Most of us have some form of digital presence these days and, if you’re online even half as much as I am (several hours a day), or for as long as I’ve been (25 years), you’ll have amassed quite the collection of files, folders, photos, music, eBooks, bookmarks, and social profiles.
Digital decluttering can stop you spending hours scrolling through social media or looking for that file you saved six months ago. But where do you even start?
Warning: not for the faint-hearted or time-pressed.
If you watched the video I uploaded last week on how to be happy you’ll know that I’ve started extending the KonMari Method beyond my physical possessions. If an event, person, thought, or pastime doesn’t spark joy for me, I consider how I can remove it from my life. If it does spark joy, I consider how I can multiply it.
One area I’ve been working on for many months is digital decluttering. Honestly, I feel like Marie Kondo could write another book just on that topic alone. But, because she’s probably busy with her 6-month waiting list, I thought I’d step in and give my two cents on the subject, and tell you how I’ve been doing it.
The fact is that, because it doesn’t take up physical space, it’s too easy to add more junk to the digital pile. Our devices can store so much more than our homes can. I, for example, have thousands of songs, but I wouldn’t be able to keep all those in physical format. So, in a lot of ways, digital clutter is a much bigger problem but much easier to ignore, and for much longer.
However, just like physical clutter, you may not notice it building up on a day-to-day basis but, eventually, you’ll find you’ve run out of space.
Also, it has an end point. You have a definitive number of files and folders, etc. so it’s just a matter of going through each one individually and deciding whether or not it sparks joy for you.
The problem is the sheer quantity. Let’s go through each sub-category so that you can see what I’ve been doing to clean things up a bit.
Digital Decluttering: Files & folders
Every time I move to a new laptop (which isn’t often, thankfully), I dutifully copy over every single thing from my previous one. This is the digital equivalent of moving house and bringing everything with you, even though some boxes will sit unopened for years, if not forever.
If you’re anything like me, your computer desktop will be a digital jungle of files and folders. The first thing I did was to create a new folder (‘cause one more couldn’t hurt, right?) and moved everything from my desktop into it.
I called it the Sorting Hat, ‘cause I’m nerdy like that.
(Side note: Did you know you can actually change the icon so it’s not just a standard folder? There's mine below. It’s the little things.)
Next, I went into Documents and moved all the files out of their folders. This took some time but I needed to have everything in one big pile. I looked through each one in turn and decided whether or not it sparked joy. If it didn’t, it was deleted. (Remember that utility, convenience and necessity are forms of joy.)
Once that was done, I arranged them into groups, like with like. If there was already a folder there that covered the topic, I transferred them all into that. If not, I created a new folder. If sub-folders were necessary (eg. taxes divided by year) I did that, but only if I had enough files (3 minimum) to warrant another folder. Afterwards, empty folders were deleted.
Then I went back through the Sorting Hat, deleting anything that didn’t spark joy and transferring the ones that did to their proper place, according to my new, nicely organised filing system.
I still use the Sorting Hat to this day, saving all files into it instead of straight to my desktop so that things always stay tidy, and I go through it on a semi-regular basis to clear it out again. It’s one of the single best things I’ve ever done, digital decluttering-wise.
Top tip: Open each file briefly to ensure the contents match up with the file name. Re-name anything ambiguous or confusing into something more easily recognisable.
Digital Decluttering: Photos
Also incredibly time-consuming. In Photos, I created a folder for each year, and then a sub-folder inside each of those for the 12 months. Once that was done, I went through every single photo on my laptop and transferred them to their relevant year and month. Most of them had some form of time stamp (this will be under “Get Info” on a Mac or “Properties” in Windows) so it was easy to tell where they should go. For those that didn’t, I went with a best guess.
If you don’t take as many photos as I do, you may be able to get away with sub-folders labelled “January - June” and “July - December”, or maybe even just yearly folders.
There are some photos I’ve further sub-divided into their own separate folder (like wedding and honeymoon) but, for the most part, monthly is more than adequate.
Top tip: If you’re on a Mac, drag them all into iPhoto and it will auto-split all the time-stamped ones by date. Then you just select everything from a particular month and move them all to the relevant folder. (It’s still worth having a quick scroll through the folder though because time stamps aren’t always accurate.)
Digital Decluttering: Music
When I got my very first iPod many, many moons ago, I promised myself I was only going to put music I absolutely loved onto it, because I could never understand why my then-boyfriend now-husband kept constantly skipping songs on his. That wasn’t going to be me, I vowed.
The universe likes to have a good laugh at me every now and then.
But, good intentions and dodgy music tastes aside, it’s a fact of life that your preferences will change. The music I listened to in my teens may not be the music I choose to bop along to now that I’m in my 30s. So it was time to be a bit more discerning and declutter the songs I no longer loved. (The Backstreet Boys are staying though. Some loves are forever.)
The first thing I did was to scroll through each song I had, without listening, and delete all the ones I knew didn’t spark joy. I have a relatively small music collection so this took me less than half an hour but, depending on the size of your collection, it may take much, much longer for you. But it’s important to thin the herd first.
Then there was nothing for it but to listen to each song. This is still very much a work in progress for me but, every now and again (usually while ironing) I hit ‘play’ and see how the song makes me feel. Sometimes I’ll know immediately and can forward on to the next song; sometimes I need to listen to the whole song to get a proper sense of it.
