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Dealing with Digital Clutter












During the current coronavirus crisis it seems that many people have been taking the opportunity to have a really good declutter and sort which is great! Unfortunately at the same time charity shops are currently closed as are recycling centres so it seems that we will all have to hang onto our unwanted items for the time being.


The good news is that there is one form of clutter that’s easy to deal with and which creates no mess. What we are talking about is digital clutter – overflowing inboxes, slow running laptops, phone storage full of photographs.


This kind of clutter can slow down our electronic devices and also make it harder for us to find something when we need it. And like any other kind of clutter, digital clutter is just one more form of unwanted baggage that can prey on our mind. So now is a great time to start dealing with it.


As with any other form of decluttering, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and to get bogged down quite quickly, so we always suggest to take it one step at a time, take regular breaks, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. You could set yourself a goal of trying just one of the following ideas every day for the next week or two and see how you feel.

The second thing is that we are not “techies”, so these suggestions have been written with the average person in mind. However we recognise that there is a great variation in the level of expertise – if you’re struggling our suggestion is to ask a teenager!


Seriously, if you find that you have technological problems you can’t easily solve then it’s best not to keep pressing buttons and hoping for the best – in which case we suggest you wait and take your device to a specialist to have it looked at.


MOBILE PHONES


These days mobile phones can be thought of as handheld computers, and just like their larger counterparts they can get clogged up with digital clutter which makes them slow to run and cumbersome to use. Here are some easy things you can do to declutter your mobile phone (these tips also apply to tablets such as ipads or chromebooks)


Consider turning it off! - it might seem a strange form of decluttering but these days there seems to be so much pressure to be always available, so much so that a ringing or bleeping phone takes precedence over real life conversations taking place. Just turning your phone off or muting it for a while (iphones have a useful “Do not disturb” setting) can give you some breathing space and allow you to focus on what’s really important.


Turn off notifications – as above, a constantly bleeping phone is a distraction and can be annoying. Consider turning off notifications especially on social media such as Facebook. You can do this in “settings”.


Delete unwanted apps – there are so many good and useful apps these days such as banking, maps, and online shopping. However there are also a lot of duds. Consider deleting apps you never use – come on, do you really need that Solitaire app?

Another very useful feature is the ability to create folders for apps – so you could have all your financial/banking apps together in one folder, and all your social media together in a separate folder.


Back up and delete your photos – it’s so easy with a mobile phone to snap away and suddenly you find that you have 1000s of photos on your phone. Imagine how awful it would be if you lost or broke your phone and no longer had access to those photos.

We suggest signing up to an online or “cloud” based storage service for your photos and making sure they are all backed up to it so you can then safely delete photos from your phone.


There are many different programmes you can use, and most come with a certain amount of free storage after which you will need to buy more, usually for just a small monthly fee.

We like Google Photos, which comes with a whole lot of useful features such as facial recognition and the ability to create and share albums with other people. However there are other options such as icloud, Amazon Photos, Flikr, and more.


If you like to have actual photos to look at, consider signing up to a service where you can upload your pictures and create photo books which are then posted to you, this is particularly nice for special holidays, photos of grandchildren and so on. Again there are lots of companies offering this, we like Snapfish and Photobox.


LAPTOPS AND PCS


As with mobile phones, over time computers can get clogged up with files and information that slows them down and makes it hard to find what you need. Here are some tips to help you cut down on the clutter:


Security check - finding and using unique passwords for various sites that you sign into is so important for security and to protect you from fraud. Something like SueHas3Cats! is way better than Password@01! or such like as these are dictionary words that can easily be cracked by hackers. Also it’s never a good idea to write them down in a notebook in case the notebook falls into the wrong hands. You could also use a password saver, I like one called LastPass but there are others available, which automatically generate and save your passwords in one secure app.


Also don’t forget to take updates to applications or Windows/Mac OS as these are designed to fix security vulnerabilities that are found on a monthly basis.


Clear out your inbox - one of the most useful things you can do is to have a clear out of your email inbox. Take a few moments to look through it and most likely you will find that a lot of it is newsletters/advertising from companies you have shopped with online or have a catalogue for. Consider unsubscribing to those you no longer want to receive (there is usually a link at the bottom of each email to enable you to do that) and then deleting old copies. (You can search for all emails from a particular sender and then simply delete them all). Or if you would still like to get the emails, consider either setting up a separate folder to put them in, or discipline yourself to delete them after you have read them.


