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Digital Clutter - Are You an Electronic Packrat?

Updated on May 11, 2016
nifwlseirff profile image

Kymberly has managed many chronic illnesses for 25+ years, including sciatica, costochondritis, fibromyalgia, PTSD, endometriosis, and more.

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!

Controlling digital clutter is even harder than physical clutter!
Controlling digital clutter is even harder than physical clutter! | Source

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!

I accumulated a lot of digital clutter from teaching at university and in a community program. These files are now deleted - I don't need them any more!
I accumulated a lot of digital clutter from teaching at university and in a community program. These files are now deleted - I don't need them any more! | Source

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!

Keep your desktop tidy - only keep your most-oft used program icons or links, file and delete the rest.
Keep your desktop tidy - only keep your most-oft used program icons or links, file and delete the rest. | Source

Where do you have the most digital clutter

See results

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

Tip: Check for duplicates every couple of months to keep the doubling-up in check.

Mobile digital data for studying and teaching - video, ebooks, audiobooks and more. I delete these once I've finished with the book/track/video.
Mobile digital data for studying and teaching - video, ebooks, audiobooks and more. I delete these once I've finished with the book/track/video. | Source
  • 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!

Maintenance - a monthly mini-purge & re-organize will keep digital clutter in control.
Maintenance - a monthly mini-purge & re-organize will keep digital clutter in control. | Source

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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    • profile image

      John 8 months ago

      Hi, There is a better tool to find duplicate and similar photos on Windows PC… It even finds them if they are rotated or resized. I think you should try this “Ashisoft Duplicate Photo Finder”

    • Viss profile image

      Vishal Chaudhary 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

      I give you a big LIKE for your efforts on this knowledgeable hub post.

    • profile image

      Alise- Evon 3 years ago

      Great hub. Sure is scary how quickly digital clutter can pile up. It's best to regularly trim down, and not let it get started to begin with, like you say throughout.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I'm sure these tips are great - but I'm equally sure I'll never use them! One of my greatest comforts when I need to dig up long-unused information is the knowledge that "it's in there somewhere!". And delete an mp3 just because I haven't listened to it for a few years - or decades? I know beyond any doubt that within 24 hours of deleting it, I'll have an irresistible urge to hear that music again. Far from being a victim of digital clutter, I consider myself a digital curator. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!

    • Nancy Owens profile image

      Nancy Owens 4 years ago from USA

      I agree. I have too much digital clutter. :0 You have inspired me to keep whittling away at it.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      I do have a problem with digital clutter. My husband helps a lot--he's always decluttering my laptop--but I need to take control myself, as well. These are great suggestions and reminders to spend a little time each day to keep things in order. Thank you!

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 4 years ago

      I must confess I need to read this. I'm guilty as charged and desperately need to clean out the digital mess in my computer. Thanks for sharing.

    • Anamika S profile image

      Anamika S 5 years ago from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India

      Awesome Hub! I am in the process of cleaning up my digital clutter and found a lot of useful tips here. Thanks!

    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 5 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      Thanks Susan - glad to be an inspiration! I've scheduled in a big photo clean-up (of all my old photos and scans), when I have a day free next week (and need to process some newer photos). It's something that's been bothering me for a while now. Have a lovely New Year!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I keep planning on doing a clean up of photo's emails and documents on my computer, laptop and iPhone. I think after reading your hub I'll get to it right now. Thanks for the inspiration and Happy New Year.