Digital Decluttering for Geeks

I love decluttering… and am fortunate (I suppose) to have a plethora of opportunities after living in the same house for 30+ years.

Imagine my bliss when the March habit suggested by Leo of Zen Habits fame was to declutter. His first assignment was to ask ourselves why we wanted to declutter. I got super-excited just imagining it. When I dug a little deeper, I realized that in addition to its meeting my obvious (seemingly lifelong) need for order, decluttering also gives me a treasure trove of other wonderful things: space, simplicity, focus, beauty, and even a sense of peace. Who knew?

So I was pumped — and the month did not disappoint. In fact I’m still going strong, and this habit is fanning out into unexpected areas of my life. One obvious one (that had nonetheless never crossed my mind before as a form of decluttering) is cleaning out my copious amounts of digital debris.

Years ago I got in the habit of zeroing out my email inbox as often as possible, and periodically (usually when changing jobs or upgrading hardware) I’ve done purges of hard-disk files and always felt a big surge of relief. But then mid-March in some decluttering research, I ran across The Little Guide to Digital Decluttering by Courtney Carver.

I dropped everything, inspired by her example, and came up with three lists that work for me. The thing is I’m a geek and she isn’t, so my lists are somewhat different, more extensive, and best done in a particular order. For example, there’s a lot of old web code I wrote on my laptop and podcasts I subscribe to start to eat up huge amounts of space if I let them.

Weekly Digital Decluttering Steps

  1. Empty my laptop’s trash.
  2. Empty my email inbox.
  3. Zero out Feedly (my RSS news reader).
  4. Clean off my desktop. This is my absolute favorite. I get a little rush of glee when seeing a desktop that’s just beautiful wallpaper. Icon-pox begone….
  5. Empty out the Today notebook in Evernote (my master to do list where I forward emails such as the daily paper).

Monthly Digital Decluttering

  1. Backup all files on the external hard drive with Time Machine. (For day-to-day I use CrashPlan.)
  2. Empty the downloads folder.
  3. Empty the screenshots directory.
  4. Prune aging podcasts.
  5. Empty photos and videos off of my mobiles.

Quarterly Digital Decluttering

Note: I haven’t done the quarterly items enough to have them in a particular order. This is just my best guess.

  • Review the applications folder and delete apps I no longer have use for with AppCleaner.
  • Similarly with my mobiles… Review all apps and delete those I’m no longer using.
  • Move old web code I haven’t touched in 3+ years to the external drive.
  • Prune old documents to my “archives” folder. Next quarter, anything that remains in “archives,” move to the external drive.
  • Look for disk hogs using DaisyDisk.
  • Clean up Twitter friends and lists. (I’m guessing I’ll need to do this since I’m starting to use Twitter more again.)
  • Review 1Password accounts.

Perhaps this sounds a bit excessive, but every time I do any of this, I always feel terrific. Seriously. Back to space, simplicity, focus, beauty, and peace. Amazing.

Please note: this is just how I (a Mac-using web developer) approach this. I can’t imagine these exact lists will work for anyone else. And I’d love to hear how you declutter your digital life. I’m on Twitter @happywebdiva.