10 Ways to Declutter Your Digital Life in 10 Minutes

10 Ways to Declutter Your Digital Life in 10 Minutes

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.

10 Ways to Declutter Your Digital Life in 10 Minutes

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!

 10 Ways to Declutter Your Digital Life in 10 Minutes

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?

  • So many good tips! Unfollowing retailers was a big one for me. I already struggled with compulsive shopping, I didn’t need to be ‘sold’ to when I was just scrolling through my feeds.

    Organizing the apps on my phone into folders has also been very helpful. Visual clutter creates a lot of anxiety for me, and this helped solve (part) of the problem!

    Thanks for sharing your real-life tested tips!

  • I love these suggestions! I started using organization desktop wallpapers, and it’s been awesome. It has a section for files, programs, etc. I can change the labels with a quick spin in Paint, too.

  • I need to employ a few of these tactics!

    I have also worked on unsubscribing from retailer or other random company emails. I will often get on a list (for a company I have no interest in!) and receive daily emails… cluttering my inbox and causing me frustration. Unsubscribing helps to reduce the unwanted emails and allows me to focus on the emails I am interested in.

  • Very handy list Cait. The digital clutter builds up so fast! It’s a good idea to have a quarterly run through of it all. Had a smile on my face when I read about bookmarks – where “nice ideas go to die”. So true!

  • Love this! I’ve been working hard on this during my leave. It wasn’t until I changed my phone screen background to something I love (baby!) seeing that I really got motivated to ditch a bunch of apps. I even let my folders get clutter-y. Thanks for the other ideas!

  • 10 minutes: cleared off my PC desktop, deleted desktop duplicates (shortcuts of shortcuts??), deleted downloads, deleted unnecessary files/articles/shortcuts. I already delete history regularly. My bookmarks bar needs to be organized better, and yes, about 80-90% will be deleted. That project is for later today. My Android phone – I’m better with that, and it will only take a few minutes to uninstall a few silly things I thought I’d like/use. I’m finally learning to be more organized at home, now that I’ve been retired for 9 years! Somehow home was my relax-messy place. I clean off my desk once a month down to the two projects I’m working on – I’m a genealogy consultant, as well as a fiction writer. And since I’m poor enough I’m living in a small basement suite in Vancouver, with inadequate storage, no money, and a must-make-do mentality, it’s perhaps a bit easier to be better organized now. Thanks for all the great tips, Cait!

  • All great tips, Cait! Thanks for sharing. I don’t use all that many visible bookmarks in my Chrome browser (maybe about 5 of the most frequently used ones). That said, however, I do have many many bookmarks all of which I maintain in a large excel spreadsheet. There I save the site hyperlink urls along with a few words of brief description or comments for each. Whenever I wish to access one of these bookmark sites I then simply open my excel file and ctrl / click on the desired bookmark to invoke the site in a separate browser tab.

  • these are all great tips and i’ll try some of them. i’m not a big fan of putting folders on desktop, it’s better to put a shortcut on it or better yet in the toolbar! i say this because if something happens, we lose all the data saved on desktop, even if it’s inside a folder.

    i keep a single folder on ‘documents’ and then put the shortcut of my folder in the toolbar. quick, safe and easy. ;)

  • Good tips, thanks. The phone thing is big for me. I want to pick it up and use it as a phone, and mostly for (semi-) emergencies like, “I’m lost! Am I supposed to turn left or right to get to your house?” So it was easy to declutter that. The laptop, not so much, but I’m working on it!

  • Brilliant! Can I add one more, from a fellow digital clutter fighter? There are apps for smartphones that scan through your photo albums and find all the duplicate or super/-similar photos from when you took a batch. Then you can ask it to delete all the spares! So much quicker than doing it manually and makes heaps of space in your library!

  • A tip that I read recently was to create a folder on your phone and put all of your apps into it. Save it to your dock at the bottom and then just use the search bar when you want to use an app. Not only did this clean up my phone (my dock at the bottom has the one folder plus phone, messages, and my camera), I find that I don’t browse social media mindlessly. Having to actually type in “Instagram” or search through all of my apps is enough of a barrier to limit my use.

