. I looked at those boxes and couldn’t even remember what was in most of them. All those things that were supposed to make me happy weren’t doing their job.

Forest fires clear out the dead plants or weak plants in the forest that are locking up nutrients and preventing sunlight from reaching the ground.

This clearing allows for new, fresh growth and promotes the continuation of the strongest flora.

By packing up all of his belongings, Ryan cleared out the less meaningful items in his life that were locking up his money and preventing his attention from going to what he really valued.

By keeping only what he needed, Ryan is allowing for new, fresh growth of the values and ideas that are most important to him.

Could you use a controlled burn?

Whether it’s digital clutter, physical clutter, or even mental clutter (maybe you have an overcommitted schedule), could you use a controlled burn in your life?

What’s the worst that could happen if you hit reset on a piece of your life and rebuilt it? (Tweet this )

On the flip side, How much could you grow if you got the dead wood out of the way?

Picture of seedling growing