You might like to keep hold of more personal emails from particular friends or relatives but again consider setting up folders for them, or deleting older ones. If you use gmail, it doesn’t have folders as such but you can use something called tags to mark emails from a particular sender, or about a particular topic.


An easy way to start the clean up process is simply to sort your inbox into reverse date order so you see the older emails first and start deleting ones you definitely no longer need. Again this can be a bit boring so we suggest only doing a bit at a time!


Clear out your files - did you know that when someone shares a document or photo with you, your computer stores a local copy of it (usually in a folder called “downloads”). This is a good place to start deleting any that you no longer need. If it is something important like a policy document and was attached to an email you can either simply keep the email itself, or open the attachment and “save as” into a folder on your PC set up for that purpose. You can then safely delete it from your downloads folder knowing you can find it again when you need it.


If you create lots of documents on your computer such as letters or essays, these may also need a clear out. Again this can be time consuming, so we suggest doing this in bite sized chunks, you could simply start with the oldest first, or you could create new folders for different sorts of documents (e.g recipes) and sort your documents into those files. As with physical clutter though it’s always worth asking yourself – do I really need this?


Another useful thing to consider is using a cloud based document storage/sharing service such as Dropbox or OneDrive. These are especially useful for work related documents or those that you might need to access when you are away from your computer. As with photos, once files have been backed up you can safely delete them from your PC.


Pictures – as with mobile phones, if you regularly upload photos from a digital camera or have been sent photos online with other people, these can be backed up to an online photo service such as Google photos rather than stored locally on your PC. This also means that if your PC breaks down, you have the security of knowing your precious photos are safe. Another option is to store your photos on an external hard drive or thumb drive – you could even give a copy to a friend or relative for safe keeping.


Finally don’t forget to make sure you empty your “recycling bin” regularly otherwise all the documents you have carefully deleted will still be sitting on your PC!


Maintain your hardrive - there are a number of things you can do to keep your computer running smoothly and protect yourself from fraud.


Virus protection - viruses and “malware” can really slow down your PC and make you vulnerable to cybercrimes such as identity theft. (By the way the quizzes and chain letters often sent on social media often contain viruses so it's best to avoid these or share with caution)


Make sure you have a decent anti virus programme installed. Most of the big broadband companies such as BT and Vodaphone include their own virus packages with your subscription so it’s definitely worth checking these out and installing them if you can. Otherwise you can simply go online and download a programme such as those offered by Norton or McAfee. You will need to pay an annual subscription and some can be quite expensive so if you are on a budget there are also some free ones out there such as AVG free which are good as a basic option.


If you are a macbook user there are equivalent programmes written especially for you, so don’t forget to check them out.


Routine maintenance - there are lots of programmes you can buy online that claim to speed up or clean your computer, but in fact laptops and PCs running windows come with their own useful tools which do much the same job. It’s worth treating this as a regular job and running them every month or so.


On a windows PC you will need to go into your “disk cleanup” programme which you can find simply by typing this into the search box. Follow the instructions there to automatically delete unwanted y files such as those stored in your recycle bin (you can “untick” any that you’re not sure about). Again if you are a mac user you will find this cleanup function as one of the built in programmes under “storage management”.


If your computer is slow, it’s also worth checking if you have any software or programmes you never use that you could delete. For example laptops may come preloaded with things like music players or games which you never use. To do this type “add or remove programmes” into the search engine and follow the instructions.


It’s also a good idea to accept any updates that your PC prompts you to do as these will keep your machine running well and fix any security issues that have been identified by Microsoft.


FINAL THOUGHTS...


We hope these tips have been useful and given you a few ideas of things you can do to cut down on digital clutter.


As with any form of decluttering, the anticipation of doing it is often worse than the reality and it can be incredibly satisfying to have a good old clear out. Take your time, do a bit at a time, and don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed.


We hope you are all well and that the current situation is not causing you too much anxiety. If you are a key worker, we salute you and all that you are doing. If you are at home, we send you our best wishes and hope that you are making the most of this time whether it be for decluttering, or simply for relaxation.


We hope that life returns to something like normal very soon and look forward to seeing you all again in person.


With best wishes,

Claire & Sue

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