Reducing clutter in your life is an important and attainable goal, however in our modern age one specific kind of clutter is frequently overlooked during this process and that is digital clutter.
I know some of you are probably thinking "Umm...that can't really be a thing can it? How is it clutter if it's only virtual?" Trust me, clutter does not only come in physical form, and digital hoarding is the new and modern way for those with a penchant for keeping everything to satisfy their instinct while also hiding the evidence quickly, easily and at a pretty reasonable cost.
Seriously though, just because you CAN do it doesn't mean you should do it! Come on now.
So, instead of flooding you with examples and very unattractive pictures of what digital clutter looks like, I'm going to assume that you get the point, which allows me to move right along to offering 3 simple steps that will help you to get back control over your digital space.
If you don't want to end up like those gamers with 3 screens and icons covering all of them, dripping in sweat while searching high and low for a file you promised you'd send someone ASAP, then stick with me.
1. The first step to cleaning up any digital space (step 1 is the same for any space, digital or physical) is to purge.
Go through and delete anything and everything that you can - everything you don't want any more, things you don't use or haven't used in the past year, and even all the things you have sitting around in your digital space that you forgot about or have never even taken the time to glance at. Do you know why you haven't used it, why you haven't looked at it, and why you forgot about it? Because you don't need it, so throw it in the trash and keep movin!
2. The next thing you're going to be doing is categorizing. This process is a lot easier if you start out with a piece of paper where you jot down all of the various categories of folders that you think you'll need for your digital space.
If you're using a desktop for work, maybe your folders will be something like this: "Current Projects, Paid Invoices, Client Information, etc." or maybe you're using a laptop for school and your folders will look more like this: "Literature, Thesis, Graduation". Given the almost endless number of personal and professional combinations here, I could go on forever, but you catch my drift. You're appraising what categories work for you and fit your lifestyle, and then you're writing those down and creating desktop (or mobile) folders to match.
Quick tip: For desktops, start off with large and overarching categories for your desktop so that you don't end up with an icon smorgasbord. You can always create extra levels and subfolders later to give your documents a more refined level of organization, but for now stick to the grand theme. As an example, here are my desktop icons:
- EE Work (this is all the work I do for a particular company and I have subfolders inside)
- Documents (these are all of my personal documents with subfolders inside)
- Business (I have two of my own businesses, so inside of this folder are separate folders for each business and each of those has its own subfolders)
- Pictures (all of my personal pictures with subfolders inside categorized by event and date along with a few misc. cat images that I grab off of the internet because they make me laugh)
- Current Projects (these are the active and/or unfinished projects I'm working on for clients at the moment, categorized inside of subfolders by the project name)
I'm a Mac user so of course I keep my most used apps/programs on the dock with those that are used less often easily accessible through my Launchpad.
Are we ready to move on to #3? Okay, hold in your excitement if you can!
Mini, prep step: Get storage! This next step isn't really a full step by itself, but it's a step that you have to take before getting to the next step...so, it's a mini, prep step? Anywhoodle...
Everything that you've put into categories and folders is the stuff that you want to keep, the stuff you use, and the stuff you think you need. But, what about all that extra stuff that you just couldn't bear to throw in the trash but you still don't want it taking up space on your computer?
Typically this will be the case with old work files that you need to keep for a certain amount of time due to some kind of contractual agreement or just because you may need to refer to them at some point, but it's not something you want in your face every day. It is also fairly common for photos to take up an insane amount of space on your computer, and while it's nice to have them all, they're leeching those MBs right out from under you.
So, you need appraise how much space you've cleared out and now move to getting the appropriate storage for what needs to be stored. Some people like external drives for digital storage, and others prefer a cloud service. There's something out there for everyone!
My favorite solution is an external hard drive, and it's a shame to shell out the cash for one and not get away with at least 1TB. An external hard drive gives you the perfect, cheap, out-of-sight, portable place to toss all that extra clutter that you don't want to look at but might really (seriously) need or want at some point in the future. Think of it as a digital garage, except that you can pick it up and take it to someone else's house any time you want without a problem, so that makes it pretty different from a traditional garage, but you get it right? Yeah, you do.
Western Digital makes a fabulous and very affordable drive that works with both a PC and a Mac. What could be better than that? You can find them here in both desktop and portable versions. You can even use their handy little product picker to find the drive that's right for you. You can grab one at Best Buy for anywhere from $70-$150 depending on size/specifications. Not too shabby!
3. Here is the last and final step! Once you have you external drive or cloud storage set up and ready to go, you can begin the digital "archiving" process which is usually pretty darn exciting! No, it's really not that exciting and it's probably a heck of a lot more like being a librarian with computer files, but once it's all over you'll be thrilled, I promise!
To archive your files I would suggest creating a system similar to the one you created for your desktop files, however I would suggest using more dates for your folder names since these are probably files you won't look at too terribly often. You may come back to them several months from now and not know what the heck "Lake party" means, so starting with "Photos" as your main folder and then moving down through subfolders in a succession something like Photos ---> 2013 ----> July 2013 ----> Lake Trip might make more sense.
Then you can take it from there right? Just keep on going until you've got everything on your drive or in your cloud and once you're done and it's all labeled, you can do the most satisfying thing ever and delete like 900 things from your computer at once. Just listening to the swish sound of the garbage can sometimes gives me chills. Is that normal?
Okay, you're on your own now! Get comfortable, take stock of your digital situation and get to work. Let me know how it goes and what hiccups you encounter on the way, I always love hearing from you!
Want to know how to keep things looking neat and tidy in your digital future? Stay tuned for my next blog where I make app suggestions that will help you streamline, be more efficient, and keep everything coordinated in a digitally masterful way. It won't be that dramatic, but it will certainly be worth reading!