Digital Clutter - Are You an Electronic Packrat?
Are you a digital hoarder?
How many hours have you spent sorting through or looking for something within your digital collections?
If you are like most people, you'll have bunches of:
- website bookmarks
- emails and chat transcripts
- e-books and audiobooks
- digital music and podcasts
- documents and recipes
- photos and videos
- programs and applications
Digital collections take up so much less physical space, that they quickly become amazingly cluttered.
But this clutter doesn't usually bother us so much as a collection of physical stuff - it's not visible or tangible. However, it does have an impact on our time and sanity!
A digital packrat
With huge collections of digital photos, MP3s and podcasts, e-books and sheet music, email, bookmarks, and scanned documents (from my move to a mostly paperless home), I feel I am drowning in electronic clutter.
I certainly have pack-rat tendencies, but I overcame the physical clutter before I moved overseas in 2010. Recently, I went looking for ways to get my digital clutter under control.
This is what I found!
The cost of digital clutter
Digital clutter wastes space
The space may be on a hard drive and hard drives may be cheap these days, but when you continually need to buy more space (and space for backup), the costs can add up quickly.
Plus more electricity is needed to use the extra or more-power-hungry hardware!
Digital clutter wastes time
A huge file collection, too many programs, large photo and music libraries, and large browser caches can also slow your computer down significantly.
How often have you gone searching for an important document or mail for work, knowing for sure that it's 'somewhere' on your computer?
You can spend hours searching and sorting your files, music, photos and ebooks, distracting you from doing other important tasks.
Digital clutter wastes emotional energy
It is quite demoralizing to see no physical change, after a day spent re-organizing your hard drive!
How to clear the digital clutter
Just as most de-cluttering approaches recommend going by room or by 'category', it's easier to purge the digital junk when you work on groups of similar digital 'things'.
- Spend 30 minutes a day to purge the digital clutter, and get your digital life back in control.
- After you have simplified your digital collections, spend a little time every 1-2 months to keep the clutter-creep under control.
1. Get rid of unused programs and applications
Have you downloaded a bunch of extra programs or applications, used them once or twice and then never again? I definitely have!
These often take up the largest amount of hard drive space.
Tip: Before deleting the programs and applications, check to see if you need to store or export any data.
Don't forget to purge unused apps on your mobile devices too!
2. Delete duplicates
When you can't find a file that you downloaded and created, do you download or recreate it?
Duplicate files can make searching for information much harder - which version is the correct, most up to date version?
Occasionally I've made a mistake and imported photos from my camera twice. This was made worse when an iPhoto upgrade duplicated my entire library - goodbye disk space!
Luckily, there are many tools available for most operation systems that automatically find duplicates. However, do go through the list and manually delete the duplicate files, because these applications can make mistakes!
Recommended duplicate finding programs
- Duplicate Cleaner (Windows) - Free and paid versions available.
- Easy Duplicate Finder (Windows Mac) - Trial version available.
- FSlint (Linux) - with both GUI and command line modes.
Tip: Check for duplicates every couple of months to keep the doubling-up in check.
- Digital recipes: If you don't plan to cook a recipe, don't keep a digital copy. It's easy to find equivalent recipes on the net using Google.
Only save the recipes you love and you will re-use over and over again.
- Email: Delete promotional mail, newsletters and mailing list emails as soon as you have read them. One step further - unsubscribe from newsletters and mailing lists, spend less time in your email!
Old mails from jobs (or relationships) that you have left many years ago - delete them.
Throwing away these old unnecessary ties gives you a strong sense of emotional freedom.
Tip: Contact lists and social network friend lists can also be cut down to only the important people you want to stay in contact with.
- Documents: Save digital copies of important documents - tax and medical information, certificates, etc.
Unless you need to prove a development track, delete earlier versions of completed and finalised documents.
- Cache / Trash: Clear the cookies, cache and browsing history - your browser will run faster! Clear out the recycle bin / trash regularly.
3. Purge unwanted data
- Digital photos: Too many blurry, poorly lit or badly composed photos? Delete them!
My pro-photographer mentor advised me to delete the blurry or poorly shot photos before importing, and keep only the best after processing!
I wish I had heard this advice when I first got my digital camera - my photo library is currently almost unmanageable.
- Digital music: Don't like some of the MP3s you imported? Have a huge collection of podcasts that you don't have time to listen too? Delete them!
- Ebooks: Don't collect ebooks for the sake of 'completeness', or just because they were free. If you don't like an ebook or audiobook, or never plan to read it, delete it!
Tip: GoodReads is a useful site where you can track what you have read - check your list before re-downloading a book you hated!
- Bookmarks: Websites quickly go out of date and disappear. Every couple of months go through your bookmarks or favorites list, and delete any links that are broken, or that you don't refer to regularly.
Tip for Hubpage authors: Every few months, check for and delete duplicate images in your photo collection. I often find I upload a photo, but then don't feel it works. If I don't delete it immediately, it clogs up my photo album!
Digital diets - good for sanity!
4. Clear up your online presence
Social networking is becoming necessary for business, as well as a good way to keep in touch with friends and family members.
- Keep work and personal social circles as separate as possible.
- Minimize your friends lists to those you want to stay in touch with.
- Purge unused apps and leave groups that you aren't active in.
- Delete accounts on websites and forums that you don't use.
5. After purging, organize your data
It's easier to organize a smaller collection of data, than to organize the lot, then delete. So, purge and declutter first, then organize.
Set up a system for storing your information, and stick to the system when any new files, photos, music, etc. is added to your collection.
- Keep work and personal files and contact information separate.
- Use a consistent naming scheme for both folders and files - it makes finding information much easier.
- When a new file is created or imported, store it in its place immediately - don't just drop it onto the desktop.
6. Regular maintenance
Spend some time each month (or each week if you accumulate digital clutter quickly) to do mini-purges, sort data into their appropriate folders and avoid your digital collections from becoming overwhelming once more.
Tip: Put a reminder into your electronic calendar, if you are prone to forgetting or procrastinating like me!
One step further - electronic physical clutter
As a change of pace from purging digital clutter, sort through your physical electronic clutter as well.
- Throw out broken cables and equipment.
- Sell or donate old devices and technology when you upgrade. You most likely will never look at the old gadget again!
- I find cables to be a never ending problem - every device has a charging cable, USB cable, or more. Keep them in control with velcro strips or cable ties.
Have you overcome digital clutter?
If you have successfully overcome and controlled your digital clutter, we'd love to hear about it!
Please let us know your tips and tricks in the comments below!
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