As you know, I’m not usually in the business of writing a lot of how-to type posts. My preference is to share personal stories and lessons I’ve learned – and that is especially true when we’re talking about decluttering. The same way personal finance is personal, what we choose to keep in our homes is extremely personal. I can’t tell you what to get rid of. I don’t know what adds value or what sparks joy for you. I can, however, share some practical tips on how to declutter another aspect of your life: the digital side of things.
In some ways, I think it’s easier to let digital clutter pile up than physical clutter. For starters, it doesn’t cost us (much) money, so we don’t feel bad about it. And since it doesn’t take up any space in our homes, we don’t have to see it when we walk in and out of rooms. In fact, we can choose to ignore it by simply closing our laptops or putting our phones down. However, if you’re someone who spends a lot of time looking at computer or cell phone screens, it will only be a matter of time before the “mess” will stress you out.
While I normally maintain a very clean/streamlined digital life, things got a bit out of control after the dogs died, simply because I stopped bothering. As part of this 30-day shopping ban, I spent some time decluttering and organizing everything, and I realized I have a bit of a system now. I’ve compiled a list of the 10 ways I declutter my digital life on-the-go. Each one usually takes no more than 10 minutes and I typically do this every quarter (if not more often). If it takes you a little longer, that’s ok! At least do the first 10 minutes and get the ball rolling. :)
1. Archive the emails in your inbox.
Open your inbox and get rid of as many emails as you can. Delete the ones you don’t need, archive the ones you want to keep in separate folders and unsubscribe from any lists you don’t want to be on. Don’t worry about the emails you still need to reply to. The goal isn’t to get to inbox zero; it’s to declutter and organize. Consider everything leftover as a to-do list item that you will tackle the next time you open your inbox. And if 10 minutes isn’t enough time for this, still do what you can in that time. It’s better than not doing anything at all!
2. Unfollow retailers on social media.
I used to love following my favourite retailers on social media. It meant I always knew which new products were available and gave me access to all their promotions. Not surprisingly, that also meant I bought a lot of stuff I didn’t need – and never used. I wasted money and potentially created some actual waste, both of which I hate to do. For that reason, I am NOT a fan of following retailers online. If you want to save yourself some money (and some potential physical clutter), open up Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and unfollow all stores.
3. Organize your desktop.
If your desktop screen is a cluttered mess, start the one-folder filing system. Create one folder – the only folder – that will live on your desktop. Name it “Files” or “Projects” or whatever you like. Dump all the files on your desktop into that folder. Step 1 is complete and your desktop is clean. For Step 2, scroll through your files and delete everything you don’t need. And Step 3, create subfolders and organize the files you’re keeping into those. The end result should be a clean desktop with 1 folder on it, which you click on and only see more folders inside.
4. Empty your Documents/Downloads folders on your computer.
One of the reasons I find computers get so cluttered with files is because you can save them pretty much anywhere you want. There are too many options! The three most common places you can save files (on both Macs and PCs) is on your desktop, in your Documents folder and in your Downloads folder. To make things simpler, I’ve committed to only saving things on my desktop. That means I’m constantly emptying the Downloads folder, and I never save anything to Documents. Now that your Desktop is setup better, you can do the same!
5. Delete most of your bookmarks.
I’m not a huge fan of bookmarks. In fact, I think the bookmarks folder in our web browsers is where a lot of links + nice ideas go to die. We save them with good intentions but almost always forget about them. Does that mean I think they are entirely useless? No. I have a few (and I’ll tell you about that next). But my folder is usually filled with a long list of digital clutter. Every few months, I select 90% of them + hit delete. Don’t be afraid to do the same. Google can help you find anything when you really need it!
6. Create a bookmarks folder with the few sites you log into regularly.
As an example, I have a folder of all the banking/investing sites I visit. I find having this folder saves time and energy, especially because I like to delete my browsing history from time-to-time. If you’re someone who forgets passwords often, another option is to sign up for a password manager. I have tried both 1Password and LastPass.
7. Remove unused applications/programs from your computer.
If you’re looking to free up some space on your computer’s hard drive, the easiest thing you can do is remove any applications/programs you’re no longer using. As someone who doesn’t think she downloads new applications very often, I’m always surprised to find I can delete at least one or two when I do this. My rule of thumb is to remove things I haven’t used in 6+ months and/or can’t imagine using anytime soon. Remember to empty the trash after, so you actually free up the space!
8. While you’re at it, remove unused apps from your phone too.
It’s easy! For this one, be realistic about what you actually use and what you think you’d like to use one day. I only keep the apps I actually use. If you’re worried about deleting ones you’ve paid for, remember that payment is attached to your account so you can download them again anytime.
9. Organize the apps on your phone so they fit on one screen.
When you’re done that, spend a few minutes organizing your apps in a way that makes sense for you. Personally, I keep my social media apps in a folder so they are an extra tap away, in an attempt to make it feel like extra work (and perhaps help me spend less time on them). I keep Calm out front and centre, so it’s easy to meditate every day!
10. Go through/delete photos from ONE of the folders on your phone.
I don’t know about Androids, but if you’re an iPhone user, your phone organizes your photos into nearly half-a-dozen separate folders. In some ways, this is great! But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of photos you have on your phone, don’t stress yourself out further by trying to manage all of them – just start by going through/deleting photos from one folder.
At the beginning of my 30-day shopping ban, when I said I had some digital clutter to deal with, the Screenshots folder on my iPhone was a big part of that. I take screenshots with the same intention as when I save bookmarks: to use it one day. But the same thing always happens: I forget about most of them. Earlier this month, I opened my Screenshots folder and found 75% of them were hikes I wanted to do in BC + places I wanted to travel to. Instead of holding onto those photos, I created a Google spreadsheet and typed all the places in (according to what part of BC + the world they are in). I kept the spreadsheet and deleted the photos! This one might have taken 15 minutes but it was worth it.
Just for fun: If you use Chrome and you want to change what you see whenever you open a new tab in your browser, I highly recommend the Unsplash Instant extension. I used to love Momentum, but prefer Unsplash now because it’s much cleaner. And it will only take seconds to install! :)
Do you have any tips for cleaning up digital clutter on-the-go?