Saturday, January 7, 2012

Conquering Clutter: Digital Decluttering

With the new year, I've tried to think about how I can get my life a little more organized. Maybe it's the constant assortment of toys left on my living room floor, or the ledge that is constantly covered with junk mail and papers, or just the fact that I'm pregnant and nesting, but sometimes I just feel like my house is just too cluttered and messy! There are some great places to look for good decluttering routines: My Simpler Life has a calendar that has one decluttering item to do every day. The other Spendwise mom is getting rid of one item a day, and I'm sure there are countless others! However, I think there is one area that people tend to neglect:
digital clutter.

The worst and best part about digital clutter is that you can't see it! No matter how much you have, your computer won't expand to take up more space, and your office won't start looking anything like the one above. So, how do you know if you have digital clutter? Well, chances are that everyone has something that could use a little tidying up and sorting through, especially since most people have digital cameras. However, I've come up with a few questions that should help you figure if you need to declutter your virtual life. 

You May Need To Digitally Declutter if...
 Have you ever tried to find a picture or a file on your computer and search for minutes or hours with no success? Ever missed an appointment because you wrote it in the OTHER calendar? Decided that you never want to make a photo book because that would mean that you'd have to sort through the hundreds of pictures on your computer? Or missed some exciting news via email because it was sandwiched between a forward and some spam? If so, first, you should know you are not alone. Second, keep reading and you'll find some great tips to make your digital life more organized, making you feel more at peace.  

Here's HOW: 

1. Clean out your email, and keep it clean: First, go to your email and see if you have any unread emails. If you do, either read them or delete them. Then, if there are any emails that you need to reply to, JUST DO IT. Even though this may take a while, continue with this process until you're done, and you'll have a clean slate! Maintaining this will be a lot easier from this point on. Any time you check your email, reply or delete emails right away so your inbox stays clean. And, rather than taking a long time like the first run through did, it should only take a few minutes!

If you want to get even more organized, get a Gmail account. Here are a few things that make it so much easier to get organized using Gmail, versus other email services: 
  • The Archive function is amazing. You can archive emails you are finished with, and they will stay saved in your email, but won't be sitting in your inbox collecting virtual dust. Then, if you ever need to look at the email again, you just search for it! This has been particularly useful for me when I need to look at a recipe my mom sent, or if I can't remember someone's address. I can just enter 'recipe split pea soup' in the search bar, and it finds all the emails with those words in it! There are more advanced options for searching, too, but I won't talk about them here. 
  • The Label function is ideal if you have the same email for multiple functions: work, personal, etc. You can assign different 'labels' to your emails. When I was going to school, I would use label for school emails, and I could just click on the "school" label to see all of my school emails. 
  • Filters in Gmail make it something you can't live without. Filters allow you to re-route emails automatically to whatever location, assign labels, and can even mark the emails as read! If you have a distant aunt who sends you forwards all the time, you can set up a filter to auto-read and delete them. If you receive weekly family email updates, but don't like reading them until a certain day of the week, you can have it automatically label it "Family Emails", skip the inbox, and then you can read it later without it sitting in your inbox, bothering you. 
You'd be amazed at how a clean inbox can make you feel much less cluttered , and even less stressed! 

2. Clean up your desktop: Most of your desktops are probably not this bad: 

But it's always good to keep the programs you use most frequently on the desktop, and then delete the other shortcuts! There are some that can't be deleted depending on what type of computer you have, (My Computer, Recycle Bin) but you can always get to the program the 'long' way...which is just fine for programs that you seldom use. 

3. Organize or delete your files: One of the best thing I ever learned in college was in one of my statistics courses: my professor introduced us to the idea of having a well organized file structure. This probably isn't a novel idea for most people, but it changed my life! It is so easy to find my files since I have folders for each subcategory, and I name the files meaningful names. Setting up this file structure will save you, I promise! Here is an idea of what a file structure might be for a person's documents. A person might have the following folders:

Personal Finances

And then within each of these folders, you can have sub-folders, sub-sub folders, etc. For example, in Personal Finances you might have folders for each year:


And then within each year, have folders like:


Vacation Budget
Christmas Expenses

Then, you can find exactly what you are looking for! This has saved me so many hours of searching for files. Please do yourself a favor and create a file structure for your needs!

4. Organize Pictures and Videos: I put this as a separate step because there seem to be a disproportionately large amount of pictures compared to other files on my computer, and I would imagine it is like this for most people! The trick to keeping your pictures organized is twofold: 1. Get them into a time-based file structure and 2. Go through and edit/delete pictures when you upload them to your computer.

  • Time Based File Structure: My file structure is divided by year, then by month. Sometimes, if there was a big event, like a wedding, I'll even have a separate folder within the month for that specific event, but we typically don't have enough pictures in a month to warrant separate folders for each event. But, that's a personal choice!
  • Edit/Delete as you Upload: As cute as your kid may be, you don't need the 10 different shots of him showing you his cute lego creation! Pick one or two that are your favorites, and just delete the rest! And, fix the red eye, crop, etc as you go. I would recommend a program like Picasa or iPhoto that allows you to upload and edit in the same program- you don't need anything fancy! 
5. Streamline your calendar, to do lists, etc for all your devices and computers. a.k.a Pick ONE computer and ONE calendar.

Honestly, I still prefer to have a physical calendar to look at, and if that is the case for you, I wouldn't mess with online calendars. However, my husband does everything online, and it is nice for eachother to have access to the others' calendar. Then, I don't have to remind him when I have a doctor's appointment.

If you do like using a non-paper calendar, then here's what you need to do: Decide one program you want to use for your calendar. I would recommend Google Calendar (which also comes with your gmail email!), because it syncs with just about every device I know of. It can be tricky to get it set up so it synchronizes with all of your devices, but it's worth the time. When you streamline your calendar into one, you get everything on every device, and don't have to worry about checking the calendar at home, the planner in your purse, and your phone.

This also applies to files. If you have multiple computers, choose one to be your main computer. Nothing is worse than trying to remember which is the most current version of the file you were just working on! I would also recommend looking into a program like Dropbox, which allows you to store the files on your computer, but then allows you to access them on other devices, too! If you have the program installed on all of your computers, it will save the most recent file to ALL of the computers! And, if you ever need to access your files from a different computer that doesn't have Dropbox installed, you can log into their website and download the file. (This also is a good way to backup your files, too!)

6. Create an account with a password-saving website: This is a great idea for anyone with many different, banks, coupon websites, rewards websites, and photo sites all seem to have their own login, and it is hard for me to keep track of which passwords I use (note, it isn't good to use the same password for every site!) So, I use LastPass to store my passwords. I just have to remember ONE password, and then I have access to all of my other passwords. The password for my Lastpass is a pretty ugly and complicated one, to make sure it is secure, and then I can use any kinds of passwords I want to, including ones that are 15 characters long with random numbers and letters. LastPass isn't the only program of its kind, but it is the one I'm currently using. Not having to remember all of your passwords helps you feel less cluttered because you can forget them, and uses the brain space for something else more important.

Hopefully this will help you feel like your digital life is organized, and ready to go. I've found once you put in the time to get it organized, keeping it organized is SO easy. So, set aside a few hours to get digitally decluttered, and while you won't really be able to see the effect, you will feel at peace, and increase efficiency!

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