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Ditch Digital Clutter With These 15 Tips

Feel like you're dealing with too much digital junk? Here's how to organize, back up and delete your way to a cleaner digital existence.

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Organize Your Email Inbox

Keeping on top of your email inbox can seem like an impossible task. In the time it takes to read or delete one email, two or three more pop up in its place. One way to keep things from feeling too overwhelming is to create a few subfolders within your inbox to sort mail into based on importance. Organizing in this way will keep your main inbox less crowded and help you tell the difference between emails that are time-sensitive, emails that are important but can wait and emails that are doing little more than taking up space in your inbox.

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Sort Through Old Digital Documents

Unless you’ve been faithfully sticking to the same proven file-management system for as long as you’ve been using a computer, chances are high that your device’s files and documents are stored in a jumbled mess that makes sense only to you—if that. Schedule some time to go through your old documents and reorganize them logically, deleting any unnecessary and irrelevant files as you go. Just be careful not to delete anything that will be important down the line, like tax documents.

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Offload Unused Apps

Old apps that you’ve gradually fallen out of the habit of using—or never really used in the first place—take up valuable storage space on your phone and create visual clutter. Take an inventory of the apps you’ve downloaded onto your device and delete any you haven’t used in a while. Organize those that remain into topical folders off your home screen, which should host only your most important daily-use apps.

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Organize Passwords and Login Information

Staying truly secure online means having complex and unique passwords for each of your various accounts. Password managers like 1Password help because they generate unique passwords and keep track of them, too. You only have to remember one master password to unlock the password manager, which can then auto-fill all the passwords it’s safely storing for you. Bitwarden is another great option you can use for free!

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Curate Digital Photo Albums

The convenience of having a camera in every smart phone is undeniable, but it also means plenty snaps of moments that aren’t actually worth remembering—or storing, for that matter. To cut down on the amount of photos you have on your devices, regularly back up your photo albums onto a flash drive or SD card, then delete any unwanted images from the device itself. You’ll free up space in your phone’s storage without worry you’ve erased important images.

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Sort Through Digital Music and Movies

Nothing sucks up storage space quite like a massive collection of digital music and movies. Luckily, streaming services take away most of the need to physically store content on devices themselves. But if you’re old school and like to keep things downloaded, consider taking a look at the music and movies in your collection and removing those you rarely revisit, or at least storing them on an external hard drive.

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Create Purposeful Internet Bookmarks

Bookmarks are a convenient way to quickly navigate to your most-visited websites, but only if your bookmark bar is well planned. If you have to look past outdated webpages and expired deals on your bookmark bar to get to those you use, take some time to reorganize. Reserve the main bar for websites you use weekly (if not daily), create category sub-folders for lesser-used links, then delete the rest.

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Defragment Your Hard Drive

Regularly defragmenting your hard drive is a simple computer-maintenance step that many people tend to neglect. “Defragging” is essentially the process of consolidating data on your hard drive into a specific location. Once done, the hard drive can find information more efficiently, creating a smoother and faster experience. Many modern operating systems will automatically defrag your disks as a background operation. If your hard drive does not automatically defrag, you’ll need to instigate a defrag manually. Search online for your specific computer’s defrag instructions.

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Clear Up Your Web Browser Startup

When you open your web browser, does it automatically open a set bunch of websites? While convenient in theory, unless you truly need them all, this is just unnecessarily burdening your browser and internet connection. In most cases, it’s better to set your favored search engine as your one and only homepage. It’ll load up quickly to serve as an excellent jumping-off point from which you can explore the web.

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Email Marketing Lists

Another common way to clog your inbox is by signing up for too many automatic email lists—whether you meant to or not. Even if you’ve got a separate folder dedicated to newsletters and email blasts, the sheer volume that comes pouring in daily can really mess with your productivity. Take a critical look at the email lists you’re subscribed too, considering whether or not each has sent you anything of value recently. Unsubscribe from all lists you’re not truly benefitting from.

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Temporary Internet Files

As you surf the Internet, your browser constantly performs a number of background tasks and processes. One of these is automatically storing, or cacheing files and images from websites, so that it doesn’t have retrieve them from a server every time you load that specific page. While your browser’s cache makes accessing the internet much more efficient, it should also be cleared out every once in a while to ensure you’re accessing the most up-to-date version of your accounts and websites and prevent login or viewing problems. Clearing your cache is quick and easy to do—an online search referencing the browser you use should walk you through the process.

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Check Your On-Device Storage

Find out what’s taking up the most digital space on your phone by checking the device’s storage. (You should find a fairly detailed breakdown like the one above somewhere in Settings.) This will give you a better idea of what types of info to target, such as apps or photos, if you need to free up some space on your device.

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Arrange Your Desktop Icons

Your computer’s desktop (the file location, not the physical space where you put your computer) is a convenient catchall for files and program icons. But if you install enough programs and save enough files, your desktop will start to resemble a chaotic digital collage put together by a third grader. Try and keep your desktop as clear as possible by saving files in their designated locations, deleting unused files regularly and arranging desktop icons in an organized fashion, on just one side of the screen. Designate a little desktop-cleanup time weekly—maybe on Friday afternoons?—to make it a habit.

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Uninstalling Is Not the Same as Deleting an Icon

Speaking of desktop icons: When you want to remove a program from your computer, you may think that all you have to do is delete that program’s icon from your desktop. While this is true for Macs, it’s not for Windows, where the desktop icon is typically a shortcut to the program—not the program itself. To completely remove a piece of software from your Windows computer, you have to go through that program’s specific uninstallation process.

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Prune Your Social Media Feeds

Social media is a powerful tool that can bring people from all over the world together in a way that was impossible just fifteen years ago. But most forms of social media can also very quickly devolve into just another source of clutter, overloading you with information that isn’t useful or necessary. If you’re feeling the effects of that overload, take some time to examine your use of social media and the types of content flowing through your feeds. Cut back on follows that don’t feel good, limiting your feeds to educational and inspirational accounts only. Your brain will thank you.