Ask Unclutterer: Cell phone cleanup

Reader Erik submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

How do you keep your cell phone uncluttered? I occasionally realize I have contacts I don’t even know who they are or never call and aren’t sure whether to keep or delete them. My text message inbox also fills up quickly and I can’t delete all of them as I like to keep some. Your thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks for all you do!

Oh, Erik, I know your pain. I currently have four cell phone numbers for my friend Stephen, even though he only has one cell phone. So, read this advice knowing that I try to follow it myself but am far from mastering it.

If you regularly sync your contacts between your phone and computer, set the controls to prompt you before merging the data. Even if you don’t have conflicts in the data sets, it’s still a nice opportunity to review the contents of the files.

When entering new contacts into your phone, capture as much data as you can. If the data is incomplete, be sure to enter notes that will prompt your memory. One of the contacts in my phone is “Veterinarian, Dr. Judy.” It’s not accurate, but it serves my needs. I’m not even sure that I would know she was our cats’ vet if I used her actual last name.

As far as deleting is concerned, I vote for doing it whenever you come across someone you don’t remember or no longer talk to on a regular basis. Create an Excel file on your computer of names and numbers that you’re deleting if you’re worried that you’re deleting in error. My thoughts are, though, that unless you are the only person in the world with someone else’s number, you can always find a number again. A quick e-mail to a friend of a friend, or a call to 411 is usually all you need to do.

Unused and irrelevant contact information on your phone increases the chance that you’ll misdial or text the wrong person. And, in my case, it means that I never call my friend Stephen because I don’t remember which number is actually his.

I delete text messages right after I read them if they don’t contain any information I want to reference later. When I sync my phone with my computer, I also have an option to download my text messages. If you have this option, you might wish to consider doing it and getting the messages off of your phone. If your phone is ever lost or stolen, do you really want a stranger or thief to have access to all of your personal correspondence? If you don’t sync your text messages with your computer, you could also take a picture of the text message on your phone’s display. Then, you have the memory of the text message but it’s not taking up space on your phone.

Thank you, Erik, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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22 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Cell phone cleanup”

  1. posted by J(DC) on

    Many smart phones can sync contacts with Gmail. That is what I do on my iPhone. I just manage which contacts go to my phone while online, and clean up whomever I don’t need anymore. If a person is added on my iPhone, it gets sent over to my contact list on Gmail too.

  2. posted by J(DC) on

    I’d also like to add I sync my calendar with Google calendar too….

  3. posted by Rue on

    I go through occasionally and delete contacts out of my phone that I no longer need (such as our realtor after we purchased our house, etc). If I never call or text someone I delete their information as well. However, I do make sure to record the information of friends and family (whom I don’t talk to but would need to call in case of an extreme emergency) in a paper address book I keep at home. This way I have the numbers but they aren’t cluttering up my phone’s address book. If you can sync all your numbers to your computer and delete them from your phone it would serve the same purpose (as long as you are backing up your computer consistently).

    As for the text messages, I personally would just delete them. Sure they are fun times, but if they actually contained info that you need to reference you could jot it down in a notebook or a Word file on your computer. If your phone won’t sync texts as Erin suggested, you could type the texts into a Word doc, save it on your computer and delete them from your phone.

  4. posted by James E. Robinson, III on

    Syncing is definitely key to keeping contacts and calendars clutter free; i also use the setting on my phone to automatically delete text messages after a period of time.

  5. posted by Cole Brodine on

    I have a smart phone that I also since with Gmail and Google Calendar, just like J(DC). I great way to archive text messages is with the new Google Voice service.

    I think it also helps other people organize. Google Voice lets you have one phone number and it will ring all of your phones (house, cell, work, etc). That way people only need to have one number for you and they can reach you on any phone. Google Voice also saves voicemails and text messages so you can archive them and come back later. The interface looks a lot like gmail. It’s invite only right now, but you can get an invite pretty quickly after signing up.

  6. posted by xo on

    i currently use (free) google voice and everything goes through that. i then buy a cheapo prepaid phone ($15 a month) and hook gvoice to that. contacts are the same as gmail. i get text messages, the caller id comes through so i know who they are … but i can call them back through a strange number and area code that is connected to my cheap phone and the service is smart enough to call that person’s number showing i’m calling my gvoice number.

    good: if i lose the phone, no one has the number of my friends. (even if you go through recently called list or my contact list i happen to have on it.)

    bad: every time i change phones, i have to add in my most used contacts as they call me.

    strange: no one (even me somewhat) knows my cell phone number … so if someone calls that doesn’t use gvoice, i don’t answer thereby missing all those important telemarketer calls.

  7. posted by Happy Dogs on

    A tip I got from pet columnist Gina Spadafiori a while back:

    Add important emergency info as a contact on your phone. For instance, a photo of your dog, his microchip number, Vet/Emergency Vet, etc. I’ve extended that to my car — it finally dawned on me to put my Lojack number in there. Brilliantly simple idea, and I can’t imagine why I never thought of it.

