Your desk may be clean right now, but what about your computer? Decluttering your computer files is definitely an important task to keep up with. If you haven’t done it in a while, you may find your computer running painfully slow, and it may be difficult to find much-needed files. Here are a few tips for spring cleaning your computer, including your online life.
Email: Set aside a block of time each day to answer emails, then delete the original message or file it. Use an “in-progress” folder, follow-up flags or other visual reminder for emails you can’t answer right away. Delete or file read messages so they don’t clutter your Inbox. A lot of organizing gurus will tell you to shoot for the Zero Message Inbox, but I’ve never been able to get there. If you have multiple email accounts, think about forwarding them all into one place so you don’t have to check multiple Inboxes.
Email Spam: Unsubscribe from newsletters, sales notifications, unnecessary Facebook or Twitter notifications that you no longer need. I got tired of hitting “delete” so much every time I checked my messages, so I started making generous use of the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of most emails. It takes only a few seconds by clicking the “Unsubscribe” link on the bottom of the email, and it’s a relief to have a cleaner Inbox. I also love using the Pulse News app on my iPad to keep track of favorite blogs and web news instead of having posts emailed to me.
Old Contacts: Delete contacts that are no longer needed and update contacts as new information becomes available. Whenever I get a message from a friend who’s changed their email address or other contact info, I fix their contact card right away and delete the message. Sync your online address books so that you have the same information across all of them.
Browser Bookmarks: This is one I have to do every few months — delete bookmarks that you no longer use. I bookmark a lot of sites to remind myself to check them out later, so frequent weeding is necessary. For the bookmarks I want to keep, I use folders to sort them into groups so I can find what I want easier. If you use multiple devices, enable the “sync bookmarks” features to keep them all clean and organized consistently.
Cookies and Temporary Internet Files: A cookie is a small file of info saved by your web browser that saves information unique to you and your browser history. A huge portion of targeted advertising comes directly from these cookies. Cookies can be deleted under your browser’s preferences menu. I like to keep my browsers set to automatically dump cookies each time I quit out, so I never had to worry about manually deleting them. Likewise, Temporary Internet Files can and should be deleted regularly to save space and give your browser a little more security and privacy.
Documents: Ruthlessly delete any old documents you no longer need and that you don’t reference regularly. Files you don’t want to delete can be archived so they’re “safe” but no longer “in your face.” I archive most of my old design work and client files on a separate external hard drive, so I still have them but I don’t need to see them. Article drafts can be deleted once the articles are published. Files that need to be kept are organized in folders in a virtual “file cabinet” of sorts, organized exactly the same way I would organize a paper cabinet. I also highly recommend you have a system in place for backing up your computer files — it’s heartbreaking and frustrating to lose files due to countless possible computer failures.
Old Software/Programs/Apps: Another one I do regularly. About twice a year, I hit the “Uninstall Program” section of the Windows Control Panel and get to work. Now that a lot of software can be run from the Cloud, a lot of old standy-bys just aren’t needed anymore. Same goes for my iPhone and iPad — I download a lot of apps to try, so it’s important to weed them out regularly.
Desktop Icons: I dislike having a cluttered desktop, so I always try to keep it as clean and streamlined as possible. The dock makes this easy since you can store mini icons of your favorites programs. Files and folders need a real home in your virtual file cabinet, so don’t leave them scattered all over the desktop.
Photos: I have a lot of photos. A lot. Streamline your photo folders by ruthlessly deleting bad photos and keeping only the ones that you would consider “album worthy.” I do my deleting as I’m importing from my camera cards — if I don’t do it right away, I’ll never get back to it. It’s helpful to organize photo folders by year, with interior folders for each month. Set up “event” folders inside each month to further organize photos. So in your 2012 photo folder, you’d have a December folder that has separate folders for “Christmas morning,” “School Christmas program,” “New Year’s Eve,” etc.
Music/Movies: Another area I have a lot of files, particularly because I love listening to audiobooks in the car and while I do housework. Every few months, I go through my iTunes library and delete songs, movies and other media I no longer want, and I archive audiobooks I may want to listen to again. Digital media can take up a lot of room on your system, so be stingy about your space and only keep the stuff you really want to listen and watch again.
What are your best tips for decluttering your computer? Have you found any software that makes the task easier?