What’s in your digital junk drawer?

Earlier this week, Jeri asked about the junk drawer that’s probably in your home (it’s okay, almost all of us have one). But junk drawers exist in places beyond your cabinets. There’s another one that’s even more covert, and it’s your computer. There’s all sorts of stuff in there, and much of it can be safely tossed away. I’ll reveal what junk is on mine and give you suggestions for how to deal with similar junk on your machine.


There’s a of stuff that is, in the strictest sense, junk on my computer. These items can be thrown away with no negative consequences.

What is it?

  • Old software installers
  • Links to web pages I’ve lost interest in
  • Notes on projects long past

Where is it?

For me, most of the junk is in my “Downloads” folder. That’s where my web browser places items I’ve downloaded. For many of you, the folder is probably on your desktop. For me, it’s a folder in my Home folder. To see where your browser is placing downloads, look at its settings or preferences. Then, get in there, go through what you find and delete anything that’s absolutely unnecessary.

I found some true junk in my email software, too. Now I know that many of you like or even have to keep archival email. Still, instructions to the restaurant you visited three years ago is probably safe to throw away (especially if it was a lousy restaurant). Use you own good judgment when making this decision.

Reference material

Here’s a very popular category for a junk-drawer. I’m talking about information that doesn’t require you to do anything, but might be useful in the future.

What is it?

Almost anything:

  • A summer schedule for the local community theatre
  • Operating instructions for that new radio
  • Information from Jr.’s school
  • Material for a meeting

Where is it?

For most people, this reference material is in your email. I know that a huge number of you use your email software as a filing cabinet. I think this is a bad idea, as I explained in my very first post for Unclutterer (was that really two years ago?). If that’s you and you’re happy – perhaps you’ve got a folder system or a method of archiving/search that works – great. For me, Evernote is my digital filing system. It’s where all of my reference material lives, including user manuals.


Yes, memorabilia can be digital, too. I’ve got quite a bit stashed here and there.

What is it?

  • Photos
  • Pleasant emails
  • Quick videos
  • Scanned sketches from the kids

Where is it?

For me, almost all of the clutter in this category lives in my photo software. You’re probably thinking, “But Dave, that’s what it’s for!” You’re right, and bravo for not piling photos on the desktop or who knows where. But, if you take as many photos as I do, your library will grow unwieldy quickly.

You can keep on top of it by archiving your work. Most computers can burn discs or DVDs and it’s a nice idea to make an archive as the year ends, to be stored away. Just understand that data stored on a CD or DVD won’t last forever, so consider digital storage, too.

An external drive is a good idea, as is a service like Flickr, which gives customers one terabyte of storage. A terabyte can hold a lot of photos. Flickr also lets you tag, categorize, sort and organize to your heart’s content, so that one image you need is easily found.

… and the rest

There’s likely other stuff hanging out your computer that’s prime for more organized storage or outright disposal. Duplicates of files are certainly up for deletion. Occasionally, I’ll find a piece of software I haven’t used in ages, little notes I made while working on an article, images I no longer need and so on. It’s helpful to take an hour or so once in a while to identify and purge this temporary stuff.

Now that you’ve tackled the junk drawer in the kitchen, turn you attention to the one on you’re computer. You’ll be glad you did.

7 Comments for “What’s in your digital junk drawer?”

  1. posted by Kristin on

    I like this! What do you think of dropbox.com as a backup for photos?

  2. posted by dtj on

    I just threw out two cubic feet of old install disks! It’s safe to say that the old Mac OS is not coming back and I can throw out the BBedit 4.x install disks. I felt sad throwing out the Adobe Streamline disk tho.

  3. posted by Liz on

    If you don’t like the cloud method of storing stuff, make sure you back up and have a duplicate set of important stuff offsite (safety deposit box). An extra copy of key items on a flash drive and kept in your emergency bag is also good.

    I’m in the process of switching laptops and I am taking care to transfer only those programs and files that are really needed. Eventually, the old hard drive will be clean. I’m also being more aware of what I am saving on the hard drive vs flash drives.

    I think the hardest task is deciding how to set up your filing system. I’m leaning towards having folders for each purpose (company, groups and personal) and then subfolders, probably by year, and then possibly by even more subfolders by topic. I think that after a while, I can just archive or delete the oldest stuff. It will be interesting to see how long this organization stays!

  4. posted by Liz on

    dtj – I laughed when I saw your comment since I just cleaned out my office closet and I have several boxes of old programs, floppies, and other things sitting in the hallway about to be tossed. I can relate to the sadness about tossing some of the good old programs.

  5. posted by Judy on

    Hi Erin,

    I just read your tweet, and wanted to let you know that I wrote a post on my organizing blog that included a mention of your book ‘UNCLUTTER in One Week’


  6. posted by Laura on

    I recently installed MacPaw’s GEMINI on my Mac. All I have to do is drag a folder into the center of the giant icon and it searches for duplicate files. I have rid myself of almost 18GB in just five to six months.

  7. posted by C.K. on

    I stopped buying souvenirs long ago and made photos my souvenirs.

    Unfortunately, I overdo it with the photos, so now I give my self X number of photos per event.

    If I’ve reached my limit and I see one more thing I just have to take a photo of, I must delete one that I already have. It makes me plan a bit more ahead of time.

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