With the coming of the new year, many of us look towards healthier behaviours – such as building good habits and doing things to boost our happiness and productivity. And one resolution that’s on many people’s lists is decluttering.
While many people focus on decluttering their physical surroundings, organising our digital spaces – like computers, tablets, and smartphones – can be just as important.
From documents you haven’t used in years to unwanted emails, it’s easy to collect digital junk – especially now that the average person in the UK has access to nine different devices, and cloud services allow us a seemingly unlimited space. But having disorganised digital spaces can negatively impact our productivity and wellbeing.
For example, research has found that digital hoarding is associated with a variety of mental health problems, including stress, anxiety, and depression. In some cases, an unchecked online presence can also lead to cybersecurity threats.
With this in mind, we’ve pulled together our top tips for a digital declutter.
1. Start with your home screen
Between laptops, tablets, smartphones, external hard drives, and the cloud, it’s tricky to know where to begin when decluttering our digital spaces. Common advice is to start with whatever’s causing you the most concern – whether that’s your email inbox or photo library.
However, if you’re still unsure, Warren McDonald from the Three Discovery Team – who regularly runs digital skills workshops on Rest Less Events – recommends organising your devices’ home screens first.
“You can remove old apps, move them around, and make things you use regularly easier to find,” he tells us.
Your home screen or desktop is the first thing you see when you power up your device. By attending to this first, you’ll hopefully feel calmer and more motivated to continue decluttering.
2. Make the most of digital folders
It might seem obvious, but one of the best ways to clear up digital junk is to sort it into folders. This will help to keep things organised and accessible – saving you time and energy in future.
From email inboxes to smartphones, most digital spaces allow you to sort things into folders – and how you do so will be entirely up to you. However, it’s worth making a rough plan of how your system is going to work first.
Some people choose to organise their folders in terms of how important they are, while others prefer to split them by topic. However, many recommend deciding on three, four, or five ‘parent folders’ and creating smaller ones within them.
For more advice on organising your digital filing system, have a read of this article from Microsoft.
3. Name your files clearly
When we download files, many of us simply save them with whatever default name our device gives us – such as ‘Screenshot 2024-01-24’.
While taking the time to name files when we save them might feel like a waste of time, we could be costing ourselves more time in future when we can’t find them. For this reason, it’s a good idea to clearly label files.
Try using descriptive keywords that tell you what’s inside the file without you needing to open it – for example, what it is (notes, report, creative writing project, etc.) and what the subject is. You also might want to include a date using the dd/mm/yyyy format.
It’s a good idea to decide on consistent rules for all your file names too. This will allow you to find files more quickly by guessing what their names are.
4. Only keep what you really need
Organising files into folders can give us the chance to ask ourselves if we should keep or delete things. Although, this is often easier said than done.
Just like the physical clutter we collect in our houses, it’s common to keep digital media we no longer need on our devices or in the cloud just in case we need it later. For example, I have old drafts of projects completed years ago on my computer. I know deep down that I won’t need these, but I hang onto them anyway.
However, as we’ve said, this digital clutter can often do more harm than good, so you might want to be strict with yourself when it comes to deleting files and only keep what’s essential.
With that said, it can help to consider what ‘essential’ means to you before kicking off your digital decluttering journey. For me, something needs to fulfil at least one of the following requirements…
- I use it regularly (work spreadsheets, my favourite apps, etc.)
- It’s of great sentimental value to me (for example, family photographs)
- I’ll need it again in future (scans of important documents, such as passports and driving licences)
5. Use digital decluttering tools
If you’ve got lots of data on your devices and/or on the cloud, you might feel daunted by the job ahead of you. But there are lots of tools out there to help make the digital decluttering process as efficient as possible.
For example, there are tools out there (like Gemini 2 and CCleaner) to help you locate and delete duplicate files, which should be one of the first priorities on your list. However, you don’t need to buy or download software to access decluttering tools. For example, if you’re a Windows user, you can make use of their built-in tool Disk Cleanup.
As Warren says, “There are also really handy tools already on your smartphone that can help you find and delete duplicate photos,” Warren explains. If you’re an iPhone user, you can find out how to do this on the Apple website here. Google Photos even has a function to help you locate and delete blurry pictures.
Forbes also suggests tools like Revo Uninstaller, which has free and paid-for versions, to uninstall unused software on our devices. Unused software can take up unnecessary memory, slow the speed of our devices, and even leave us open to security threats, as hackers can exploit known issues in out-of-date software.
6. Unsubscribe from unwanted mailing lists
For many of us, our email inboxes are one of our most stressful and unorganised digital spaces.
