25 Areas of Digital Clutter to Minimalize

An internet user and his leisure time are soon parted.” – Author Unknown

A clean, uncluttered room breathes fresh energy into your home and life. In the same way, an uncluttered computer results in a more enjoyable, fresh and productive experience. Don’t underestimate the value of decluttering your computer. The benefits far outweigh the time investment that is required.

To keep your digital clutter to a minimum, try attacking these 25 Areas of Digital Clutter to Minimalize.

  1. Inbox Messages - You remove the mail from your mailbox everyday. Apply the same principle to your Inbox. To accomplish this, if you can answer an email in less than two minutes, do it right away. If it will take longer, move it into a “work in progress” folder.
  2. Old Documents - Do you really need to keep everything that is in your Documents Folder? Doubtful. In fact, you could probably delete half of those documents and never regret it. If you don’t want to delete them completely, consider moving them into an archive folder so they don’t clutter your most-used document folders anymore.
  3. Old Software/Program/Apps - Windows users, remember that simply deleting a shortcut on your desktop is not the same as uninstalling a program. Be sure to use “Uninstall a Program” in your Control Panel.
  4. Desktop Icons - Remove as many icons from your desktop as possible. It is the equivalent of working at a cluttered desk. An even better alternative is to delete them completely (From the Desktop, Right Click > Arrange Icons By > Uncheck Show Desktop Icons). A clean desktop clears your workspace and allows you to concentrate on the task at hand.
  5. Folder Structure – Unless you don’t mind searching every time you need a saved document, you’ll need a good folder system. To get you started, rename any folder named “New Folder,” delete any folder with nothing saved in it, and develop a good structure that works for everybody who uses the files.
  6. Photos – Refuse to keep photographs that serve no purpose. You wouldn’t put bad photos in a physical photo album. Likewise, you don’t need to keep them just because there is space on your hard drive. Holding onto poor quality photos makes it more difficult to find the high quality ones when you need them. Always delete them before/during the import.
  7. Music/Movies – One of the best things about digital media is that you can have every song/movie in your library available at your fingertips. Unfortunately, one of the worst things about digital media is that you have every song/movie available at your fingertips. To keep them from cluttering your library, delete unused ones permanently. If you can’t find the strength to delete them, move them to a different folder where you can recall them manually if you need to (you won’t need to).
  8. Time On-line – Log on less. Your kids will thank you. The following article is a must-read for every parent: Plugged-in Parents Alienating Their Kids?
  9. Facebook Friends - Too many friends on Facebook makes it more difficult to keep up with the ones you truly care about. Finding out that your old friend from high school is taking her three children out for pizza might be interesting, but the never-ending flow of information is distracting you from the people sitting next to you. At first, it is fun to join the popularity contest to see how many friends you can get… but it is important to realize that you are not in high school anymore.
  10. Facebook Time-Wasters - Join less groups, play less games, poke less people, and chat less. For the sake of your real life, learn how to minimize your time on facebook. However, do join the Becoming Minimalist fan page on Facebook. After all, that’s where this post was written. Thanks everybody.
  11. Twitter - To improve your entire Twitter experience and to keep it productive rather than distracting, read Leo Babauta’s Minimalist Guide to Using Twitter. You’ll never use Twitter the same way again.
  12. RSS Subscriptions – Unsubscribe to blogs that are no longer updated or relevant to your life. If your reader has really gotten out of control and no longer saves you time, read How to Declutter and Streamline Your Google Reader Inbox.
  13. Internet Bookmarks – Delete bookmarks that are no longer needed. It is as simple as Right-Click > Delete. For the remaining bookmarks, use a folder system for quicker navigation.
  14. Cookies – A cookie is a small packet of text saved by your web browser that stores information unique to you and your browser history. Generally considered harmless, a large percentage of targeted advertising comes from information gleaned from tracking cookies. Cookies can be easily deleted by visiting Control Panel > Internet Options > General > Browsing History.
  15. Old Contact Information – Delete contacts that are no longer needed. Update contact information that needs to be updated. This will keep your contacts folder clutter-free and efficient.
  16. Passwords/Log-Ins - I use 1Password. It provides me with the security of choosing unique passwords for each of my protected accounts on-line without the headaches of trying to remember them. You’ll never go back to trying to remember them all again.
  17. Email Marketing – Unsubscribe to newsletters / advertisements that no longer add value to your life. Don’t just delete, unsubscribe. It should take only a few seconds by clicking the “Unsubscribe” link on the bottom of the email.
  18. Email Accounts - Nobody needs more than two e-mail accounts (work/personal). One is even better.
  19. Desktop Background – Appreciate the simple beauty of a minimalist background. A background that does not clutter your eyes or mind will improve your productivity and attention span far more than you think.
  20. Temporary Internet Files - Control Panel > Internet Options > General > Delete Temporary Internet Files. Done.
  21. Internet Home Page – How many times have you hopped on-line just to get a small piece of information only to be sidetracked by political news, sports scores, or celebrity gossip? Probably countless times. Here’s a quick tip: Change your Internet homepage to the minimal, unpersonalized google.com. There are no tangent headlines battling for your attention.
  22. Disc Clean-up/Defrag - A four-click solution on most computers. Start > Accessories > System Tools > Disc Clean-Up. To get really serious, read How to Analyze, Clean Out, and Free Space on Your Hard Drive.
  23. Upgradeable Digital Devices (Cameras, Thumb Drives, MP3 players, Cell Phones, External Hard Drives). If you’ve been making the most of technology for any length of time, chances are you have a small pile of old devices that you no longer use. If you can’t find somebody who would graciously accept a hand-me-down, recycle them properly.
  24. Cables - Your desktop is where you use your computer most. Don’t allow it to be overtaken by things begging for your attention and personal space… especially cables. Perhaps the solution for cable-clutter is not as difficult or expensive as you think.
  25. CD-ROMS / Hardware Manuals – If you no longer use the program, you don’t need to keep the CD. Likewise, if you no longer own the hardware, you don’t need to keep the manual. And to reduce even more paper clutter, see if your hardware manuals are available on-line (in pdf format, for example). If so, discard them entirely.

