Organizing and cleaning up your documents, photos, and inbox can help reduce stress and increase productivity. Our five simple steps help you start cleaning up your digital life.
Several times a year, I feel like cleaning up. Whether it’s spring cleaning or taking the time to file last year’s email, I find it incredibly satisfying to throw away (or sometimes just keep) the things I don’t need. There’s a lot of hippie rhetoric about how clutter-free environments lead to clarity of mind, and I’m not always saying it works for everyone, nor is it guaranteed to increase your productivity, but I’m sure I’m feeling less stressed out and more able to focus when the trash is gone.
Most of us learn from a young age to clean our rooms, tidy our desks, donate or throw away things we no longer need or want, and get rid of our physical things. As adults But many of us have never learned how to do the same with our digital material. It’s no wonder we never learn. Who will teach us? There are not enough generations yet to think about how to do it and teach the next group of youth.
If you enjoy good cleaning and a messy digital life, here are five ways to get started:
- Files on your desktop computer
- Message in your email inbox
- Photos on your phone
- Application on your mobile
- Your open browser tab
Here are some suggestions on how to do it.
1. Clean Your Desktop
Sometimes, we stick to a file on the computer desktop, so it will be in our line of sight and we will remember it. Then, we repeat this behavior over and over, and the principle loses. How can you view and remember files among the cluttered pile of files, all over the desktop now?
View Desktop Files in List View
The easiest way to clean up the desktop is to start by looking at your files in a list, rather than looking at a graphical representation of the desktop itself. In other words, open a Finder window on macOS or File Explorer on Windows. This view makes it easy to see which files are ready to be deleted.
Create Multiple Folders
You don’t have to throw away all your files to clean your desktop. Instead, create a few folders with names like ASAP and PHOTOS to help you sort what you have.
A big tip in this step is not to think too much about the correct classification. Make it easy. Folders for PDF, Photos and Documents can be used. Folders named Work, Personal, Fun, and Old are fine too. Keep simple.
The method I use is to sort files by year. I have one folder for each year, and inside that folder, I have whatever subfolders make sense. So I have a 2020 folder and it has a subfolder called PHOTOS 2020, TAXES 2020, and so on. Putting files into folders is similar to filing them. They are invisible, but I can find them if I need them.
Sort Your Files
Now, using the list view to your advantage, sort your files into folders that make sense. With list view, you can view and sort by file type, date created or last edited, and size. Enable preview options for images, PDFs, and other files if you need to take a quick look before making a decision.
Don’t leave your folders on the desktop. They will only create more visual clutter. Remove it from view but somewhere you’ll remember, like in the My Documents folder or maybe in the file sync folder, like the main Dropbox folder.
2. Empty Your Email Inbox
Ready to dump everything in your email inbox? Not? You are not alone. Many people hesitate to throw away emails because they fear missing out on a million dollar opportunity or important message. Okay, so don’t! Here’s a method for emptying your inbox without throwing away any messages.
Here we can use the same concept we used to clean up the desktop. Get rid of those old emails by moving them into folders.
Create a Year Folder
Create a new folder (or in Gmail, a label) and give it a name for this year and each year in the past, for example, 2020, 2019, and 2018. The reason I love the year folders is that they remove the need to make additional decisions. You don’t have to think about the type of label you need or the placeholder for the email. They practically sort themselves.
Bulk Moving Message
Now, simply move messages in bulk to the appropriate folders, based on the date of the messages. Depending on what email client you have, you may be able to move this around by creating rules. Otherwise, just sort your inbox by date, select all messages in a given year, and drag them to a new folder.
Develop a New Inbox Habit
Now that your inbox is cleared, it’s a good time to tackle email so you don’t end up in a bad place again. If you take a little time to set up some new rules for organizing email and stick to them until they become a habit, you may find that email doesn’t have to be an unmanageable mess.
3. Transfer Photos From Your Phone
Nothing says cleaning like deleting photos and videos from your phone. Almost everyone relies on photos and videos on their cell phones. Deleting them will free up space on your phone, so you can take new photos.
PCMag has a detailed article on how to transfer photos from iPhone (or any smartphone), detailing several options:
- Use a cloud storage service, such as iCloud, Dropbox, or OneDrive (these are usually the fastest methods).
- Transfer photos directly to a computer (using a cable).
- Transfer photos wirelessly to a computer (using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth).
- Physically remove the memory card (not all phones have this option).
- Share images to social media accounts or email.
You don’t have to delete every photo, of course. I recommend keeping copies (not originals, but copies) of dozens of your favorite pictures, including selfies you use for online profile pictures. Having all that in hand is very convenient.
4. Get rid of unused applications
Did you download an app, check it out, and then forget to delete it from your phone? Getting rid of unused apps is one more way to start cleaning up digital clutter from your life, as well as freeing up more space on your phone.
Before you uninstall apps willy-nilly start by backing up your phone; see our instructions on how to back up an iPhone or how to back up an Android phone. Having a backup allows you to restore not only the application, but also any data that is inside that application. In most cases, your data will also be in the cloud account, and they will be recovered every time you reinstall the app, but it’s best if you want to back them up anyway.
To choose which apps to remove, start on the best screen from your home screen. The reason? Your home screen probably has apps that you use all the time, while the most likely screen has apps that you don’t use.
To delete an iPhone app (or an iPad app, for that matter), press or press and hold the app. Select Delete App or wait for it to jiggle, then tap the X that appears. For Android apps, press and hold the app icon until you see the options, then drag over the Uninstall option.
iOS has an option that lets you automatically uninstall apps when you don’t use them often. This particular setting saves data that you create using an application, such as details of your processes in a running application, but it removes the application itself and the memory required to host it. If you want to try this option, it’s located at: Settings> General> iPhone Storage> Offload Unused Apps.
5. Close your Browser Tab
Are you a tab hoarder? Do you leave dozens of tabs open in your browser, confident that one day you will read all those articles or watch those videos? The problem with tab hoarding is that it prevents you from clearing the Internet cache, which you should do from time to time.
There are many solutions for managing redundant browser tabs. However, it’s easiest to mark all your open tabs. This is usually the right option in your browser. All of your tabs will be saved so you can reopen them at any time, but you can close them for now, clear the cache, and start over with a new browsing session.
Make a New Beginning
Few people have good habits when it comes to cleaning up their digital trash, but that’s to be expected. Digital chaos is relatively new. We don’t have many hygiene rules in place yet. Try cleaning your desktop, email account, mobile phone and web browser. This can be as beneficial as cleaning your physical trash.