One of the main reasons for this is the large amount of spam and promotional material sent to us via mailing lists we no longer want to be a part of. These may be from companies we’ve bought items from in the past, online competitions we’ve entered, or surveys we’ve completed.
So, one of the first steps to decluttering our email inboxes is to unsubscribe from any of these we no longer want to receive.
In many cases, you can unsubscribe from mailing lists by clicking a link provided at the bottom of one of their emails – just make sure to follow these steps from Stony Brook University to check if the link is safe. Email providers like Gmail and Microsoft Outlook will also give you an option to unsubscribe from mailing lists at the top of emails.
For more tips, check out these 8 easy ways to manage your inbox.
7. Find and delete old accounts
As well as all the data on our devices and the cloud, digital decluttering can involve streamlining our online presence.
In today’s digital age, it’s common to sign up for online services only to stop using them a little while later. And many of us leave our accounts inactive, instead of deleting them.
Yet, the more personal data we leave on accounts like these – such as our address or answers to security questions – the more susceptible we are to attacks from scammers. For example, if one of those services has a data breach, hackers may use our security questions to log in to our accounts on different services.
But how can we find these accounts if we don’t remember what we’ve signed up for? Firstly, you can try searching your email for terms like ‘verify your account’ or ‘welcome’. This will bring up welcome emails from services you’ve signed up for. You can then visit the website and delete your account. If you use a password manager, this can help you locate old accounts too.
Warren says, “If you’re unsure how to delete an account, for example, a Facebook account. My advice would be to simply jump on Google and search ‘how to delete a Facebook account’. It’ll give you a step-by-step process for how to do it.”
For more information on deleting old accounts, take a look at this blog post from McAfee.
8. Streamline your social media accounts
Social media can be a great tool for keeping in touch with family and friends, meeting like-minded people, discovering new interests, and more. However, when left unchecked, our feeds can become distracting and maybe even stressful.
For example, over the years, some of us have made lots of connections on social media – whether by making Facebook friends or following Twitter/X accounts. But how often do we consider whether to hit the unfollow button or delete Facebook friends?
Not reconsidering our connections regularly can result in a feed filled with information we no longer find interesting or posts from people we don’t necessarily want to stay in touch with. So, it’s worth going through your friends and who you follow to streamline your feed and make sure you only see information that’s relevant and helpful.
There are plenty more ways to organise and declutter your social media accounts. On Twitter/X, you can use the ‘Lists’ function to create mini feeds that’ll only show you posts from certain accounts – making it easier to access specific content. For example, you could have lists for particular interests (like cars or crafts) or separate ones for family, friends, and work.
For some more tips on decluttering your social media accounts, why not read this blog post from Simple Joy?
9. Don’t forget about your browser
One place that many people forget about when decluttering their digital life is their internet browser.
For example, many of us keep our browser bookmarks in one long list. But did you know you can organise these into folders just like any other data on your computer? Find out how to do this on Google Chrome here. Or, if you use Safari, this post from Apple can help.
Another job you might want to do is clear your browser history, cookies, and cache. Along with your search history, your browser stores various data. This includes passwords and addresses – which help you autofill online forms – and files and images from websites to help them load faster.
Clearing this clutter from your browser can improve its performance and protect your privacy, as it leaves you less vulnerable to data leaks.
To find out how to clear your browser, take a look at this article from University Information Technology Services.
10. Schedule time for ongoing digital decluttering
As with our homes, decluttering our digital spaces isn’t a one-time job. It’s important to stay on top of it to keep them neat and organised – so why not try scheduling 10 or 15 minutes now and then for maintenance?
Warren says, “It sounds obvious, but my main advice is to try not to leave it until it gets to a point where it starts to cause you anxiety. Once you know how to declutter your digital spaces, you can do it again and again.”
Your ongoing digital decluttering sessions could involve emptying your downloads folder on your computer, closing any open tabs in your browser, or deleting unwanted emails.
If emails are taking up a lot of your decluttering time, there are tools you can use to make the process simpler. For example, Gmail has a function that automatically sorts your emails into folders based on things like keywords and the sender’s address.
If you want to get a grip on your disorganised digital spaces this year, we hope you’ve found these 10 tips helpful.
While digital decluttering may seem like a mammoth task, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to do it all at once. Setting aside a little time each week to tackle individual aspects of your digital life can make a big difference in how organised you feel.
And if you’re interested in learning some more digital skills, head over to Rest Less Events, where Warren and the Three Discovery Team regularly run sessions.
Are you considering a digital declutter this year? Or have you already started? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.