I tend to talk a lot about the physical “stuff” that comprises our lives. But these days — there’s also a TON of digital stuff. And while it doesn’t take up physical space in your home, it does take up much needed mental space. Digital clutter is one of those things that hums in the background and ultimately becomes a distraction… whether it be the incessant notifications taking you away from dinner, the mindless opening and closing of the Facebook app on your phone, the unanswered email that’s on the back of your mind, or the time it takes you to sift through 10,000 photos to find the one you want to share. So let’s pare down and then maintain your minimized digital life. If you decide to do this all at once (which I actually do recommend), pour yourself your favorite beverage, turn on some music, and make this tedious task a bit more bearable.
The pare down: Nowadays, it’s easy to have files on both your computer and your cloud storage of choice (I use Google Drive for everything). I recommend consolidating all your files to cloud storage — that way it can be accessed across devices and you don’t have to back things up on to an external storage device. So, first off, delete all the files you don’t need or use. Then, upload everything on to your cloud storage of choice. Take this time to organize these files within folders (ex: work, travel, purchases, school, health, etc.) so you spend less time looking for important documents. If there are some super important documents you’d like saved on your computer as well, go for it, otherwise… delete!
The maintenance: As soon as you download or scan something to your computer, decide what you want to do with it. Is this something you will need longer than a month? If so — upload it to the appropriate online folder. Otherwise, delete as soon as the file is no longer useful.
The pare down: Like files, your digital photographs are most likely spread across your computer (from the separate digital camera days), online photo storage, and your phone. Again — I recommend consolidating all your photographs to your cloud storage (I like Google Photos). First, delete any duplicate (nope, you don’t need the 10 photos of your dinner from various angles), blurry, bad quality photos. Upload photos from your phone and your computer to your chosen online photo storage. Take this time to organize your photos by month/year, season, event, trip, etc.
The maintenance: I think most people take photos on their phones these days so set your phone to sync with your cloud storage/automatically backup photographs. Once a week, make sure your photos synced online, delete any unwanted photos, and then delete the photos off your phone.
The pare down: Delete songs off your computer you don’t listen to or don’t want. Keep only the ones you really want or that you won’t be able to listen to on a music streaming service.
The maintenance: Use a streaming service like Spotify or Apple Music! Listen to whatever you want, whenever you want without storing anything on your devices.
The pare down: At this point, your files, photographs, and music should be mostly off your computer and only the ones you want should be organized in the cloud. Right? Okay. So this next part should be easy. This is the time to delete programs and applications on your computer that you no longer need.
The maintenance: Be mindful of the programs you download on to your computer. Every 6 months, delete any programs that went unused.
The pare down: This one can be tough for many. So baby steps. If an email is over 3 months old and you still haven’t opened it (or opened it and never responded or taken action on it). Delete it. Start fresh. Now, delete all promo and newsletter emails. Delete all social media notification emails. Go through the remaining emails and file them in appropriate folders (accounts, purchases, travel, personal, etc.). Star (something I do in Gmail) or file emails that need a response or action taken on. Now, turn off email notifications from stores and social media. You can check the sites directly for updates or promotions. This also reduces the urge to impulse shop or check your social media accounts too frequently.
The maintenance: Respond to or delete emails in a timely manner. Check email when you have time to actually take action/respond… that way, you only read the email once opposed to reading it, deciding to respond later, then having to re-read the email at a later time in order to respond. Hopefully, you’ve also turned off email notifications for unneeded things (promos, Facebook comments) to reduce the amount of emails coming in.
The pare down: First, delete the social media accounts that don’t make you happy or are not of use to you anymore. Keep 2-3 accounts that you really, truly love. For example, I had no more use for Twitter or Snapchat. So I deleted them and don’t miss them at all. I kept Facebook (for events), Instagram (for inspiration and to share my travels), and Pinterest (for more inspiration). Really think about what you use social media for and keep the accounts that align with that. Let go of the rest.
Now, curate. Remove “friends” or accounts you follow that make you feel crappy, you “hate follow”, don’t inspire you, or that you have no interest in. Remove that one acquaintance from college that you went to a club with that one time and never spoke to again. Or that high school classmate you haven’t seen in 15 years who is always trying to sell nail wraps or essential oils. If you want to keep someone around but don’t want to see their 5+ posts a day — keep them as friends but unfollow their posts so they don’t show up on your newsfeed. Download a productivity extension like StayFocused — I have it set to time my Facebook usage to 5 minutes a day max. Pick the social media sites that you can tend to go down a rabbit hole with and set a time limit. Also — delete the Facebook app off your phone. Seriously. This way you stick to the 5 minute time limit since the productivity extensions only work on the browser. And you’ll stop doing the app open/app close/app open/app close game. After a few weeks, I promise you won’t miss it.
The maintenance: Be thoughtful of who you friend and follow online. Think through any new, shiny social media accounts and whether it’ll add to your life in some way. And — don’t disable your productivity extension — stick to the time limit!
The pare down: Delete all the apps you no longer use (i.e. that one image filtering app you tried that one time) or the apps for the social media accounts you no longer have. For remaining apps, turn off notifications unless it’s a mission critical type thing (for me, the only app that I have notifications for is my work Slack — and even then, I only get notifications during work hours and only if I’m tagged directly). This will also really help your battery life. Organize your apps in to folders (travel, tickets, home, social media, etc.).
The maintenance: If you download an app that you don’t end up loving, delete it promptly. Keep your phone updated. Keep your notifications to the bare minimum. Be mindful of the time spent opening apps and using your phone when with others (or when there are other things you could be doing).