Tech Tips

Digital Clutter 101: How to Organize and Clean Out Your Computer

Most of us don’t have to spend as much time making our computers work efficiently as we used to. Just a few years ago, we weren’t surprised when we needed to spend half a day defragging our hard disk, for instance.

But we’re all dealing with lots more information than we used to, and the world comes at us fast. When’s the last time you organized and cleaned up your computer? Take about an hour today to ensure you stay in tip-top shape with these handy steps:

Restart your computer

If you have a modern Mac, or a Windows 8 or 10 PC, you don’t need to restart it very often (although older computers draw a lot of power even when they’re in sleep mode and you should turn them off when you’re not using them). But if your machine starts to drag, or you hear the fan whirring loudly and often, it’s time to restart.  This allows your computer to install updates and work more efficiently overall.

Empty your trash and delete extra / duplicate files

Here’s an easy one that we often forget: Empty your trash once a day. It’s easy to have old files stack up here, and they take up space you could be using for something else.

Also, every computer gets cluttered with extra files through everyday use. Most personal computers have a standard spot where they file downloads or Internet cache files. So, make it a habit to check your downloads folder regularly, file the documents you need to keep elsewhere and delete items you no longer need (like those boarding passes from your trip to Hawaii 3 years ago).  You’ll also find that some files cluttering up your computer are ones you’ve never even knowingly opened—just fragments of deleted programs, language files you don’t use, or one-time files created and unused ever since.

Finally, get rid of duplicate files.  Both PCs and Macs have apps that can clean the extra files you don’t need, like Duplicate Cleaner and Easy Duplicate File Finder.

Consider cloud storage options

If you have serious space issues on your computer, consider cloud storage options for photos and music. In addition to helping you organize and use your music and photos, iTunes, iPhoto, Picasa, and other services provide a variety of ways to store music and images on and off your computer, including some that rely almost entirely on the cloud. Be careful though, because the cloud-only options may make it more cumbersome or even limit your access to your own files, especially when you’re not connected to the Internet.

Similarly, you can use file storage options like OneDrive, Dropbox, or Google Drive to store files entirely in the cloud, or you can co-locate them on your computer, depending on how much space you have to spare.

A place for everything, everything in its place

Finally, the tricky part for people day-to-day (even offline in the real world): Put things where they go. Create a set of folders that cover the major topics of your computer files. Perhaps “Work,” “Home,” “Family,” “Receipts,” for instance. Some topics may need subfolders too, just to make it easier to quickly find the exact file you need. Keep one copy of each file — don’t download multiple copies of a file from your email, and if you update a file, throw away the old version. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to store files you’ve downloaded or moved around that day, and you’ll keep your computer desktop and other folders in tip-top shape.

Back it up

Finally, if you aren’t storing all your files in cloud storage (which should offer redundant backup for peace of mind), make sure you’re backing up your files regularly.  Better safe than sorry.