“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. 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 – Uninstalling is different than deleting a shortcut. Uninstalling programs frees up space on hard drive—simply deleting shortcuts doesn’t.
4. Desktop Icons – Remove as many icons from your desktop as possible. It is the equivalent of working at a cluttered desk. 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.
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 you are not in high school anymore.
10. Facebook Time-Wasters – Join fewer groups, play fewer games, poke fewer people, and chat less.
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.
15. Old Contact Information – Delete contacts 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.”
Jessalynn Jones says
wow! I also blog about simple living and this is definitely an area I’ve been neglecting! I am about to get a new laptop because the one I have is on its last legs. My goal now is to clean up this laptop really well so that only the stuff I need is moved over! Thanks for the inspiration!
I don’t usually comment but I gotta say thankyou for the post on this one : D.
Ha ha Karl, that’s funny, I also think it’s funny that people who write about leading a minimalist lifestyle seem to have SOO much to say about it…. I’m a fellow “noticer-of-incongruencies” ???? …. on Pinterest for example there are often one-image-how-tos, that you can pin on a given subect … but I noticed that on living simply, there doesn’t seem to be any self-contained single image how-to on living simply…. they are all an image of a book cover that you have to link through to in order to actually find out about living minimally, many times it’s a whole website with pages and pages or a book with pages and pages on the subject… it’s really ironic to me that minimalists can’t sum it up in a minimal way. I can, my advice would be “minimalist living. how to: just do it” ha ha ???? And best tip so far whether real life or digital life: clearing a little bit every day keeps the clutter away
Oh yeah, and for me, imagining ‘if I suddenly lost everything in a natural disaster or the Internet itself were to break and everyone start over, what would I really be saddest to have lost?’ And let that guide me when decluttering so that I can have clear in mind what it is that’s most important to me and what it is im making space for in order to have it in ‘high relief’ in my life. Letting go of interests or hobbies that are intrinsically messy. My biggest digital areas I need to declutter would be photos, music, personal emails, and digital creative projects that I started but didn’t finish, or didn’t have a system for keeping organized in the first place. And duplicate items. I hear there is a program or app that can help locate and alert you to duplicate photos or items………. A big thing that’s helping me as I go forward, is trying not to start something unless I have an infrastructure and/or time/plan in place, in order to see it through. instead of starting new projects or going on new trips for the fun of taking new photos of amazing places, thinking to myself ‘how about celebrating the old… try finishing or deleting an unfinished project, or re-organizing/decluttering photos from old trips and enjoying those memories for whatever they’re worth”. I’d love to find a way to integrate old photos that really mean something to me, back into my everyday life, through a calendar PDF or app or something, for example a “heres that meaningful thing you were doing or so and so was doing a year, two years, five years, ten years ago snapshot alongside my January-December calendar views, etc etc otherwise when do people really ever re-view old photos????? Music, I’m tempted to never own any of it ever again. It’s all on YouTube anyway. Maybe just having one or two current playlists of music I’m into RIGHT NOW. Personal emails I’m gradually making into an ebook for myself, just copying and pasting the meaningful interactions had between closest family and friends, into my own PDF book I can read maybe if I ever am laid out in hospital for some reason one day or something……? Ha ha now I’m the one with lots to say on the subject of being minimal ????
Love this post! I’ve been on my minimalist journey for almost two years now and have done pretty much everything on this list already, which is quite satisfying :). I have a question though, and would love to hear anyone’s opinion on this: I am currently in the process of deleting old accounts that I do not need anymore. However, there are some accounts that are literally impossible to delete, and besides that I am, for example, required to have an email address for my university, my job etc. Now they all link to my main email address but it still bugs me that I have so many accounts that I cannot delete completely. I decided to write them all down so that I at least can track where I’m registered, but it feels so cluttered in my mind. Also because I am never sure if these really are all of my accounts; maybe I forgot about a few. Should I worry about this? Morever, there are some forum comments I posted years ago, that cannot be deleted. I’m not 100% sure they are anonymous or not but it bothers me… Anyone else with a similar experience? Am I just worrying too much about useless things here? Hope to hear from anyone :)!
In subscribing from the store sites…some of these companies send several a day…less temptation and if I need something I will just go on their site at that time. Next one I’m getting rid of is the recipe sites…too many repeated recipes
Use the term “unsubscribe” as an email filter.
If you keep everything online you can relax. NSA keeps everything. Just give them a ring when you need something.
Removing irons from your desktop is like removing doors from your hallway.
