how to clear digital clutter

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My sister Heather, a fourth grade special education teacher, maintains a hyper-organized system on her work computer. All students have their own folders, which are labeled with their initials and filed neatly. Heather’s desktop is so pristine that apart from a handful of icons, all you see is her screen background—a shot of her current classroom, every smiling face clearly visible.

However, his personal computer is a different story. When I visited his house a few weeks ago, he showed me his desktop; It was filled with pop-up reminders, mysteriously labeled files, photos, and electronic sticky notes. The visual chaos reminded me of a scratch-off lottery card. “It stresses me out just to log on,” she said.

While digital clutter may not be physical, like the “pile of doom” and junk drawers in your home, the anxiety and distress it creates is real, said Kerry Lake, a lecturer in psychology at Northumbria University in England, who specializes in digital clutter. Study the behavior of data. , Just as clutter in your home can create stress, reduce productivity and negatively impact your sense of well-being, she said, digital clutter can bring up similar feelings.

Yet data storage continues to proliferate, making it easy to become “cloud complacent,” delaying the need to purge even as discomfort grows. And many of us “have been socialized into saving documents to confirm or record something,” said Emanuel Madenberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Having hundreds of photos on your phone,” he said, “is normal, accepted, expected.”

If you’re not particularly bothered by electronic clutter, you probably don’t need to reduce it, although purging can improve how your devices operate, says a San Diego-based company that specializes in said Chief Executive Officer Alex Brzozowski at the event. In digital decluttering.

But if the accumulation of goofiness is making you twitch, it might be time for a cleanse. And it’s worth noting that in rare cases people experience digital hoarding, which isn’t defined by a specific amount of digital clutter, but stems from emotion, Dr. Madenberg said. “There is a difference between a desire to save and an urge to save,” he said. “When it becomes an urge, it means ‘I have to do this,’ and that’s a red flag.”

However, many of us fall somewhere between “inbox zero” and outright hoarding. How, then, to ease an overflowing email account, a phone that’s running out of photo storage, a desktop bursting with files? I consulted the experts for their best tips.

First, take a look at your device’s storage to see how many files, emails, and photos you actually have (and how much free space is left). The statistics may surprise you. or scares you. Or both.

In a 2019 study of digital billboards in the workplace, Dr. Lake and his colleagues looked at the amount of data they saved. Most, he told me, were stunned. “I surprised myself when I looked at my email account after starting this research,” she said. Dr. Lake had over 10,000 emails, none of which were important, “but I kept them just in case I needed them in the future – which I never had. I thought, I need to remove it.

Those ballooning figures, that said, can inspire you to act. I assume I have a few hundred emails saved on my computer; When I checked, it was around 2,000. Some were messages from my daughter’s preschool. She is 13 years old.

If your phone, desktop, and email are all competing for attention, start with whatever causes you the least stress, suggests Brzozowski.

Deleting files, apps and email can be daunting, so do it at a manageable pace, says Casey Davis, a therapist and author of the book “How to Keep House When Drowning.” “I recommend short periods of time each day to digitally declutter, such as five minutes, and smaller goals such as unsubscribing to two marketing spam emails each day,” she said.

Start with a few easy purges that will motivate you to keep going, Brzozowski said. “Like screenshots on your phone or pictures of sunsets,” she explained. “I ask clients, ‘Do you even remember where these sunset photos were taken?’

For me, the easiest place to start was with my list of bookmarked websites. Most made up a depressing museum of projects I never started and places I never visited.

When you declutter your phone, you can start by sorting the apps you use most onto your home screen, Brzozowski said. (It sounded like basic advice until I realized my home screen was full of apps I hadn’t used in years.) Two sneaky bits of phone clutter, she said, are unwanted apps that previously and podcasts that have been downloaded. without your knowledge.

You can also delete unwanted text messages, she said, and set your phone to automatically archive old emails instead of deleting them, which can eat up storage space.

On your desktop, you can start deleting your jamboree from the Downloads folder, which is often filled with irrelevant PDF files, Brzozowski said. If you have a MacBook, the CleanMyMac app cleans and removes junk files and downloads and is available in both a free and a paid version.

And, yes, even in the digital world, you might ask yourself whether a file sparks happiness, says Marie Kondo, author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and founder of KonMari Media. “A rule of thumb I follow is, if you haven’t opened a document in three or so years and reading the file doesn’t bring joy, it’s time to let go with gratitude,” she added. Said.

After you’ve eliminated old files, Brzozowski said, create folders for the remaining ones in broad categories — car, medical, dog, home. (You can also organize your inbox by category, Kondo added.)

When I faced the 2,000 emails on my computer, I found it helpful to start with the oldest ones, those that were particularly old and unnecessary, and work my way to the present.

Another easy way to delete an email, Brzozowski said, is to type a persistent notification into your search bar (in my case, Amazon) and hit “delete.” “That can make your numbers go down immediately, and you’ll feel that relief right away,” she said.

If you’re plagued by unwanted marketing email, both Brzozowski and Davis recommended, a free app for unsubscribing from email lists in bulk. (Or pay a kid to do it, Brzozowski suggested.)

When cleaning up digitally, Kondo said, “Photos should be kept to the end, as they are full of life’s memories and can be more difficult to store.” After removing stragglers, consider storing them in a cloud storage space, she said.

Once you’ve got your digital clutter somewhat under control, schedule regular maintenance purges, Kondo said. She gets her inbox in order a few times a month, “which I find to be a therapeutic Sunday activity,” she said.

If you, like me, need a little prodding, try “temptation bundling,” in which you pair a less-enjoyable task with something more enjoyable—say, combining your email with your Thursday-night TV binge. Clear in Last Sunday, I did some digital paring while waiting for cinnamon orange rolls to bake.

I’m sending all of these tips to my sister, Heather, who has whittled down her email from thousands to hundreds, and streamlined her desktop over the past few weeks. “When I open my computer,” she told me, “I don’t feel like screaming anymore.”

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