Clean up your digital clutter

If you find yourself struggling under mountains of paper piles, you might also be yearning for the day when those piles are replaced by digital files that are easily searchable. That will mean less time sifting through documents and you’ll be able to find what you need quickly.

But, though it may seem that clutter is only attracted to the physical things you own, it can also creep into your computers and make a mess of your digital files. As Leo Babauta put it, “there are costs to such packrattery.” Whether you’re storing lots of photos, music, or documents on your devices, if you don’t have a system for easy retrieval (just like with your paper files), you’ll likely spend more time than necessary looking for the items you need. And, if you have an influx of files that you don’t use anymore, they will take up a lot of space and make your processor seem like it’s running on molasses.

To begin the digital clean up process, start by …

Purging duplicate files

Have you ever bought something only to discover that you already had it? Most likely, you just didn’t see the original or know where to find it, so you went ahead and got another one to replace it. Duplicate files can be like that, too. When you can’t find the file you want, it might seem easier to just download, recreate, purchase or somehow duplicate what you already have. You will then end up with multiple copies of the same thing, which can make using your laptop or PC more complicated than it needs to be. And, like unnecessary multiples of anything, they will consume space that could be put to better use.

Immediate actions:

  • If you find documents with the same name followed by numbers in parenthesis, like XYZ.doc(1) and XYZ.doc(2), they’re likely to be the same document that you’ve downloaded several times. Use Duplicate Cleaner, Easy Duplicate Finder, Double Killer, or Tidy Up (for Mac) to remove multiple copies of the same files.
  • Schedule purging sessions at regular intervals (once/month, once/quarter) to remove your duplicates.
  • Start tagging your files with names that are easy for you to remember, and consider using the same structure (e.g. YearMonthDay_filename.extension, 20121024_digital.jpg). Before downloading or saving a new file, use the search feature on your PC or mobile device to ensure you don’t already have it.

Remove programs on your mobile devices you no longer use

Grab your smart phone or tablet. How many apps are on the home screen? How many do you use on a regular basis? If there are apps that you no longer use or like, it’s time to give them the boot. Keeping them on your device eats up space, may slow down your device, and stop your phone from being backed up. In my case, I had too many pictures (along with some apps I didn’t use anymore) stored on my iPhone and iCloud declined to run the backup. After reducing them, the backups resumed.

Immediate actions:

  • Starting with your home screens, remove your unused apps.
  • After purging, take a few minutes to arrange the apps in a way that makes sense to you.
  • iPhone and Android users (with Apps Organizer) can group similar apps together in one folder (music, finance, games, productivity, etc).

Organize your contacts

Digital contacts, like business cards, can linger around long after they’re useful. This is another area that duplicates can creep in, so look through your contacts list to remove them.

Immediate actions:

  • Delete duplicates and update contacts with current information.
  • When possible, separate your personal and business contacts.
  • Keep your address book organized with programs like Google Goggles or Evernote Hello.

Cleaning up the clutter on all your devices may take a bit of time up front, but once you begin the process, maintenance will be easier. You’ll also immediately notice how much easier it is to locate specific information and you’ll have more room for the programs and files you need.

5 Comments for “Clean up your digital clutter”

  1. posted by Dusty @ Wine Logic on

    Organizing my gmail into folders and keeping my inbox constantly clear has literally added about 30 minutes more work I get done every day. Now if only I could stop checking facebook…

  2. posted by infmom on

    Oh yes. My very first hard drive had 32 megabytes of space. That’s not a typo. I learned right from the get-go never to use my hard drive for dead storage. Even today when I’ve got a terabyte in the computer and two more on the desk, I still regularly remove everything that I’m not using on a regular basis. I either delete it for good or I move it to DVD storage just in case I might want to see it again. (So far I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened, so this past summer I went through my whole data-DVD collection and saved maybe 1/10 of what was on them before I ran them through the shredder.)

  3. posted by Mags on

    Very timely, thanks. I’ve just be asked to start things moving in decluttering and streamlining a shared drive at work with a team of 16 people and files, some we may need going back to 2000. Any ideas?

  4. Avatar of

    posted by klutzgrrl on

    I’ll one-up you on the 32 meg, infmom – mine had a 2kb ROM and a cassette tape drive.

    Some good tips here. For Linux there’s a program called FSLint – Filesystem Lint for dealing with dupes.

    Mags: my sympathy. Good luck with that one. Perhaps put everything in an archive folder, then move them into your new file structure as they are used. Consistent, logical filenames are important – make sure everybody is on board going forward. I find sorting by things like date, file type, last modified can be useful. I’m tempted to suggest some kind of bulk file handling, but that can be risky. Depends on what sort of documents you’re using too. If images are linked rather than embedded in publications, it can be timeconsuming to fix.

  5. posted by Carolyne on

    Dvds are not reliable long-term – you may be better off with a second external hard-drive (or perhaps even a usb flash drive if it’s a v.small amount of data) and/or cloud storage for your backups.

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