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How to use the archive folder

cluttered garage with car

We all know it’s not cool to be a hoarder. But getting rid of stuff is painful. There’s a sort of FOMO every time you throw something away, because there’s always the chance that you’ll realise later that you need it. Every decision is a trade off between avoiding clutter, and losing things you might want.

For much of history, we’ve had to make these decisions because we don’t have unlimited room to store everything. But in the digital world, that’s no longer the case.

Practically speaking, we can now store pretty much every digital ‘good’ we’ve ever owned, at little-to-no cost. That’s why the archive folder is so powerful.

Archiving saves you from those infuriating moments when you realise you’ve thrown something valuable away – but it also allows you to live without clutter. This saves you from distractions, enhances peace of mind, and reduces the decision fatigue you get from sorting things.

In this article, I’m going to talk you through how to use the archive folder in six different areas.

The archive folder for computer files

I used to worry about how and where I stored computer files until I came across Building A Second Brain. There’s a whole system to organising your files, which you can explore on the website, but a key component is the archive folder.

Since building my own ‘Second Brain’, I don’t keep many files on my laptop itself as they’re all in Notion. But for large files, and documents I don’t want to store on the web, I’ve mirrored my Notion file structure locally. The archive folder is key here, as it contains things like old receipts, or scans of paper documents that I probably won’t need, and that it isn’t worth sorting into other folders. In fact, it’s better to dump stuff into the archive, rather than trying to create another file structure in there.

It’s important to give your documents good titles. If you can’t find things, then the archive folder becomes almost useless. I recommend long titles including multiple synonyms that you might later search on (such as warranty / receipt / invoice). Adding the date the file originated can also help locating documents. The Spotlight search function on Mac doesn’t always work as well as I’d like, so I use the more powerful Alfred to help bring back documents.

If material you’re about to archive contains something that’s still useful, it’s best to extract that information and put it into other notes or folders. You only want to archive things that are redundant.

The archive folder in my digital notes app

I’m currently writing this article in Notion, but I will copy it into Google Docs for editing, before publishing it on the website. When I upload it to Google Docs, I’ll move it to the archive folder in Notion, along with all my other articles.

The same goes for anything I work on that has a finite end. If there is still useful material from that project, then I extract the useful bits and recycle them elsewhere.Β  But anything that’s not a Project, Area or Resource goes into the Archive as per Tiago Forte’s PARA system.

To give an idea of what’s in my Archive on Notion, I’ve got notes in there on everything from ‘First Aid’ (I did a first aid course at work) to ‘Philosophy 247 podcast on gender identity’ to ‘Roundabouts’ to ‘Things to do before we leave London’.

While the other categories of notes stay about the same size, the archive folder gets bigger and bigger as nothing ever gets deleted.

The archive folder for email

Email overwhelm is a huge problem in 2021, so I don’t propose to do it justice in this short section. But in short, my most potent tactics in the war against email are to deal with them in batches, and to only touch them once. Emails, once dealt with, go either into one of my other systems or into the archive folder. The one exception I have is a ‘Bookings’ folder, where I keep confirmations of things I’ve booked so I can find them quickly on my phone.

Email storage is massive. Unless you’re working with huge attachments, it’s unlikely you’ll run out of storage with a service like Gmail. Email search is also pretty good. So the archive folder works well here, and you can keep your inbox clear without losing important messages.

The archive folder in Spotify

I’m really into music, and it’s not easy to find good new songs. This makes it painful to delete songs from my library. I also like to save most of my music for offline playing, so that I can still listen when I’m abroad and don’t have signal, or when I’m on the tube. And of course, the downloads have to be the highest quality Spotify will allow.

The problem is that with 5,000 songs, my phone was running out of storage. So I’ve set up a new system. My ‘Now’ playlist acts as a sort of inbox: when I find a song I like, it goes on there. If after a few listen I’m still enjoying it, I ‘like’ the song so it gets downloaded for good. But if I decide I don’t like it, it goes into the Archive playlist, which isn’t downloaded.

Now and again I listen to the Archive playlist on shuffle. Anything I was wrong about, I can put back into the Inbox.

The archive folder for papers

I have also recently started archiving any physical papers I have, by scanning them in on my phone. These then get filed as per the PARA system I use for my digital notes. I then shred the hard copies, saving on physical storage space.

An archive folder for the physical world

The archive folder works best in the digital space due to cheap storage. But there are ways we can use it in the physical world too. Aside from renting storage space and putting all our junk in there, we can make archives in our homes. I have a bag which acts as a clothes ‘archive’ as a way of combating decision fatigue.

You can also use this as an intermediate step in having a clear out. If you’re not sure whether to throw something away, put it in an archive, and return to it at a set date. If you haven’t missed it in that period, you know you can chuck it without any problems.

Earlier this year I spent two days taking pictures of the physical mementos I’ve amassed over the years. This means that if my house burnt down, I’d still have some record of those cherished items. I threw away a lot of stuff that was adequately replaced by the photos, and only kept the things that have reverence because of the physical objects themselves.

Other areas where I use an archive folder

Here are some other areas I use an archive to keep my ‘workspace’ clear without throwing away things that might have value:

  • Apps on my phone, either via folders or deleting the app from the homescreen completely
  • Books – I store them in boxes rather than in a stack that makes me feel bad for not having read them all!
  • My ‘read it later’ app. Everything I’ve ever read on there – hundreds of books’ worth – is in the archive.
  • My task manager. Everything I’ve ever ticked off as ‘done’ on there is in the Logbook, along with the notes I had with each task and project.