    I really need to get over saving screenshots and emailing articles that I like to myself. I want to be all zen about it and just believe that when I need something, it will come to me and then I can move on. But things like pinterest, email, and screenshots have made it so easy to just save and save. There’s no way I can ever get around to all that inspiration in my entire lifetime! Before Pinterest, I used to bookmark everything. One day I just deleted all of them and I have NEVER once thought to myself, “Man I wish I had that xyz bookmark to look at!” My one caveat would be recipes. I actually refer to my recipe board on Pinterest and make the recipes weekly.

    I like that you don’t always do the hack-type articles, but I think you do a good job of breaking tasks down and I learn a lot from you. You seem to have a knack for finding solutions to problems like decluttering or spending too much money. I tend to recognize the problem and then spend so much energy trying to solve it that I somehow don’t have any left to actually put the solution into place. :)

    • yes! that is what I read to and put it into practice. all my apps on my phone into one folder..and i swipe over one screen to get to the search bar. I love it. now to work on a single folder for my desktop and emptying out my computer’s downloads and documents folders!

  • Hi Cait, Notice you have pictures of the pups on your phone. On our iPhone and iPad, and yes, I have too many pages of apps — think three plus the one extra — I have one extra page with one app on it. Our iPad has a picture of our son’s two pups at Crissy Field in San Francisco. Love those pups and the Retriever just very recently passed away. I look at that picture every time I use the iPad. Our phone has our two fur kids on it. Same one extra page with one app. Just a thought. As always, thanks so much for all you share!

  • Cait, First of all – the Unsplash Instant plug-in: HOL-EE SHIT! I love it!

    Okay, also this list is awesome. I really need to start doing some of these things. I definitely feel a bit overwhelmed at times by the content, constant media, and digital clutter. You and the Happy Philosopher have really put media consumption into my brain – really need to cut back. Saving this list for sure.


  • I love the unsplash extension. Thanks for the other great tips. Getting my docs and downloads to zero would be miraculous! I really like the folder for social media suggestion from Mary, too.

  • On my Android I keep only four additional apps on my homescreen, the ones I truly use each day, several times a day. Email, Calm, Rainy Mood, and MTA Bus Time. Everything else I keep in one APPS folder. Like you, I have to click through extra steps. It makes me more aware of how much I am using my phone and for what purpose. I have learned I would rather directly experience life and the world around me instead of always whipping out my phone to take pictures. Making it harder to get to the camera makes me think about why I am doing it in the first place.

    Keeping the homescreen clearer lets me enjoy the photo of my meditation altar that serves as my background. It’s a soothing, calming sight that makes me pause and take a deep breath throughout my day.

  • Argh – this drove home the point that I’m good at some of it, but terrible at the rest!
    – I love my bookmarks, especially as a lot of them are related to recent interests. There’s just so much to do, not sure when I’ll get to all of them
    – My inbox is a mess. Gave up on inbox zero a long time go – the first time I did it, it lasted like 5 minutes!

    Next (Baby) steps for me:
    – Delete photos from ONE folder
    – Remove unused apps
    – Empty most of my downloads folder (or move them elsewhere)

    Thank you for the list! I’m almost tempted to save this as a bookmark…

  • I highly recommend an app called Unroll.Me – it helps you manage your email subscriptions. It makes it really easy to see every single list you’re subscribed to and to unsubscribe if you want, and it also tells you whenever you are added to a new list without your choosing (which seems to happen a lot more often than I thought). Also, you can choose to get all your mailing-list emails in one batch, every week or every day, rather than in separate emails. Basically, it has hugely reduced the amount of emails I receive. It’s free, easy to use and it’s a “quiet” app…by which I mean it doesn’t demand a lot of your attention.

  • Thank you Cait, you’ve struck a chord. For someone who prides herself on living a simple life I fail miserably on the tech side of things. Like you say, you don’t see the clutter so it doesn’t beg for action.
    You’ve given us a wonderful place to start. Thanks again :)

  • I would confirm this, but I have been told by a computer person NOT to save things on the Desktop. He said that items on the Desktop are not backed up to services such as Carbonite. It would be interesting to research this further.

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