Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a little book that’s changed a lot of lives. Its advice on living a more joyful life is simple: discard every possession that doesn’t bring you joy, and make sure the rest are well organized.
I’ve recently started this process, known as the KonMari method, and it’s had a surprising impact. The energy in each room of my apartment has changed. It feels like there’s more air and more light. My mind is clearer.
As I’ve been discarding and organizing my physical possessions, I’ve become more cognizant of my digital possessions (and the various appurtenances that accompany them). Kondo doesn’t address readers’ digital lives in the book, but I think the same principles apply.
Here’s what I’ve learned, some of the things I’ve tried, and a few suggestions for decluttering your digital existence.
The Benefits of a Well-Tidied Digital Life
How long do you spend searching for things on your computer? Or trying to find the right cord for a device? How long would it take you to find your favorite photo from a couple years ago?
Cleaning and organizing your computer and other digital storage places makes all of those activities super fast. Getting rid of digital clutter also eliminates things that you don’t need or want around anymore.
When you’re done, you’ll have found things you forgot you had, gotten rid of things you don’t need, and made your digital life much more efficient. It might not let more light or air into your rooms, but it’ll clear space in your brain, and that’s valuable.
Start Easy With Downloads
Life-Changing Magic recommends that you start the discarding process with clothes and books, as they’re easier to sort and prune than other categories. The same applies to your digital decluttering.
I think the Downloads folder is a perfect place to start. It’s much like a clothing closet: there’s a ton of stuff in there, and some of it is great, but a lot of it is easy to discard. There are probably tons of things you don’t use or need: installation files, multiple copies of the same documents, GIFs that you used once, ZIP files, and so on.
Your first pass through the folder should be to delete as much as possible without opening any files. Just get rid of everything that’s obviously not needed.
After that, you can look at some files and see if you want to keep them. If not, trash them immediately. Don’t move anything out of the folder yet.
Some Digital Differences
While the KonMari method is perfect for your house or apartment, I think digital tidying should be done a little differently. The biggest difference is that discarding and organizing should be done in tandem.
Let’s take the Downloads folder as an example. After you’ve trashed everything that you can get rid of, you’ll be left with the files you know you want to keep. But how many of them should stay in the Downloads folder? (Probably not many, and maybe none at all.)
So once you’re left with only files to keep, move them to their correct places. I’d recommend only putting them in near-top-level folders. For example, put documents in the Documents folder, not in a sub-folder. That folder will be easier to organize when you have everything together first.
By now, you might be wondering about the “joy” criteria made famous by Kondo’s book.
There’s a lot of stuff on your computer that doesn’t bring you joy. If you adjust your thinking, though, you’ll see that this method still works. Well-organized, tidied files will save you time when you need to find things, and that prevents frustration. Better access to the things that you need or love will make you happier.
Of course, in some cases, you can actually find things that bring you joy. Photos, sentimental documents, games, music, videos, and so on. But when you’re looking at purely practical documents, think more about joy in organization than in discarding.
Move On to Important Files
After your Downloads folder, it’s time to move on to your important files. Things like copies of leases, tax forms, health records, and so on. Again, most of these should be easy. If you have a copy of your eyeglasses prescription from five years ago, you can safely delete it. Do you need copies of your old car insurance cards or your paycheck stubs from when you were in college?
Almost certainly not. (If you’re not sure how long you should keep any specific documents, check out Dave Ramsey’s suggestions.)
I’d recommend creating a folder specifically for important documents and making sub-folders by year. But any type of logical organization will be helpful.
A Note on Backups
If you find it difficult to get rid of some documents that you’re pretty sure aren’t important, remember that you have them backed up. (You do have them backed up, right?)
If you have a Mac, you can always dig into Carbonite or Time Machine to find them if you absolutely need them. That knowledge should help make this process much easier. In Windows, File History can create backups of selected folders.
Excavate Your Apps
When was the last time you really looked at your collection of apps? I use Spotlight search and Cortana almost exclusively for launching apps, and it’s easy to forget what I’ve downloaded. And that contributes to a cluttered digital space.
You probably have a bunch of apps you don’t need. Old games that you aren’t going to play again, one-time-use apps or ones that you don’t need anymore, and default apps can be deleted.
In almost every case, you could easily redownload these apps if you find out that you do need them. But you probably won’t. So get rid of them. If you think might use them someday… you probably won’t. Trash ’em.
Tackle Your Documents
This will be one of the more difficult parts of your digital tidying and organizing. You might have thousands of files in your Documents folder, and it’s difficult to know where to start. My best advice is to simply start at the beginning. Pick the first file or folder in the list, decide if you need to keep it, and either trash it or don’t.
Then move onto the next folder or file. Keep going until you’ve trashed everything you don’t need. And be honest with yourself; are you going to want your child’s report card from second grade? Or your resume from 2014?
Getting through your Documents folder might take several sessions, and that’s okay. Just make a note of where you left off, and come back to it. Don’t take too much time between sessions, though. You want to stay in the right mindset.
