How to De-Clutter Your Digital World

What’s the first thing that you think of when you hear the word “clutter”?

I’m guessing it’s probably an image of an overstuffed closet, a filing cabinet that’s overflowing with papers or a garage that more resembles a storage unit.

And while these are all perfectly legitimate examples of clutter and great places to start when you’re finally ready to start purging and downsizing, there’s another area of your home (and your life) that I’m guessing is also cluttered, but may have been flying under the radar up until now.

Your virtual world.

Yes, everything that exists not tangibly, but virtually - on your smartphone, your computer, your tablet and whatever other kind of device you have lying around.

It may seem a little ridiculous at first - the idea that your technology can get “cluttered,” being that the original intent of all these electronic wonders was to make your life easier. But, for many (if not most) of us, it’s true. Even our non-tangible worlds have started to become cluttered too.

So, if yours is… don’t feel bad. It’s just another sign of the times. Everyone’s so busy, so OVER-scheduled, OVER-booked and OVER-stimulated, that it’s really not all that surprising.

You might start out in the beginning with just a few apps on your phone and before you know it, you’re on the highest data plan your provider offers and your phone’s still running slow because there’s just no.more.room.

Well, how about instead of continuing to pay for more data, buying more SIM cards and burning through computers like they were made of paper, you just downsize and de-clutter your digital world and make more room?

Novel idea, right?

So, how does one start this process, you may wonder. How in the world do I “de-clutter” something that I can’t even physically touch?

The same way you do with physical clutter - a little bit at a time.

Instead of trying to dive into every part of every device all at once (which will totally overwhelm you), let’s take them one at a time, shall we? Starting with your computer.

Clean up your desktop.

What’s the very first thing you see every single time you open up your computer? Your desktop. Which makes it a great place to start de-cluttering. After all, why would you want to start out a fresh day’s work by feeling overwhelmed and scattered just looking at the jumbled mess of icons that’s swimming before you?

  Photo from The Computer Tutor

Photo from The Computer Tutor

If your desktop looks like this, I am definitely talking to you.

First, start off by going through all of those icons and getting rid of the ones you don’t need. The whole point of the desktop is to provide easy access to the files, folders and programs you use most often. Not all of them. You can still keep copies of all your other files in appropriate folders under “My Documents.” But, the icons on the desktop should only be to the things that you use regularly, in order to save yourself a little time.

Then, after you’ve deleted or moved any icons that you don’t need, organize the ones that are left into groups. For example, on my computer, I have all of my program icons in the upper left corner of the screen, links to frequently used PDF’s or presentations in the lower left, all of my work files (like logos, media kit, fonts, etc.) in the upper right and a couple of frequently used URL shortcuts in the lower right. Which leaves plenty of room right smack in the middle for an inspirational quote. ;)

The point though is that I know right where to look when I need something. Instead of searching all over the entire screen, my eyes know right where to go, depending on what type of file or program I’m looking for.

I do this just simply by clicking and dragging the icons into groups. But, you can also use a free program like Fences to organize them into shaded boxes like this:

  Photo from Stardock.com

Photo from Stardock.com

Go through your folders and files.

After you’ve cleaned up your desktop, it’s time to do the same thing in your files. Now, this could take some time, depending on just how much you’ve let accumulate. But, it will be well worth the effort because 1) you’ll be able to find things easier and 2) your computer will be all, “ahhh… finally!

There’s obviously no “magic” method to this part, it’s pretty straightforward. Just go through all (yes, all) of your files, delete the ones you no longer need and organize the ones you do need into logical folders. Then, make sure to do the same thing with your programs and your photos & videos.

Now, I know… for some of you, the photo part alone could take a year. But, that’s why you need to make the time to do it. Besides, what good are the photos doing anyone just taking up space on your computer? If you want to enjoy the photos, then enjoy them! Make prints of them for displaying, put them into a digital frame, send them to Shutterfly and make a coffee table book! Just do something with them other than bog down your computer. (P.S. Like I always say when I’m teaching how to de-clutter physical photos too… it’s not illegal to get rid of them even though it may feel like it somehow is. I promise, you can do it.)

Clean out your bookmarks.

Another area of your computer that can easily get cluttered without you even realizing it is your bookmarks on your web browser. I know at least for me personally, I had such a loooong list of things saved to my bookmark list that it actually defeated the purpose. Because, by the time I scrolled through all of them to find something, I could’ve just typed the URL in my browser.