  8. posted by Tiara on

    My phone automatically syncs with my work Outlook. Every year in early December, I sync my Yahoo (personal) contacts with the work contacts, and update addresses and phone numbers so I have accurate information in my phone. I also have an archive in my Outlook contacts, where I store old client and friend contacts for a while until I am sure I no longer need them. As I clean up my mail inbox, I also clean up my contacts and archived contacts. I don’t do this as often as I should, but I do it once in a while.

  9. Avatar of

    posted by opadit on

    @Happy Dogs offers some good advice there.

    In my phone’s addressbook, the first alphabetical entry is a person named “AAAAAAAA Please Read Reward If Found” — it contains the name, phone number, and address of my emergency contact.

    I’ve also stuck an address label to the back of my phone. I wouldn’t recommend that for everybody, though, especially if you have some serious privacy concerns. Myself, I’m willing to accept the small risk of a creep finding my phone, because I think the address label increases my chances of a good samaritan returning my phone to me.

  10. posted by jooly on

    How about NOT having a cellphone?

  11. posted by tabatha on

    2nd the not having a cell phone, I don’t have one anymore and I love it. Although I do plan on using a cheap prepaid while traveling. but I don’t do much traveling so its not going to be a big hassle.

  12. posted by Tracy Lee on

    How about uncluttering the cell phone PLAN. I am in the process of (I think) moving my phones from one company to another for a number of reasons, and I hate the menu of options (minutes, text, bundles, smart phones, regular phones, blah blah blah). I have opened the webpage for the new company probably 5x and just give up half way through. Its all noise. I want a good reliable service (with good customer service) that doesnt try to nickel and dime me for everything.

  13. posted by Kathryn Fenner on

    I like the security of having a cellphone. I have the simplest one I can buy–it does have a camera I never use, but otherwise it’s basic. I hate that phones are getting bigger again–I was hoping for a Zoolander phone–a cellphone shuffle, maybe?

    I keep numbers of people when I’d like to know who’s calling, perhaps NOT to take the call.

  14. posted by Ravi on

    I move people who I no longer communicate with anymore to an Archived folder in my contacts – they take up so little data, it doesn’t hurt to have them just in case.

  15. posted by alfora on

    Syncing contacts to your computer is really the key to unclutter your phone.

    If you can then don’t sync every contact but put contacts into groups. Sync only specific groups but not all groups.

    Enter all necessary information for new contacts on the phone. After you synced with your computer, add additional information in the notes and put the contact into the correct group. For example, if you found a nice restaurant on a business trip and would like to go there again with your partner create a new contact with the address and telephone number right away. Even write something into the notes field if you like. When you get home again put this contact into your “Restaurants” group that will not be synced to your phone.

  16. posted by asiji on

    You can also always try googling the number to see if that jogs your memory…

    I have plenty of numbers that don’t have real names: “doctor”, “bank”, “dentist”, “insurance”, etc.

  17. posted by sharon on

    I have been wondering about old contacts too. It was easy enough in the paper days when
    one kept their franklin planners in a binder. I like the idea of a spreadsheet for those old contacts you don’t need but aren’t ready to toss.

  18. posted by alfora on

    I really wonder why so many people think only of spreadsheets when they are talking about contact information.

    What’s wrong with using the address book application that comes with every modern operating system? Just move the old contacts into their own address book, their own group, or mark them as “old” and be done.

    Where is the advantage of using a spreadsheet? You would have to export your contacts into the correct format and import them into you spreadsheet application. For what? So that you have to do the thing in reverse when your “old” contact becomes “current” again?

  19. posted by alfa on

    @ opadit

    I added an e-mail address to mine, so that even if the phone is not on there is someway of contacting me.

  20. posted by Kelly W on

    I don’t sync my cell phone with my computer because I don’t have a smart phone.

    I have a ton of names in my phone and email, and I came up with a system that works for me…. I use letters to remind me how I know people. A=’A list’ or most important people, L=family (because L was my maiden name initial), C=Cambridge friends, NY=NY friends, MD=doctos, R=restaurants (for ordering take out), Z=businesses because they are at the end, etc.

    So my phone will say A-Ashley, A-Dave, A-Evan, A-Jenn, etc. Same with my email!

    I probably delete names once a year. If I can’t remember them with their name AND affiliation to me, then I don’t need their number.

  21. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @alfora — Spreadsheets are great because you can easily export data out of them. So, if you decide to import that data from the spreadsheets into your contacts folder on Outlook, you can select a comma separated values (CSV) export and then map the fields between the two programs. Not everyone uses Outlook, though, so giving the advice to create a spreadsheet makes the suggestion applicable to more people.

  22. posted by Elaine on

    I just went through my cell phone contacts and copied them into my Yahoo contacts. I’ve had my Yahoo address forever and doubt I will ever give it up, so in the unlikely event that I need any of these never-used numbers, they’ll be there. To help me understand what they’re doing in my Yahoo contacts, I created a contact category called “Deletedfromcell.” I also included some notes on what that person’s significance was, in case I forget entirely.

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