After you’ve trashed as much as you can, it’s time to get to organizing. How you organize your Documents folder is up to you; I like to keep the number of top-level folders to a minimum, so a system like Personal/Work/Financial might work well for me. Asian Efficiency details a hierarchy system that might be useful.
Take a few minutes to think about which kinds of documents you need to access most often and what would make them easy to find.
Should You Use an Archive Folder?
Asian Efficiency and others recommend using an archive folder where you store things you aren’t using at the moment. That’s not a bad idea, but I’d recommend against it. To really tidy your digital space, you want to get rid of as many things as possible.
Again, rely on your backups for archiving and deep storage.
Mince Your Music and Movies
Having a huge digital music collection is a lot of fun. But it takes up a lot of room on your computer. If you haven’t listened to an album in the past several years, consider trashing it. The stakes are low; if you bought it online, you can probably re-download it with a click. And if not, you can stream it.
The same is true for movies. If you have a lot of digital movies, there’s a good chance you have a few that you don’t like (at least not enough to watch again). What are they still doing on your computer? Get rid of them. Keep the music and movies that you love.
These collections can be difficult to tidy, so take your time and ask yourself if the music or movie you’re considering really brings you joy.
Filter Your Photos
This is likely the most difficult part of the digital tidying process. If you have thousands or tens of thousands of photos, going through them one-by-one is going to take a long time. So you’ll need a lot of commitment before you start.
Remember that when you’re done, you’ll only have photos that you love. Which means scrolling through your photos will be a more joyful experience (and a more efficient one, if you’re trying to find something specific). Having a neatly organized and joyful collection of photos is truly delightful. It’s worth the work.
You can also save yourself a bit of time by automatically deleting duplicate photos before you start. Apps like Duplicate Photo Cleaner can help you with this.
After that, it’s simply a matter of going through your photos one-by-one and deleting the ones that don’t bring you joy. You’ll find lots of near-duplicates, accidental shots of the inside of your pocket, screenshots, and other things to delete.
I’ll give you an example of my own photo cleaning: I had taken a bunch of pictures at a concert a few months back. I had maybe 25 pictures of the show. When I was done, I had seven or eight, but they were the best of the bunch. They do a better job of reminding me of how much fun I had at the show. And now I’m a lot more likely to actually look at them, because I know they’re good.
The best advice I can give on photos is to be honest with yourself. Are you really going to look back at that photo and be joyful? If it simply reminds you of something you enjoyed doing, do you have others that will serve the same purpose? By this stage in the tidying process, you should have a better idea of what can stay and what can go.
And once you’ve cut down your photos, you can choose an organizational method that works well for you.
Miscellaneous Files and Other Stuff
At this point, you’re almost done with your computer! But there are other things to tidy. There’s a good chance your desktop is full of files that can be deleted or moved. You might have additional files that don’t fit into those categories. You definitely have browser bookmarks you don’t need anymore. Your password manager could use an update.
Keep the momentum going and tidy everything else you can think of on your computer. It’s worth it. Once you’ve gone through a major clean, you’ll be more likely to keep everything in order going forward.
Move On to Other Devices
Take a moment for a deep breath. Doesn’t it feel great to have your computer tidied and organized? Isn’t it easier to find anything you need? You’ve spent a lot of time tidying up, so take a minute to appreciate it!
After that, it’s time to move on to your other devices. You probably have a lot of photos on your phone that need to be tidied. Music, podcasts, videos, apps, and other files tend to accrete when you’re not looking. It’s time for a purge.
Your phone, tablet, MP3 player, game console, even your Kindle, any device can be tidied and made easier to use.
Don’t forget your cloud storage, either! Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and similar services get packed full of temporarily useful files and should be cleaned out as well.
Remember Peripherals and Devices
We’re focused on digital things, but there’s some physical clutter that falls into this category, too. Mice, keyboards, cables, stickers, tools, phone cases, headphones, and anything else you use with your digital devices should be tidied and organized. These things accrue quickly, and often in many different places around your house.
Get them all into one room and lay them out on the floor. Go through each item one by one and ask yourself if you really need it. Do you need that seventh USB cable? Or a third mouse that you don’t use? What about those terrible Apple earbuds?
It might feel like a waste getting rid of something that could potentially be useful, but remember that if the chances you’re going to use it are low, it’s just taking up space in your closet and your brain.
The same is true of devices themselves. Do you ever use your iPod Nano, or do you always listen on your iPhone? Do you have an extra point-and-shoot camera around? Convert those devices into some cash and extra space.
Digital Tidying Is Magic
I’ll be frank with you: these steps are a lot of work. It takes a long time, and it’s not always fun. But in the end, it’s absolutely worth it. Using your devices becomes easier. You’ll only have photos that you love. You’ll be able to find everything from files to peripherals more easily.
You might not think that all of this will make much of a difference in your life, but trust me: you get more than just a little extra space on your computer.
Have you done a full-scale digital tidying? Did it make a difference in your life? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Image Credit: dashek/Depositphotos