Tackling all 25 areas of digital clutter will almost certainly take more time than you have available right now. That’s alright. There is probably plenty of room in your bookmarks folder for this post. Just save it under “Work in Progress.”

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Lots of excellent suggestions here. However if your browser bookmarks look anything like mine used to, simply going through them and deleting them one at a time would take an extremely long time.

    A better method is to move all of your bookmarks into a sub-folder, retrieve the ones you actually need, and just delete the entire old bookmarks sub-folder after a mouth when all of the worthwhile bookmarks have bean retrieved.

    This was actually covered as part of an article I wrote, 3 tips for a better browsing experience: http://hessiess.com/2010/04/25/3-simple-tips-for-a-better-browsing-experience/

  2. says

    Thank you for posting this–computer clutter is awful, but I lack the confidence to delete this and delete that.

    However, I am the paragon of virtue when it comes to keeping the Inbox under control–I archive, reply, and/or delete everything once per day, same as I do the snail mail, and life has been much more organized for it.

  3. says

    Great list! Sometimes I forget about my digital clutter!

    I used to be a chronic email hoarder and never deleted anything in my in-box (or sent box!). When the company I work for switched email providers, I decided to cut the cord – kind of. Our IT specialist put all of my old email into a special folder that I didn’t know how to open. I knew I could beg him for access if I ever needed it, and today almost two years later, I forget what was so important about holding onto all of those messages.

    Can’t wait to go through this list and let go of more!

  4. Di says

    Thank you so much for this very pertinent list. I love lists; it keeps me on task. I am glad to see that I am already up to par with most of the areas of digital clutter. I will have to work on the ones I have not yet addressed such as deleting old documents, folders, bookmarks, and temporary internet files; organizing my photos, and updating my contacts.

