We all love our digital tools and apps, but without conscious oversight, those sacred internet spaces can quickly become cluttered. All that digital mess can outweigh the advantages of speedy communication. You can go off the grid altogether (but we know that’s not really going to happen), or you can use these tips to keep your digital life under control.
1. Keep your email organized
Getting your email to the elusive Inbox Zero isn’t necessarily the most productive use of your time. In fact, there’s some controversy over whether you should waste time sorting and managing email, or if you should just read it and let it languish in your ever-expanding inbox.
Here’s what I know: When I open my inbox and see hundreds of emails in there, my brain thinks of each one as a task I need to complete. Maybe you aren’t as sensitive to email stimulus. However, if a cluttered inbox makes you grumpy, getting to Inbox Zero can bring clarity and calm and make your email use more efficient.
Delete, delete, delete!
Take some time and go through those remaining emails in your inbox. Delete or archive the ones you no longer need. Then unsubscribe from the email lists and newsletters you know you no longer want.
Use helpful tools
You can use a service like Unroll.me to get your email subscriptions under control and unsubscribe to mass emails in bulk. However, be aware that Unroll.me collects and sells anonymized user data. Most third-party email services are collecting data of some kind (though not all are selling it). If you use one, do so with caution. (See also: 5 Kinds of Emails to Purge From Your Inbox)
Use filters and folders
Once you have your inbox cleared and you’re happily unsubscribing with a single click from mailing lists you no longer care about, you need to protect all that work. The emails will keep coming, after all.
You can use filters, folders, and labels to organize your emails. Depending on which email service you use, of course, the options for organization will be slightly different. However, in most cases, you can use filters to sort your email via customized settings, such as a keyword in the subject or a specific sender.
Create folders or use labels to organize emails by specific topic or context. For example, you could set up a filter to apply a “Financial” label to all emails from your bank or credit card issuer, and to any emails containing keywords such as “Payment processing.” Now all your financially related emails are sorted into one place, automatically. Or use a service like Organizer to do all that sorting and categorizing work for you.
2. Safeguard your passwords
Passwords. Ugh. So, you want to be secure and you don’t want to get hacked, but you also can’t remember a different password for every account you have, and you’re not good at coming up with strong passwords. And writing down each username and password you create on a paper scrap which immediately disappears to wherever socks go is equally terrible.
Use a password manager. You will thank me a million times over the next month as you click that handy button and let your secure password manager do the work. You don’t have to be vulnerable and you also don’t have to remember it all yourself.
Set up a password manager
My password manager of choice is LastPass. It’s easy to use, fully functional, and it’s free. You can pay for a premium version which will sync across all devices. I did after several years of using the free version. It’s worth every penny.
The most difficult part of a password manager is the initial setup. You’ll need to install your password manager, and then login to each account to save the information (and to update it with a secure password, as needed).
3. Reduce your online accounts
How many online services have you signed up for, only to forget about them weeks later? The number is probably about as high as the email subscriptions you’re finding in your now-clean inbox.
Leaving outdated, unused accounts open is kind of annoying, and it can also be a security hazard. Especially if you used that old, easily hacked “1234goteam” password on an account you’ve forgotten; even more so if that account is linked to other online accounts.
Locate and eliminate
Who can remember all those old accounts? Not me. Probably not you. A service called Deseat.me can help — it’s free and easy to use. Choose to login with Google or Outlook, then gaze in shock at the long list of accounts you have. (I had 189!)
4. Clean up your social media presence
Whether you use social media to send invites to your kid’s birthday party or to creep on your high school crush, you don’t need clutter getting in the way.
If you’ve gone through the process of finding and canceling outdated accounts, then you’ve already eliminated Myspace and Xanga. Now it’s time to clean up the social media accounts you do use. (See also: 7 Easy Ways to Clean Up Your Image on Social Media)
Unfollow people on Facebook
Declutter your Facebook newsfeed by consciously controlling who you follow. You can do this individually by clicking on the top right corner of a post in your newsfeed, and select “Unfollow.” You can do this with people or group pages. To bulk unfollow, go to News Feed Preferences and click on the “Unfollow people to hide their posts” option. You’ll see a list of all the people you currently follow; click on the ones you don’t want to follow anymore.
Declutter Twitter and Snapchat
Twitter provides plenty of options for muting, unfollowing, and sorting Twitter users into lists so you can declutter your timeline without missing out.
You can also organize your Snapchat friends list so you see the most important people first.
5. Clean up your computer files
During your digital decluttering mission, let’s not neglect the offline detritus. Your computer’s file system probably needs a good cleaning. Start with your Downloads folder. Is it still holding every image, .pdf, and document you’ve downloaded in the last three and a half years? Is your Documents folder a mile-long list of every text-based file you’ve ever created?
Let’s fix this.
Set up a system
Before you can sort your files, you need to set up categories. It’s going to be different for everyone, but it’s a good idea to start by thinking of the main type of files you have, and how you can sort them into more manageable collections. For example, if you have hundreds of photos, you could create chronological folders and sort photos by year or by event. If you keep lots of documents, sort them by use: financial, work, writing, research, etc. The key is to create categories that are large enough to be high-level but small enough to be manageable.
Clean up your files
Before you start moving your files into your snazzy new folders, remove duplicate files.
To keep your filing system in pristine shape, get in the habit of moving files where they belong as soon as you download and save them. If that seems like too much work, make a weekly habit of updating and organizing all newly acquired files.