And those things that I saved because I thought I’d forget about them and this way, I’d go back and look at them? Yea… didn’t happen.

So, while you’re in uber-cleaning and de-cluttering mode, why not hop over into your bookmark list and do some straightening up there too? Delete the ones that you no longer need to keep, move the more important bookmarks to the top of the list (you can do this in the bookmark manager on Google Chrome) and get rid of any duplicate bookmarks (because you know you have some of those!).

Get rid of any “extensions” that you don’t use.

Extensions are another thing that may have cluttered up your computer, particularly your web browser, without you even noticing. If you’re not sure what I mean by “extensions” (then you probably don’t have any), they are the little icons that you can install to appear on the top bar of your web browser, so you can easily access other apps or sites. For instance, you can install a Pinterest extension so you can easily pin an image from any page. Or an Evernote extension so you can easily clip things to your online notebooks.

For the most part, they are a handy thing to have. If you use them. Otherwise, they are just another string of useless icons taking up space and making your computer appear more cluttered than it needs to.

So, take a few minutes and uninstall any extensions that you don’t use on a regular basis. And the bonus that might come out of this - you’ll actually remember that you have them in the first place and start using the ones that you keep!

Repeat all of the above on your tablet.

If you have a tablet, then you can de-clutter it by following all of the same steps above.

Go through all of the icons/apps on the various screens and get rid of any that you don’t need. Move the most frequently used ones to the home screen. And then, go through all of your files, folders, photos and videos. You won’t have to repeat the process with your bookmarks and extensions if you use the same browser as on your computer. But, if you use some of the standard functions on an iPad like the Safari reading list (and you use a different browser on your computer), then you might want to de-clutter that while you’re at it too.

De-clutter the apps, photos and contacts on your phone.

Once you’ve de-cluttered your computer and your tablet, you can do the same thing on your phone (see… you had more virtual clutter than you thought, didn’t you?). Same rules apply… get rid of apps you’re not using, any files you may have downloaded to your phone, photos and videos you don’t need to keep and an extra step for the phone - go through your contact list too.

Yes, you may have once thought that it would serve a purpose to be able to keep the number of every person you ever knew. But, there’s something awfully empowering about realizing that there are some people that are just not a part of your life anymore and that’s okay. So, take a few minutes and scroll through your contact list too and delete any that you no longer need to keep.

Clean up your social media.

If you thought virtual de-cluttering was just about your devices, it’s not. In fact, while it’s important to keep those spaces “clean” and efficient, I personally think this last part is even more important.

Cleaning up your social media.

Not only can your social media channels easily get cluttered up with a bunch of people you don’t even know, but it can also end up being harmful to you.

You can be having a perfectly A-OK kind of day, when you decide to scroll through your social media and before you know it, you’re in a heated argument over someone’s Facebook post or you’ve dipped into a deep depression because everyone’s life looks “better” than yours on Instagram.

So, instead of worrying about how many followers or likes you can accumulate, why not flip the script and make sure the ones that you do have are people that you really want to connect with? That means getting rid of all the random people you may have friended or followed because you once sat next to them at a meeting or they were your 6th grade biology lab partner. It also means un-following people whose content you know is upsetting or disrespectful. If you once followed a company because they were having some kind of sale but you haven’t shopped there in 3 years, un-follow them too.

It’s about streamlining your feeds to the people you really do care about and the things you really do enjoy. (Hmm… why is this starting to sound similar to talking about physical clutter?)

And lastly, if you’re feeling EXTRA brave… why not go a step further and get rid of some entire social media accounts that you really don’t need? And by “don’t need,” I mean either that you never use it or that you shouldn’t really be using it.

If you never use Twitter anymore, get rid of it. If you’re obsessed with Facebook and check it 24/7, dare I say… get rid of it? Or at least cut back. Take a break, do a 30 day fast from it. See how you feel without all.that.stuff. (I got rid of my personal Facebook profile nearly five years ago and don’t miss it one bit!)

The point with all of this is the same as with downsizing and de-cluttering your physical possessions - to get control back over your life. To stop feeling like you are always stressed, tired, anxious, depressed and overwhelmed. To stop feeling frazzled and scatterbrained because you can’t find what you need.

Most of all, the point is for you to feel some freedom and empowerment from getting rid of the stuff you don’t need. In all areas of your life.

Because after all, you should be spending less time in your virtual world and more time in the real one anyway, right?

Until next time, keep your worries tiny and your dreams BIG!

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