For the past few weeks I’ve been following the popular “Home Organization 101: A Bowl Full of Lemons 14 Week Challenge” in order to finally get our house unpacked and decluttered. It’s been a great motivator, yet I noticed that there’s one important category missing: electronic organization. Many organization articles suggest that you digitize your files, but few remind you that, like your home, your hard drive has a finite amount of space. And, if your computer isn’t treated well, you could find yourself dealing with a computer crash at the wrong time. I’m currently in the process of updating my computer, and I came up with a list to follow to guide me through the clean up. Here are my tips to declutter and organize your computer too.
The first step to cleaning out your computer is to get rid of all the files you don’t need anymore (kind of like clearing out your closet). This step takes the longest, but it will take less time in the future if you schedule routine reviews of your digital content. For fun, check your hard drive space before and after you complete this step (it’s fun to see a significant change). Here are the areas you want to check:
- Documents: don’t forget those from your desktop, downloads folder, cloud drives, and external hard drives
- Photos/Videos: you don’t really need to save photos from that lunch you made two years ago
- Music: if you don’t listen to it or you’re content to use streaming stations for it, get rid of it
- Emails: go through both your inbox and your archives (don’t forget to review your “sent” box)
- Bookmarks: check your browser and delete any sites you don’t visit
- Programs/Toolbars/Plug-Ins: uninstall any program you don’t use
- Recycling Bin: save this for last and be sure to empty the bin completely once you’re sure you’ve saved what you need
If you’re debating on whether or not to keep old documents, refer to this article on how long you should keep those “important” files (although you can be slightly more forgiving with electronic versions). Keep an eye out for duplicate versions of photos or documents; you probably don’t need to save multiple copies in the long run.
Now that you’ve pared down to the files you want to keep, it’s a lot easier to organize them the way you’d like. Here are some suggestions for setting up your system:
- Match your electronic filing system to your paper one: use this guide to Home File Storage to make it simple to find everything you’re looking for
- Replicate the format of your filing system on any cloud drives or external hard drives: know where to move files to when backing up your computer
- Ensure all your files are labeled correctly: correct anything with an unclear name and be consistent
- Determine which folders and files need to stay on your desktop: use a desktop organizer or just arrange them neatly (minimize desktop clutter)
- Setup a system to streamline emails: create organized inbox and archive folders to direct incoming emails
The best thing you can do for piece of mind is to routinely back up your important digital files. You never know when a hard drive may fail or get damaged, so creating copies of your files will allow you to recover quickly. Aim to backup copies of both your complete set of files and your system image, but at a minimum your personal files (documents/photos/programs/etc). There are several ways to do this:
- External Hard Drives: these can be portable, stationary, or cloud-based and come in a wide range of storage capacities (I use this 8TB cloud drive but I’m also a fan of the Western Digital My Passport series)
- Cloud Service: programs like DropBox, Google Drive, iCloud, and others allow you to backup either small amounts of content for free or large amounts for $50-$100/year
- CD’s/Flash Drives: although not as recommended (and definitely not worth it for large batches of content), keeping a CD/flash drive of important files and photos in a fireproof safe provides some extra security
You can perform these backups using either good old-fashioned copy/paste (easy enough for personal files) or dedicated backup software (better for system-wide backups). Whichever method(s) you choose, ensure that you have enough space for all of your current storage needs with plenty of room to grow. The safest bet is to have three copies of your data: one on your primary computer and two backups in different locations. If that seems like too much at first, start with one solid backup option that you can maintain easily.
Scanning & Computer Cleanup
Okay, so your computer is decluttered and backed up. Now it’s time for a deep clean.
- Run an anti-virus program: you should have one installed already; set it up for routine scans in the future to delete malicious files
- Run disk cleanup: this deletes unnecessary files from your computer and can be run from the “Start” menu
- Defragment your hard drive: this rearranges system files for faster performance and can also be run from “Start”
- Install any updates: check for any system or program updates that you’ve been putting off (be sure to restart afterwards)
- Physically clean your computer: use electronics wipes and compressed air to wipe down the screen, keyboard, slots, and casing
You’re really all set to go, but there are a few further steps you can take to help maintain your computer’s performance and organization.
- Use an app like Unroll.me to unsubscribe from emails you don’t wish to receive anymore
- Set up a browser tab suspender like OneTab to reduce the burden of multiple web tabs on performance
- Disable unnecessary startup programs
- Set periodic reminders for yourself to backup and clean out your computer every 6 months or so
Following this process should help your computer to run faster and more efficiently, plus ensure your files are protected in the unfortunate event of a crash or virus. So next time you’re working to organize your home, don’t forget electronic organization too!
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