The Little Guide to Digital Decluttering

The Little Guide to Digital Decluttering

Reading this article is probably only a very small part of your digital life. In addition, you might do one or more of the following:

  • work
  • store files
  • play games
  • watch movies
  • email
  • tweet
  • Facebook
  • Pin
  • attend webinars
  • edit and store photos
  • share photos
  • write
  • plan
  • read blogs
  • find recipes
  • skype
  • make calls

and the list goes on and on.

Most of my business is done from my Macbook Pro, and when it started running poorly a few weeks ago, I got nervous. What was wrong? I regularly back up all of my files (not just saying that) and the computer appeared to be in good condition.

I scheduled an appointment at my local Apple Genius Bar and was pleasantly surprised (and mildly embarrassed) to learn that my computer problems were self-inflicted. Even though I regularly back up my files, I didn’t know that when I moved downloaded files, a copy remained in the download folder. For more than 3 years, I’ve been inadvertently storing files and was running out of room. I also had things stored in iTunes that I didn’t need to keep that was taking up valuable space.

The Genius Bar appointment was free, and took about an hour and now my computer is as good as new.

This experience reminded me that

  1. There is so much I don’t know.
  2. You don’t need to be technically inclined to have a thriving online business.
  3. Regular digital decluttering can improve productivity and good work.

Instead of decluttering digitally once in awhile or when you have a computer problem, implement a routine to prevent computer crashes and personal meltdowns. This little guide will help.

5 Simple Tasks to Perform Weekly

1. Back up your files with Dropbox.
I used to be one of those people who said I regularly backed up my files and didn’t. Instead, I’d haphazardly throw a bunch of stuff away and put things on an external hard drive when I thought about it. Now, while I do back up some of my high-resolution photographs to an external hard drive, the majority of my work goes on Dropbox.

What I like best about Dropbox is that I can easily share files and work with my files directly from Dropbox. They make it too easy to lie about backing up your files.

2. Clean up your desktop.
Just because you can turn your computer off doesn’t mean you don’t have to look at your desktop almost everyday. If the first thing you see is folders and files all over the place, you will have a sense of chaos before you even start working. Instead, keep all of your files in one folder on your desktop, or work directly from Dropbox like I do most of the time.

3. Come out of email denial.
Triage email daily and respond briefly to whatever you think is time sensitive and then get back to work. Once a week, respond and/or delete the rest. Depending on the volume of email you receive, you might be able to do it all on a daily basis.  It’s not your responsibility to respond to or even look at every email that comes your way. Determine what’s important and what’s not and process accordingly.

Don’t treat your email as a to-do list or it will never get done.

4. Empty the trash.
So simple, but sometimes this extra stepped is avoided or overlooked.

5. Take one day off. 
Break away from all things digital for 24 hours a week. If you can’t make it 24 hours, start smaller. The break may not digitally declutter your files or computer, but it will declutter your digital habits and give you time to think about how you use digital tools. Are they adding value to your life? Are they encouraging your best work and relationships? Could you change your approach for improvement?

3 Simple Tasks to Perform Monthly

1. Empty your downloads folder.
Maybe you do this already and I’m the only one that didn’t know. On a Mac, go to Finder>(User Name)>Downloads and put files where they belong and delete the rest. On a PC, go to: C:\Users\(User Name)\Downloads. You could probably go years without doing this before you had a big problem, but this monthly habit will keep your computer free of files you aren’t using and may remind you about a file that you downloaded and forgot about.

2. Review your applications.
Take a look in your applications folder. If there are things in there you don’t use, uninstall them.

3. Zero out your blog feed.
There are so many great blogs out there, but even with the best of intentions, you cannot read them all. Choose your top 3 and subscribe via email, and then place the rest in a feed reader like Feedly. Once a week, check your blogs and delete what you don’t have time to read. Don’t create a “read later” folder. Read later is code for read never. If you are worried that you are missing out, read fewer blogs, or visit your favorite bloggers archives when you have time to thoughtfully engage.

