Declutter Your Digital Self
You’ve freed up your closet, emptied out your drawers and your desk is cleared off - all but for that lone MacBook. You’ve taken on this decluttering thing pretty hard and your new space shows it. What now? Did you just finish minimalism? Don’t even try because there’s always another layer.
When I got to this point in my own minimalist journey, I went on to the next logical step. I moved on from material things to the intangible things in my life, the most prominent being digital junk.
As the years pass, technology is increasingly creating another realm of human existence. It can be hard to touch the firmament, but I always feel it when I clear old files from my computer, mainly because it’s the exact feeling I get from decluttering physical objects.
Open that laptop on your newly spartan desk and start in on that next layer of simplification. Here’s a few tips that might help.
1. Back up your files first.
Eager as you may be, ease off that keyboard before you get a bit Ctrl + D happy. The very, very first thing you should do before decluttering your files is invest in a quality external hard drive. I recommend Western Digital and LaCie. Back that shit up. Storage is only getting cheaper and there’s no reason that the average person in 2016 shouldn’t own an HDD as a reliable backup. Once you know you’ve got an extra copy of your computer somewhere, you can start deleting things with peace of mind. I actually keep most of my old project files on my hard drive and only keep things that I’ve worked on in the last 4 months on my computer.
2. Delete everything you don’t need. Everything.
Usually the best place to start is in your applications (or program files) folder. Anything you can’t remember using in the last 3 months probably doesn’t need to be there. From there, media is the most likely culprit for hogging disc space. It’s going to take a while, but meticulously go through your music, video and photos and delete, delete, delete. Especially when it comes to photos and movies, don’t forget you’ve got a backup on your hard drive now. After media, anything else. Especially if you’re a designer, animator or work with music, project files can take up an insane amount of space. Don’t forget to empty your bin to get rid of all that digital clutter once and for all!
3. Create an effective hierarchy of folders and files.
Now that you’re left with only the files you need, it’s time to organize them in a way that makes sense. If you click on Documents to see a horrific bloodbath of Word files, MP3s, photos and movies all mixed together in a barbaric jumble without folders to call home then, then…how do you live with yourself?? Put together a hierarchy of folders that doesn’t leave you lost in your own computer. Here’s a good example:
Seth Barham Design > Clients > Nomadic Equity > nomadic-equity-logo.png
The same formula can be applied to music, photos and whatever you really need.
4. Declutter and optimize your inbox.
There’s no need to keep this declutter party offline so move on to that inbox. Depending on who you are, this could be a breeze or a nightmare. First, if you don’t have folders for your different emails, make some. My main Gmail account has Business, Pleasure and Receipts, along with several sub-folders to keep everything nice and tidy. Look through your inbox and move everything you want to keep to these folders. Nuke the rest. Don’t expect it to stay tidy for long. There are probably several promotional emails and social media notifications that come through everyday. Unsubscribe from lists you don’t want to be on as soon as you get your next message from them. Manage your various social media accounts’ settings so you’re not notified every time a friend of a friend posts a meme on Facebook.
5. Delete inactive accounts and amalgamate passwords.
I don’t really like the idea of online clutter with my personal info floating around. If you don’t either, try to track down as many things as possible that you’ve ever had to make an account for and delete them if they’re inactive. Unfortunately, I think my old Myspace account is probably etched into the granite of the internet, but I do what I can. When I went through this process, I also typed out my login information for every account I’m still using and stored it in an encrypted file. Let’s try to pretend this was encouraged by minimalism and not me sitting in front of a net bar monitor trying to figure out how the to get into my League of Legends account.
This is only the beginning.
As with most things in minimalism, decluttering is only the beginning - something that gives you quick results but spurs you onto a greater journey. There is always something more you can do to improve your life, and when it comes to tech I think my next step will be optimizing my computer as much as possible. When I’ve done that myself, I’ll probably write a followup on what I did and how it worked. Until then, always be vigilant when managing files and email so your computer stays decluttered!