I am positively bedeviled by digital clutter. I have emails from 2014, no lie! This year I’ve been really mindful of decluttering my physical things. But I am now desperate to declutter my digital life too. That’s why today we’re going to explore how to organize and eliminate digital clutter.
Digital clutter is really easy to accumulate because it doesn’t take up physical space in our lives. It’s not a stack of emails just sitting here on my desk, but our digital lives have a very real footprint. For example, take the sustainability angle, which I love to talk about. The average carbon footprint of an email is .3G which sounds small, but consider how many emails you send just in a week. However, if it’s a long email, that takes 10 minutes to write and 3 seconds to read at 17G of carbon. If it’s got one image or an attachment, it’s 50G of carbon.
In fact, the tech sector in general is responsible for 2 to 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN. Overloading your tech devices by using up a ton of of their storage slows them down and makes them glitchy. Having 17 screenshots that live in a disorganized mess on your home screen will slow down your laptop. And having an inbox with 2,000 unread emails will make your inbox run slower.
So here’s how to organize and eliminate digital declutter to save your sanity and make your digital life a little bit more green.
How to Organize and Eliminate Digital Clutter
Step 1: Categorize your digital clutter
Most of us today have extensive digital lives. We have photos, apps, files, downloads and even within just one category there’s subcategories. Within your photo album, for example, there can be a picture that you took of your breakfast this morning and there can be a selfie. There can be a screenshot. There’s a lot of different stuff clogging up our digital lives.
First, before you delete anything, I want you to just categorize out the things that you want to declutter. If you want to declutter your phone’s photos for example, set aside 30 minutes on Tuesday of next week to do that. If you also want to get down to inbox zero and you’ve currently got 2,000 emails, schedule time next Thursday.
Set aside 30 minutes to go through and delete old emails. Assigning a specific day and a specific time to a specific task helps you feel less overwhelmed by all of the things that you want to do. It also adds a layer of accountability. Once it goes on the calendar, you’re going to be much more likely to show up and do that thing.
Step 2: Use a Cloud Service
Use a cloud service to organize what you want to keep. This is is probably the most time consuming task on my list, but it is by far the most impactful. Use your cloud storage to create folders that you can categorize different files into. For example, last year I traveled for almost 3 months in Latin America and South America. I went to Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia and Cuba. I have thousands of photos from that trip and I want to keep all of them. There’s a lot of really beautiful places that I saw and there’s a lot of really cool things that I did. I don’t want to delete them. I want to be able to look back at them when I’m 70 and say “look at how awesome I was zip-lining in Costa Rica!”
In my Google Drive, I have a folder for each country. I store all of my photos and videos in the respective folder. That way, they don’t live on my phone taking up a ton of space. It makes it super hard to sift through when I just want to find a photo I took last week. You can do the same by making a Google Drive for your creative projects, your work projects, your school information, your writing, etc. Getting online and using the cloud storage to help you get organized is going to make your digital life so much easier to manage.
Step 3: Deep Clean Your Inbox
I need to confess something: I have four different emails addresses. That means I have four different inboxes and they are all bursting with emails. I am really, really committed to getting down to inbox zero for at least three of my email addresses. I need to set aside a few hours that I can spend time shifting through emails. During this time, I’ll start understanding what’s important and what can just go.
How to make “inbox zero” easier
Some tips to help making getting down to inbox zero easier: delete emails older than 3 months. If it’s that important, they’ll email you again.
Organize emails that you actually want to keep into different files or folders within your inbox. Google makes this really easy to do. I assume the same is true of other email providers. Once you’ve put a ton of stuff into your trash folder, make sure to go in and actually delete it. That way the emails aren’t taking up space and slowing down your service provider.
Next, adjust your Google Alerts. If you have a bunch of Google Alerts and they’re no longer relevant or you’re just getting alerted all the time about stuff you don’t care about, go ahead and adjust that. That will help clean out your inbox.
Lastly, send that email you need to send now! Maybe you’re on a friend thread and it’s your turn to send an update about your life, go ahead send that update! Stop avoiding. Stop procrastinating. Again this is something I do myself, so you have my sympathy. We are in this together! Setting aside time to answer the emails that actually need a response is a great way for you to get work done or to get a personal thing done. Then delete that original email and get it out of the inbox.
Step 4: Do an App Audit
One of the things that bums me out the most about living in our modern age is that everything has an app now. Every company out there is like download our app to get exclusive benefits or to use our services! I cannot download download an app for every airline, every restaurant and every clothing retailer that I shop at. I took one flight with you, Delta. I don’t need your app forever.
Do a digital declutter with your apps. Take an inventory of what is even going on with the apps on your phone. A lot of phones have an app manager in the settings that will allow you to see the apps ranked by how much you use them or by how much storage space they take up. Delete the ones that are taking up too much space or that you rarely open.
If you’re feeling addicted to certain apps, *cough cough social media,* you can use your phone to put limits on the amount of time you’re allowed to spend on that app. I utilize this around Instagram because I am coming off of a very intense Instagram addiction. All Instagram did was make me feel like garbage. Now I limit the amount of time I can open Instagram on my phone to one hour per day. It has made me feel so much better. It’s also given me back a lot of time that I was spending just scrolling. You lose hours to social media and don’t even realize it.
Step 5: Organize Your Phone’s Photos
Photos are in my opinion the wild west of digital clutter. We take photos of everything now, but rarely do we organize them. I’m willing to bet that you’ll find like 50 photos of your pet, a couple of photos of recent meals you’ve eaten, pictures of a cool leaf that you saw on the ground, multiple screenshots of funny tweets and it’s a disorganized chaotic mess! You can create files on your phone to sort different photos into. I have one for screenshots, one for work photos and then I have one for friends and family. Be brutal. Start deleting those photos! Do you really need that photo of a sandwich that you ate two years ago while you were on vacation in LA?
If have you ever done a digital declutter, how did it go? What other tools tips strategies do you have for us? What are other ways that you are simplifying your digital life? Please let us know in the comments. I definitely need help in this area and if you have tips, I want to know them.
And if you’re more of a visual learner, I’ve got all the tips below in a YouTube video. Subscribe to our channel for new videos every week.