How’s your computer looking?
Minimalists we might be, but the hard drive tends to get the short end of the stick. Here’s the thing: clutter is clutter, whether it’s digital or not, and there’s absolutely no reason to skip your computer during your next scheduled cleanup. You might not see the immediate benefits of emptying out the My Documents folder, but a clean, well-organized computer can do wonders for both your ease of mind and workflow.
Here’s a few tips to get you started:
1. Dump the junk software!
It’s not easy. It’s not fun, either, but it’s absolutely necessary if you have dozens of programs littered across your desktop. Take a good look at the applications you use on a daily basis. You’ll find, in most cases, that it’s only a handful, which raises serious questions about the rest still clogging up your task bar.
Do you need multiple music players? What about three or four productivity programs? Probably not. But remember — deleting the icon off your desktop does not mean you’ve uninstalled it. If you’re using Windows, you’ll need to go through the Control Panel to properly uninstall a program. Mac users can simply delete it from the “Applications” folder.
Start uninstalling the junk. It’s usually a slow and tedious process, so split it up over as many days as you can. Every time you start up the computer in the morning, why not uninstall a few useless programs? Your C:\ drive will appreciate the new space, and you’ll have far fewer applications slowing down your startup process too.
2. Clean your desktop!
It might seem unimportant, but a cluttered digital desktop can weigh you down just as well as a physical one. Why would you want to stare at a huge mess of icons every time you turn on your computer?
The best solution is to clean it by hand, deleting files or moving them to their respective folders. If that’s too much work, however, a Windows user can put those icons out of sight by right clicking on the desktop, selecting ‘Arrange Icons By’ and then clicking ‘Uncheck Show Desktop Icons.’ The icons will still be there, but at least they’ll be made invisible. Mac users can check the Preferences for any Finder window and unselect all the options underneath “Show Items on Desktop.” That’ll still leave folders and applications, though you can just move those where you like and enjoy an unobstructed view of your wallpaper.
3. Let Hazel do the work!
I’m not a big fan of background applications, as they tend to hog resources and slow down your computer. I make an exception, however, for Hazel (Mac OSX) and Belvedere (Windows), incredible programs that act like digital housekeepers for your hard drive.
You start by telling Hazel which folders to monitor. The program keeps tabs on my Downloads folder, currently, and runs a set of rules every time I add something new to it (in this case, downloading something from the Internet). Hazel automatically moves pictures, documents, and music to their respective folders, and even auto-trashes files that have been sitting in my downloads folder for more than a week.
Hazel’s power just grows from there. If you’re already stuck with a cluttered computer, why not set it do a sweep through the hard drive itself? Give it a decent set of rules and it can do an incredible amount of work for you, organizing files based on their type and generally making your life that much easier.
I have it set to empty out my trash can once a week, too. Hazel can be set to interact with your files in whichever way you want, making it incredibly easy — and incredibly simple — to keep your hard drive in great shape before regular use starts to clutter it up. The biggest benefit, I think, is in time saved — Hazel works in the background to keep your hard drive well-organized, saving you from doing most of the grunt work yourself.
4. Prune your RSS reader!
RSS readers are a great way to stay updated on your favorite sites, but they come with a price: the infamous “Unread” count, which grows higher and higher if you don’t keep up with your feeds. For that reason, I’ve implemented a pretty strict set of rules for my RSS reader to follow.
I subscribe to less than 10 blogs at any time, and only those that I legitimately care to read on a daily basis. Likewise, I avoid sites that update frequently throughout the day, which normally includes news sites and most commercial blogs. My RSS reader is pretty sparse as a result, but anyone with an Unread count in the hundreds knows how heavy that can weigh on your mind. It’s not clutter in any physical sense, but an unregulated RSS reader can be every bit as stressful.
5. You only need one password!
Passwords are messy business. With more and more sites requiring registration, it’s difficult to keep track of which password goes where, resulting in the same basic set of characters being used all across the web. Password managers like 1Password (Mac OSX) and Roboform (Windows) work wonders, however, by generating — and remembering — complex, secure passwords for each site you login to.
Both programs ask you to set a “master password” that you’ll use to unlock the vault, and from there a simple key combination will auto-fill your login information with ease. The change is a welcome one, and probably the best way to streamline and simplify the dozens of accounts we juggle at any given time.
6. Don’t forget the Internet!
This might be the most important trick of all.
Hard drives aren’t getting any smaller. Just because you can store millions of files, however, doesn’t mean you should. Your computer will thank you for keeping it in clean, organized form, and you already have the most valuable tool for doing so at your disposal: the Internet.
It has everything. Manuals, music, photos and books — they’re all accessible via a quick Google search, eliminating the need to make backups of your favorite content for storage on your hard drive. The most important files, sure, will benefit from a local copy, especially if you don’t have the most consistent of connections. The majority of content you’ll interact with on the Internet, however, never needs to leave the “cloud” and start cluttering up your hard drive.
The “I might need it someday” mentality can be especially strong here, but don’t fall prey to the promise of future functionality. You don’t need it. And if you do, somewhere down the line, a simple web search will provide everything you need.
That’s the real lesson here: even as computers are built bigger, faster, and stronger, the same principles of minimalism — of simplicity and mindfulness — have become more important than ever before. So why not treat your digital desktop with the same respect you afford the real one?
Matt Madeiro is a minimalist/traveler/health geek who likes computers more than he probably should. He writes about all of those things and more at Three New Leaves. You can also follow him on Twitter.