  5. says

    Nice job! I do pretty well at this. Fortunately, there is no deadline for getting this done, so a little everyday helps.

    I try to unsubscribe to email lists each time I get one that no longer seems useful to me. I take care of it right then. In general, digital decluttering is like decluttering in the real world: A little each day makes each day a little simpler and nicer.

    Also, when getting a new computer, it’s a good policy to import in very few files from the old one and only install software as you need it. There’s no reason to clutter up a new computer with an old one’s clutter.
    1

    • says

      good call about staying on top of digital clutter. and getting a new computer is like moving to a new house, a perfect chance to get rid of the things you no longer use/need.

  6. says

    Thank you for this awesome advice. It confirms habits I’ve already developed. In fact, I love going through my bookmarks and files and deleting things I no longer need.

    Just a note from a fellow writer; please use “less” and “fewer” properly. When I run into their frequent misuse, it really disturbs my reading experience. From this article: “Join less (fewer) groups, play less (fewer) games, poke less (fewer) people, and chat less (right!).” singular = less / plural = fewer

    Thanks, and keep up the great advice, it’s life-changing!

  7. says

    Great tips !! I used to use Xmarks to manage my bookmarks .. then realized I didn’t even “use” the bookmarks that often. Now I just have Google reader setup with about 25 sites I have interests in. If I forget anything I may have found online in the past the almighty Google is there to help ;)

    As far as keeping things organized I use Crunchbang Linux http://crunchbanglinux.org/ on my PC, which by default doesn’t even allow desktop icons and has a very straightforward folder setup. (don’t even have to defrag ;)

  8. says

    Thanks for this post. I might be very minimalistic with my physical possessions but my computer is a different story. I’ve got way too much digital clutter and I need to work on that. And now I’ve got a starting point. Thanks! :)

  9. V says

    I think it’s interesting that the becoming minimalist website has cookies, especially given #14. I try to only accept cookies that serve an identifiable purpose. What purpose does the cookie for this site serve?

  10. Anjanette says

    Lots of good information here. One thing I keep on coming across, however, is the tip of logging in less. Great idea, and I hardly am on my computer when not at work. BUT, I have recently been getting into reading more blogs, possibly starting my own, joined Twitter, etc. and I feel that if I don’t log in frequently, the next time I do so, I am loads behind those I subscribe to and have hours of reading ahead of me. So what exactly is the balance?

  11. Karl says

    #26. Quit making long-ass lists. Use “chunking” to condense your information and tasks into categories, and do one thing at a time. A list of more than ten things is probably too long.

    OK, so that was a little snarky, and I made it to the end of the post, so I’m obviously interested in what you have to say. But seriously, a 25-item list is neither simple, nor minimal.

      • Karl says

        Well, yes, and there is something to be said for a comprehensive approach. This isn’t your personal to-do list; it’s a resource for your readers.

        I read The 99 Percent frequently, and I like their “bias toward action” approach. It has been a great resource for me as I try to simplify my life and iterate on my ideas. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s worth checking out:

        http://the99percent.com/

        This post also reminded me of the book “Rework” by the guys of 37signals. They talk a lot about simplifying things, and just doing it.

        Cheers on the comment volley!

  12. says

    Email Accounts – Nobody needs more than two e-mail accounts (work/personal). One is even better.

    That’s mostly true, but if you’re runing a business online or just a blog, you need couple of more mails. You can not avoid this. I’m using just one email account, but letters are redirected there from other three accounts.

  13. SixFooy says

    I realized that one greatest digital clutter like I and many other people have are saving media files (music, videos and movies.) I also saved pc games. I have a large external hard drive so I could save hundreds of gigabytes worth of files. With all this space, I was still discontent with saving so many items, because if they were to be deleted by accident or lost in the future, I’d feel obligated to redownload everything I lost.

    I was able to finally let go of saving music and movies, but deleting pc games took a while and I still feel as if I regret deleting all of them.

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