Digital Decluttering: Organize Your Digital Life in the New Year

With the start of every new year is yet another opportunity to organize your life. As I’ve become more and more interested in minimalism, I’ve become more aware of what I surround myself with – what takes up space in my life and if its worth that space. And the new year is the best time to re-evaluate what I have, what I want to get rid of and what I need to replace.

It’s both liberating and relaxing to get rid of all that excess. My mind feels clearer and I feel more in control. Mess is chaos. Organization is orderly. It’s clear to see why we lean towards one over the other.

But one thing I don’t think about is my digital space.

My laptop, my tablet, my phone – much of my life involves interacting with some sort of digital space. Maybe because I am still finding an organization method that works for me or the fact that I tend to start all sorts of creative projects, but I just end up with all sorts of files in every digital nook and cranny. Some of which I never touch again. Others which I scramble to find and simply pray that I remember a word in the file name so I can search for it.

We spend a lot of time on our devices. Why shouldn’t they be as organized and decluttered as the rest of our living spaces?

It’s with that in mind that I came up with this little idea – a way of minimalizing your digital life in the same way you might minimalize your physical one.

It’s a pretty simple 3-step process

  1. Clean Up –  Go through your files and delete any duplicates or files you don’t need anymore. Really think about what value it contributes, or what purpose it serves.
  2. Back Up – Anything you can’t (or don’t) want to get rid of or large collections of photos and videos can be backed up onto a cloud service like Dropbox or onto a physical external hard drive. If you haven’t opened a file in months you probably don’t need a copy on your computer. Either delete it or store it away.
  3. Organize – Probably the most important part. How you choose to catalogue everything is going to be up to you. You can organize by type, by year and month, or by category and even mix and match. You might want to experiment depending on what you use them for to see what system works best for you.

Too obvious? Your computer might be the first thing you gravitate towards but that isn’t the only aspect of our digital lives that could use a bit of TLC. Below I have a few other suggestions for ways to digitally declutter your life:

  • Emails – Clean up old emails, reply to any correspondences, clean out those old drafts, archive the old stuff you want to keep and create any new folders you might need for the new year – new projects you’re starting, new products you’re releasing, planning for a big trip, etc. Maybe you have multiple emails for different purposes. Clean them out!
  • Browser bookmarks – If you’re like me, you have literally hundreds of bookmarked websites. Some of which are now defunct or no longer relevant to my life. Get rid of them. Get rid of that extra clutter.
  • Programs – If you aren’t using it, get rid of it. If you have multiple programs that serve similar functions, get rid of one of them if you can. Not only will that clean up your desktop but your computer will run better without all that stuff clogging up the memory
  • Workflow – You start a new year with a new planner, but why not take that opportunity to clean up and optimize your workflow? Wherever you spend your time online – Evernote, Trello, Google Docs – whatever organizational tool you may use to get work done, this is good time to clean it up. Make sure it works for you. Strengthen what does and do away with whatever doesn’t.
  • Social Media – This probably has the biggest and most immediate effect on your mental wellbeing. Clean up old posts, update your profile, but most importantly clean up your subscriptions! Get rid of accounts that don’t align with your values or interests. Unfollow spammy accounts or any that are no longer active. Not only does that clean out your feeds and dashboards but it really streamlines your mindset, makes you think about what is important and the sorts of people you want to take up space in your life, digital or otherwise.

We spend so much time on our computers. On our tablets. On our phones. So much business is conducted online, so much free time spent browsing through social media and consuming content. It doesn’t take up any physical space but I think having a messy digital space can be just as harmful as living in a messy home.

And it doesn’t have to be done all at once either. If you’re like me you have many devices, all serving different purposes. Same with emails and social media accounts. It can be overwhelming, and I’m not going to pretend it isn’t a huge time crunch. Cleaning up your computer doesn’t have quite the same effect that tidying your kitchen or bedroom will have on your mindset, either. It’s subtler, and to be fair it isn’t for everyone, much like the concept of minimalism itself.

It’s a lifestyle choice. One with far less impact than any sort of physical organization you might decide to do. But it’s a great feeling to sit down with your laptop, boot it up and find everything organized. Your desktop is cleared, your inbox empty and your social media feeds manageable. You can work more efficiently, and it really just brings peace of mind. Clarity. Joy. And after all, isn’t that the point?

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