Just imagine the joy if every room in your house had a maximum of two doors.
You could be living in a glass tube, with daylight coming in from all sides.
Bruce J says
Agree with some things here, disagree with others.
First and foremost: #5. Folder structure – absolutely important, particularly if you also use it for work. I also keep all my electronic financial/bill records organized by Account-account_type/date(YYYYMMDD). This lays out the records in ascending or descending time order. Having old records are useful when reviewing how money is spent, where it is going, how much electricity you used in past vs now etc. It is also useful if there is a dispute. I try to get as much of my records electronic as possible.
Folders are broken down by ‘project’ or who it was relative to. Documents and other correspondence sorted into these.
Photos-disagree; I keep most but not all (do a lot of photog). All organized under directories by ‘event_or_location\YYYYMMDD\*’. I get them off the memory card to the archive as quickly as possible. Sometimes one of the old photos later stirs a lot of memories – depends upon what happens in life. Similar with music – I get bored with some, then come back to it a year later and it is interesting again.
Cookies – set up auto cookie deletion on exiting browser.
Email accounts – I use 3. (personal, work, other+junk) – many sites want your email address – so I use an address that would not interfere with close friends/relatives and work.
Temporary Internet Files – you can set browsers to auto delete these (cache) on close. Helps eliminate ‘persistent cookies’.
CD-ROMs – RIP as many as I can, including SW install disks to ISO. CD/DVDs gets archived physically in file drawer. I use software that can mount an ISO image as yet another drive. Original CD/DVD held to prove that I did buy it (protect myself from MPAA and other legal types).
I tend to use a belief of fast organization and tossing things that I can quickly determine to not be of interest.
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.
Removals Richmond says
Very nice tips. I admit that I also forget that I need to uninstall the programs I delete in the desktop. Thanks for sharing these tips.
Ilie Ciorba 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.
#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.
joshua becker says
karl, i prefer the term “comprehensive.”
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:
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!
ludovic Heurtaut says
I’ll rather put
1. Buy a Mac rather than a PC
2. Delete your time loosing Facebook account
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?
Rach W. says
Man, I love this post!
I’ve been needing to prune my reader for a while now, today I’m gonna actually do it.
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?
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! :)
Mike 'Lnxr0x' 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 ;)
Yeah, great post! I’ll have to think about some areas on the computer and do sth about it :)
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!
Michelle Traudt says
I just found this site and I love it! Thanks for sharing your journey. We, too, are on a journey to live with less.
joshua becker says
great to have you aboard michelle.
Vincent - B-basic.com (from the Netherlands) says
I like this post but I disagree about point 9.
Good friends shouldn’t even have to be in facebook. Good friends should be in real life only to only spend worthy time with them . Talking about cluttering ;)
Gip @ So Much More Life 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.
joshua becker 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.
Bob Pepe says
Digital Clutter is a big deal for many people (including myself). Think about when you get a new Laptop or Computer.. It is refreshing and nice to see it empty of so many things and how fast it runs. Why not have that EVERYDAY?
I work in an office and stare at a screen all day. Why shouldn’t it be minimalistic and calming.. I received about 400 to 500 emails per day, and I truly need to deal with about 50 of them. The rest are junk. I try to stay above water with them, but within days I am sinking into the abyss and lose control. I then get angry and just delete EVERYTHING… I do occasionally lose something I need, but for the most part, it is just fine.
The memo I sent to an employee in 2007 doesn’t need to be kept.. I say I could lose about 80% of the documents that are clogging up my system.
Facebook “friends” have been whittled down to about 150 from a high of over 1,000… and with a little effort, that 150 should be more like 50.
I could go on and on, but instead I am going to attack some of these issues right now….. Say goodbye to the blurry photo of the steak I ate in 2010….
Another great article!!! I love this Website and way of life!!!!
Ali Khan says
Nicely put, I agree we do not need the photo that we took almost a decade back. My laptop is full of such stuff. I do have my old desktop computer that my father bought for us way back in 2007, it has been 10 years and the computer still runs and has a lot of my stuff.
I tried to sell the desktop but I have memories attached to it. It is tough. I cannot delete the stuff on it because most of it are stories that I wrote when I was just a teenager.
I will some day delete all the stuff I do not need.
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.
Courtney Carver 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!
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.
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/
Charles Michel says
Broken link – it redirects to Robert Hickman, ocarina maker :/
Good tip though, wish I could read your others!
I would really like to read the article for number 8 but the link is broken.