Declutter your digital life with these weekly, monthly and yearly tips
Ready to live a clutter-free digital life? These expert tips make it easy.
Steve Jobs was a minimalist, and his products reflected his belief in simplicity. The earliest smartphones were intentionally designed to both simplify and enrich our lives.
Yet, while 43% of Canadians choose digital technologies to simplify their lives, modern life can still feel complicated, Simplii found in a 2019 survey of 3,040 adults across Canada. Respondents said that technology sometimes makes them feel anxious.
This comes as little surprise to Effy Nicopoulos, a professional organizer certified by Marie Kondo and trained by the Professional Organizers in Canada and the Institute of Challenging Disorganization. Nicopoulos knows firsthand about the importance of digital organization as the founder of Organize ThatOpens a new window in your browser.. Her company offers professional organizing services in Toronto, the York region and Durham.
“Digital clutter affects people in very much the same ways as physical clutter,” says Nicopoulos. “Not being able to find something in the digital world can be just as stressful as not finding it in the physical world.”
The great news is that it's pretty easy to simplify your digital life. By taking just a few weekly, monthly and yearly steps, becoming digitally clutter-free can be a breeze.
Clean your computer desktop
Nicopoulos likens computer desktops to what's often the command centre of our homes: the kitchen. “If you come home and see stuff all over your counter, it's overwhelming,” she says. For this reason, you should tidy your computer's desktop regularly. Much like the counter, what sits on your desktop should be minimal. The waffle maker you only use once every 3 months belongs in your cupboard. Similarly, the computer documents you don't use daily belong in folders.
Delete unnecessary media, photos and screenshots
Constantly running out of storage space on your phone? You're not alone. The easiest way to combat this is by doing a weekly clean-up of photos, music, videos and screenshots, with a focus on deleting outtakes and choosing your favourites. You can also easily set up your phone to automatically back up to the cloud or your computer on a weekly basis, which safeguards any memories you want to hang onto.
Review and organize your apps
Almost half of the respondents (46%) in Simplii's survey said that most of the apps they download aren't actually useful. Follow the lead of about two-thirds (69%) of Canadians and conduct an “app cleanse” by deleting unused, useless and time-wasting apps. For those you want to keep, make sure they're easy to find. Folders are a popular method, but Nicopoulos recommends using visual cues instead, such as reorganizing by colour. That means that all your apps with blue icons, for example, will sit side by side on your screen.
Curate your newsfeeds
Simplii's survey found that while 58% of Canadians use digital tools to save time, they often end up spending the time they save on more technology. One way to prevent this is by curating your social media newsfeeds to focus on meaningful relationships and messaging that is genuinely useful or positive. “Cull the content that no longer serves you. Interruptions [on social media] cost you time and productivity,” points out Nicopoulos. “It's like having too many tabs open in your brain.” Consider this your official permission to finally unfollow your coworker's sister's Instagram account.
Unsubscribe from junk mail or set up filters so it appears in a separate folder
Junk mail, says Nicopoulos, is one of the main reasons email can overwhelm us. “Our Paleolithic brain looks at a full inbox and goes, ‘All of this must be urgent’ even if it's 90% junk,” she says. Ask yourself: do you really need that newsletter from that electronics store you visited once? Can you sign up to receive weekly digests from the enewsletters you belong to, rather than opting for immediate notifications? Finally, for those lists you want to remain on, consider setting up a filter or mailing rule so your messages arrive to a separate folder.
Back up your phone's media onto the cloud or an external hard drive
If you don't deal with your digital clutter now, it may become physical clutter later. Hands up if you've got a flip phone hidden away in a drawer because it's got photos on it, but you don't have the cords, time or knowledge to get them off. Keeping everything streamlined on the cloud is one way to keep all your important media in one location.
Set up email subfolders
The biggest mistake that people make with email, says Nicopoulos, is either organizing too much, like using too many subfolders, or not organizing at all. There are many ways to tackle this problem, but Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo's method may be the simplest: set up 3 folders for “action required,” “keep for reference” and “keep indefinitely.” Also, keep in mind that your email's default web browser mode may not offer the best system for organization. Third-party software might be a better bet, particularly if you receive messages on multiple accounts.
Clean up your computer's documents
When it comes to documents, consider straightforward naming mechanisms that will make files easy to find. For example, naming a scanned image “Mom gave me this cupcake recipe” may not look pretty, but it's guaranteed you'll find what you're looking for a year from now.
Curate your photos
Yes, we know you've already done a monthly purge, but a further annual declutter can't hurt. Nicopoulos says that when she works with older clients, she's always surprised that they're happy to keep 3 or 4 photo albums of close family and throw away the rest. Choose to keep only your favourite images, because when you're 94, you're probably not going to care about that iguana you saw in Mexico.
Digital clutter may feel tolerable on a day-to-day basis, but taking the time to do a digital cleanse can have a transformative effect on your life. Nicopoulos has clients who say it makes them feel lighter, with the process resulting in renewed mental clarity and energy.
Her advice for people about to undertake their own digital decluttering? Be mindful and intentional about what apps you download and the accounts you choose to follow on social media. “Everyone uses ‘intentional’ as a buzzword, but it really allows you to improve focus, reduce anxiety and reduce stress,” she says.