Like I said, this is a long process. I’m currently about a quarter of the way through, and hoping to finish by the end of the year.
Top tip: Switch off “shuffle”. You need to be able to tell where you left off, and to know for certain when you’re done.
Digital Decluttering: eBooks
Similar to music, start by thinning the herd. I scrolled through all my eBooks and immediately deleted the ones I knew I was never going to read (*cough* free ones *cough*) and all the ones I’d already read and knew I was never going to read again.
This alone made a big difference.
Then it was literally a matter of reading each one. No shortcuts here, folks, just good old fashioned reading. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read at least 2 books a month (partly because I’m a bookworm but had gotten out of the habit, and partly because my eBook collection was becoming unruly).
Once I’ve read a book and know I won’t read it again, I delete it immediately.
Top tip: This is totally optional but, for me, it worked really well. I re-organised all my eBooks according to how much time it would take me to read them (the Kindle app gives a time estimate). I put them all in descending order, quickest ones at the top, and started reading. That way I was able to read and delete several short books in the time it would normally take me to read one long one. Now I just add new books to the bottom of the list so that older titles aren’t being overlooked.
Digital Decluttering: Bookmarks
Same process here — I eliminated everything I knew was no longer of interest to me, including a lot of wedding inspiration sites (I’m married 4 years now) or products I no longer wish to purchase (hurray KonMari Method).
Thereafter, I went through each one individually. If it was just a blog post, individual product page, or similar, I left it open. If it was a site that I genuinely visit on any sort of regular basis, I left it where it was, re-naming it if necessary.
Of the ones that were left open, I sat down and went through all of them. I was able to eliminate a lot straight off the bat. If there was an article that was particularly interesting but I’d probably only reference once or twice more, I saved it to Pocket, which is like an online folder for websites. (You could also use Evernote, Instapaper, etc.) If I thought I’d come back to it more regularly, I left it as a bookmark.
Top tip: Visit all the sites, even if you think you know exactly what they are. I had a few that turned out to be no longer available or that re-directed to an unrelated page.
Digital Decluttering: Social Profiles
For most people, this is where it gets tricky. I’ll give you a brief round-up of the main social platforms I use and how I tackled them. As with music, this is very much an ongoing process for me and will take many more months.
This subject alone could fill a long blog post (in fact, I’ve had one drafted for quite a while so, if you’d like me to publish it, let me know in the comments).
For several weeks, each time I saw something on Facebook I was no longer interested in (a person, a page or a group), I either unfriended or unfollowed. This alone cleaned up my timeline in a big way. Whereas before I was spending about 30 minutes each morning scrolling through my feed, now I can see everything in less than 5.
For friends, you can unfriend them; for pages, you can unlike them; and for groups, you can leave them. BUT you can also just unfollow each of these, which means you’ll still be connected to them and can visit their page, but their updates will no longer appear in your timeline. This was perfect for me for very active groups and posters that clogged up my timeline. I can now pop in and out on my own terms and in my own time.
Thereafter, I went into my profile and used the menu at the top to see all the things I’ve ‘liked’ (you may need to click “More”). I went through each one and whittled them down by about 50%.
Hello updates I’m actually interested in seeing!
Top tip: The downward facing arrow in the top right of each post is your best friend. Click it to open up a whole host of useful options, including unfollowing and turning off notifications. No more game requests!
I haven’t done much work on this one but, so far, I’m doing the ol’ “if I don’t like it when I see it, I unfollow” routine. Some day I will sit down and go through every single person I’m following. Today is not that day.
Same. If a spam account follows me, I block it immediately. If a pin shows up in my feed that I don’t like, I immediately unfollow that board.
I currently follow several thousand people on Pinterest so this is going to take some time. Maybe check back here in about 5 years.
I guess I kinda started backwards on this. I sat down one day and went through every single account I was following. It took me about 3 hours but it was oh so worth it. I started with over 1300 accounts, and finished with less than 140.
As with Facebook, this has contributed significantly to my extra time in the morning.
Now, 99% of my feed is bright and beautiful and brings me joy. Occasionally, I’ll spot something I’m no longer interested in. In that case, I check the account itself to see if it still brings me joy as a whole. If it does, it stays. One bad picture does not a bad account make.
I’ve noticed, particularly on Instagram, that a lot of people get offended if you unfollow, or say that it looks suspicious if you have a lot of followers but aren’t following that many yourself (i.e. it looks like you bought your followers) and that it’s only polite to follow people back if they follow you.
Personally, I couldn’t give a monkey’s uncle. If your photos aren’t something I want to see in my feed, I won’t follow you. (I’m sure you’re still a lovely person, but my time is precious to me. Your dog, no matter how cute, is not.) For me, that’s one of the best things about Facebook — I can follow whoever I like without them filling my timeline.
And there you have it — KonMari 2.0: Digital Decluttering.
As I’ve said, this is very much an ongoing process for me, and I don’t expect to be done any time soon. But I’ve seen a significant decrease in the amount of time I waste online, and my Sorting Hat allows me to keep my desktop uncluttered (and gives me a little smile every time I see it).
And just like that, joy is seeping into all areas of my life, even my desktop.
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