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Five Steps to Tackle Digital Clutter

May 8, 2017
Five Steps To Tackle Digital Clutter | Tiny Ambitions

If you look around your house right now, what is the most cluttered area? Your bathroom? Your kitchen? I’m willing to bet the #1 most cluttered area in your home right now is actually…drumroll please… your computer!

Given how digital our lives have become, this is hardly surprising. Your computer (or tablet, or phone) probably contains every email you’ve ever sent, every picture you’ve ever taken, every song you’ve ever listened to. You get the idea.

And if you’re anything like me, all of that digital clutter starts clogging up your brain.

I’m the kind of person who can’t stand desktop clutter- it gives me anxiety to see a desktop covered in tiny icons. Maybe I’m just weird that way. But for something I might spend hours looking at in a day, it needs to be clean and orderly.

To combat my digital clutter and also make my 7 (!) year old MacBook Pro run better, I took a drastic step. I completely erased my hard drive and started over from scratch. My music library – gone. All the apps I’ve accumulated over the years – poof! Every photo I’ve ever taken? Adios!

Yes, this is an extreme response to non-physical clutter. But I’m an all or nothing kind of person. Let’s be clear, though, I didn’t just do it on a whim. Actually, dealing with my digital clutter took planning and quite a lot of time. But it was worth it!

You might ask, why didn’t you just go through your computer and delete what you didn’t need anymore? Well, I would respond with;

a) Ain’t nobody got time for that, and,
b) My computer is so old that it had 500GB of garbage clogging it up, so starting from scratch was much easier.

If you want to free yourself from desktop doom, I’ve documented the process I took below! Before you dive down the rabbit hole of tackling your digital clutter, there are some steps you should take.

1. Back up your computer.

As the ‘erasing’ name implies, you will lose everything when you erase your hard drive. So make a backup- unless you just want to get rid of everything, in which case, you can skip this step! Even if you don’t plan on erasing your hard drive, having a backup is a good idea. You never know when a power surge or an unfortunate tea spillage related accident might render your computer useless. With a Mac, backups are super easy. Plug in an external hard drive, activate Time Machine and let your computer do the heavy lifting!

2. Make a list of all the apps that aren’t automatically bundled with your operating system.

Depending on your OS, some apps will be automatically included when you reinstall your OS, but erasing your hard drive will get rid of everything else. My list included 22 extra apps – and so far I’ve only reinstalled seven of them. I still had apps on my computer that I used solely for my Master’s degree- which I completed over 3 years ago!

Don’t be afraid of losing your apps. Worse comes to worse you can always reinstall them!

3. Utilize cloud storage for anything you want a double copy of.

Before I erased my hard drive, I consolidated a couple of cloud accounts to further minimize my digital life (who needs a Dropbox, a Google Drive, AND a OneDrive account anyway?). As part of the erase process, I uploaded important files & photos to the cloud. The upside of this strategy is that you can then access your files from any mobile device.

You might ask – aren’t you worried about the cloud being hacked? No, I’m not. And even if I was hacked, all they would get is 1 million photos of my cat.

For more sensitive items (like tax or banking documents), I would recommend backing them up on a simple USB stick – that’s what I did!

4. Dedicate some time to the erase and reinstall process.

I live in a rural area with incredibly slow WiFi, so the re-download and installation process took a couple of hours. If you live in an urban area, it might not take as long. But if it does, be patient. Listen to a podcast (on your phone of course), eat snacks, dance in your kitchen – whatever floats your boat!

5. Begin the re-setup process.

Once everything has been erased and your OS has been re-installed, the process of setup can begin! I can only speak from a Mac perspective but this process basically creates a new copy of your OS. So when you boot up your computer, it will be like a brand new one, fresh out of the box (without the expensive price tag).

I had to re-setup all of the little things that make my computer mine – passwords, keyboard shortcuts, apps, music etc. I will be honest, it was a little tedious. But it was worth it for the end result – a computer that has exactly what I need on it and nothing else!

Surprisingly, I haven’t even re-downloaded any of the information from my external backup. I’m going to try and add stuff back only when I absolutely need it. So far, this hasn’t been hard. However, it has been an interesting exercise in what you can live without! [bctt tweet=”You don’t need instant access to every email, photo or song you’ve ever accumulated.” username=”tinyambitionsbb”]


Does your computer need a minimalist makeover? I’d love to hear your strategies for keeping your digital clutter under control!

Image Credit: Unsplash

  • Ariel @ Frugal Mermaid June 16, 2017 at 12:50 am

    I’m just like you…knowing that my computer is over full and not perfectly organized keeps me up at night sometimes. But you’ve inspired me! A clean start is just what I need!

    • tinyambitions June 16, 2017 at 7:08 am

      Ya! It was so worth clean starting my computer! Thanks for reading Ariel!

  • rhinophile May 8, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    How did you know my computer “probably contains every email you’ve ever sent, every picture you’ve ever taken, every song you’ve ever listened to”! 😄 It’s true, and I am inspired to follow your example. It feels kind of risky and a bit ‘devil may care’, which makes it even more worth doing!

    • tinyambitions May 8, 2017 at 5:35 pm

      Ha! I’m basically a mind reader 😜. I definitely stressed out before I did it, but I’m so glad I took the leap. It was so worth it!

    Hey! I'm Britt. I write about living a tiny, simple, intentional life. Because life doesn't need to be lived big.

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