2 Simple Tasks to Perform Quarterly

1. Delete images.
I don’t recommend deleting images from your camera, phone or other devices as you take them. Instead, back them up to Dropbox on a weekly basis and then review them quarterly. Delete any images that are duplicates, poor quality, or that you don’t want to keep and save the rest by date. At the end of the year, you can move your images for the year to an external hard drive to free up space. If there are images that you want to use to create albums or prints, place copies in a separate file for processing.

2. Assess your social media channels.
If you’ve been mindlessly accepting Facebook friends and spending hours every night Pinning recipes but never creating a meal, take time to review each of your social media channels and how you engage. If you don’t find value in Facebook anymore, suspend your account for the next quarter and see how that changes things. Use short (1-3 months) experiments to gauge how valuable or distracting each channel is.

1 Simple Task to Perform Annually

1. Get a check-up.
If you own an Apple product, visit the Genius Bar once a year. They will perform a series of free tests to make sure that your computer is in tip-top shape. While I was getting my last check up, I overheard the technician tell another customer that he didn’t have a strong technical background. Apple didn’t hire him because he was a computer genius, but because he worked well with people. They taught him the rest. (Another great reminder, that you don’t need to know it all to get started.)

Microsoft stores offer something comparable to the Genius Bar for PCs too. When it’s time for a new computer, check to see if there are upgrade opportunities. Apple offers a recycling program and will offer you money towards your next purchase if you recycle your current machine.


As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know it all. What are simple methods you use to digitally declutter? Please share recommendations in the comment section below.

Simplify your digital life for better work flow and peace of mind.



  1. says

    Oh, I really need this reminder and tools! I had a feeling about those copies in the download file, but didn’t know for sure. Now, I’m on it! Thank you, Courtney.

  2. says

    Very helpful, thanks! My sister was just talking about how she wished there was something written about “virtual clutter”, so when I saw this post I sent the link to her. 😀
    I have spent a total of about 24 hours (not all in one sitting, mind you!) cleaning out my bookmarks and favorites toolbar. Oh my! Besides there being entire folders of sites that I was no longer interested in, a good amount of the websites where not even there anymore. I think I have just about got it all paired down to something that I can actually use. And if I wasn’t sure about a link… I just deleted it. Because you cab always Google that subject again. :)

  3. says

    Digital decluttering is one of those things that tend to get pushed aside in favor of decluttering “real” stuff, but it is important.

    I’ve gotten pretty good at it lately, even going through all MP3s for things we don’t listen to anymore and duplicates, but I still have a bunch of photos to go through.

    By “bunch” I mean thousands. My husband and I both take photos not just for memories but for fun. I’m trying to work on them just a bit at a time now that I’ve finished the music project.

  4. says

    I’m guilty of burying my head in the sand as far as my computer goes.

    Thank you for spelling out every step to digital decluttering, I needed that. Now to start at Step no 1.

  5. says

    Great tips, I do most of them already and they create peace and organisation. I guess the trick is keep our digital life organised regularly, otherwise we get overload!

  6. says

    Oh Dear Lord.I had no idea of the downloads folder on mac too.
    Had over 1000 items in there.
    To make my life easier, I did not even look at them, just put them in the trash. :)
    Next up- clean the desk top.
    Thanks for this advice!!

  7. says

    Great reminders Courtney! I also use some of these principles on my cell phone (uninstalling unused apps, deleting pics, etc).

  8. says

    This is something I’ve been meaning to do for awhile but it always seems to get push to the side in favour of more obvious chores. Thanks for the great reminder!

  9. says

    Ouch! Virtual clutter. I recently joined Dropbox and took a good look at my iCloud (to actually start using it) and I use Google’s Drive, which is the easiest. I now have certain things that back up to each one. Like you, my computer got cluttered but worse, when it was nearly full it also began to have hardware failure. Luckily I was able to back up the important things — not even the whole thing because there wasn’t enough room! Thanks for the reminder. :)