DELETE HIDDEN LAYERS
Say goodbye, Layer 2.
Since I use Adobe Photoshop almost every day of my life, I've come to look upon certain aspects of the program fondly. Well, my usual disposition is to curse the thing and imagine hurling my computer into the sun, but that's with the knowledge that the program I rely on so heavily for my livelihood will probably end up obsolete in a couple years. (And because my cursor keeps freezing on the beach ball of doom. Seriously, why?!) Photoshop is an entirely bloated program that we use to do too many different things, and while I feel comfortable and confident working in it, I know there is more on the horizon. In the business of interactive things, there's always a better way. But that's not what this is really about.
This is about Delete Hidden Layers.
I really, really love Delete Hidden Layers. It's the single command that wipes away anything you hide from view. In the course of a job, you don't realize how much waste you produce, just to create something worthwhile. Of course that's the best way to succeed—to make a mess. Who ever created something good without having to clean up afterward? When you're traveling at the speed of light to reach a deadline—creating, destroying, duplicating, mutating layers of stuff—you end up with a ton of detritus. No matter how disciplined you are in naming every layer you create, grouping every set, or saving every layer comp with the best setting combination possible (#TeamVisibilityOnly) you will end up sloppy here and there. I've never been a completely buttoned up, Inbox Zero type of person, so I can live with a certain amount of layer slob. Of course, there comes a point in time where you have to admit you have a problem...
Used on a big file with multiple components, Delete Hidden Layers can induce feelings of incredible relief. I feel like a witch at Hogwarts, tidying my room with the flick of a wand. But I have to be careful. I might have hidden something temporarily. I might need that duplicate version for the next round. Or maybe I have multiple states of the same object. I can't show them all at the same time, so of course some will be hidden in the course of my work. In those cases, I meticulously scour my document for things I absolutely must keep, turn them on, Delete Hidden Layers, and then continue to hide, unhide, move, shake, and do. And weirdly, I feel accomplished. Tidying can do that. Right now: clear your desk. Just shove everything into a drawer. Feels better, right? I can't tell you how many "Desktop Stuff" folders I have on my desktop. (If I did, my IT friends would yell at me. Sorry guys!) It's just human nature to feel refreshed when you remove the superfluous, and only face the important. You know that. I know that. Adobe knows that. Or, uh, they just have a feature where you can clean up your file.
As a human, I naturally want to see metaphors and faces in everything. So of course I want to relate this de-cluttering of "hidden layers" to some part of life. It's not hard to do, really. We all have those voices inside us—the ones giving us doubt. The ones reminding us of that time we said something so stupid we wanted to melt into the floor right there. The ones pointing out our flaws, guiding us to our vices, gnawing at our self-esteem behind the scenes. It's amazing how much easier we respond to negativity—someone more accredited can explain that one to you. Fear drives us to survive, but can also destroy. Nothing new here.
What if we could Delete Hidden Layers in our thoughts? What if we could just remove the layers within us... the ones that we created along the way—byproducts of failure, mistakes, life—and be free of them forever? I'm sure science will find a way to some self-affirming mind wipe eventually. But just as I find Delete Hidden Layers powerful and somewhat dangerous to use, a complete undoing of our thought-clutter might not be the salve it would seem to be. In this metaphor, we might be holding on to some of those hidden parts for a reason.
I'm no psychologist, and there's been plenty written about the deeper meaning of our hidden inner lives. But that which we've hidden could also prove to be a positive force. Maybe we just needed to switch our focus to something else for a time. Maybe we were embarrassed of our success, for whatever reason. Our brains move so rapidly from one thing to the next to the next... It's easy to move on too quickly from a positive thought, or just leave it in the dust with the other hidden layers. Of course there are terrible things we try to hide forever, thoughts that do us actual harm when we remember them, but those are the layers we seek to understand and then throw away. I'm talking about the things we've overlooked, the credit we haven't given ourselves. Our various states we don't display often enough.
My mother is the neatest, cleanest person I know. Growing up, I know it bothered her when I left my room messy for too long, or when I didn't keep my things organized enough. I know because she made me know. Quite a few times, she helped me unfuck my habitat. (Hold up, sorry, I should have explained sooner: UFYH is a system for cleaning and taking care of your space. It's also a blog. Some good soul writes about quick ways to improve your space, and posts motivation for people seeking it. If you post a before-and-after of your de-cluttered space on social media and tag it, they will usually find it and shower you with encouragement. I highly recommend checking out their site, even if you are a cleaning pro. Okay, back to the paragraph at hand!) Once, she re-arranged everything in my room for me... and I loved it. Everything was in its right place. (Cue Radiohead.) She was really, really good at it. Of course, one has to grow up and leave childish dependence on one's parents behind. I was very young, but I knew I would have to take care of myself eventually, that Mom wasn't my maid, that I had to take responsibility not just for my things, but for myself.
That said, I never did fully outgrow my messy, cluttered side. I'm still prone to accumulating a pile of clothes in the corner and filling my desktop with every download, screenshot, and "just need this one here for now" file. Living with other people as an adult—first friends, now a husband—has pushed me to think of Mom and keep things in order. Of course I'm still a mess, but her voice does chime often. I used to think that brand of cleanliness was extreme. But it's deeper than that. When I know what I have on hand and where to find it, I feel in control. So much freer than being in a constant state of fuzziness and disarray.
For me and many others, there's a huge gorge between being so far into clutter (mental or otherwise) and being organized, that even thinking about "decluttering" can be painful. Pulling apart all your drawers, or thinking about every demon you harbor—that's real stress. There's no quick fix. There's no Delete Hidden Layers. There's only getting into the habit of examining one thing at a time. UFYH does an amazing job at motivating people. There are a million self-help authors out there. The KonMari method has exploded. I admit, I've started folding and stacking my clothes vertically. One less thing to think about when I'm choosing which seriously old T-shirt I'm going to wear to bed tonight, right?
Every day I try to do something to make my life clearer, more focused. I don't always succeed. And I do feel badly about it, as many women are conditioned to. Having a partner who cares about all this helps. Having a family to motivate and support you helps. Not everyone has these support systems. Not everyone has fancy online tools or cleaning gadgets. I still feel like I'm only just getting by, and I have many of those things. It's hard work. It's labor. Emotional labor, too. Even clicking on that menu item in Photoshop is stressful, because you can screw it up. But when you do it right, when you do it often enough... it feels, if only for that moment, like you really DO "run the world." Your own, tiny bubble of a world. And those small victories—that's all we really have.