The reason behind my attack on physical clutter is pretty evident if you take a little walk through my home. There is way too much stuff piling up and something has to be done. But what about my digital life? No one really walks through there or sees that clutter and I may be so bold as to say that my digital clutter is even worse than my physical clutter.
Digital data only takes up space on your computer so it’s very easy to overlook it especially with data prices ever dropping. To buy an extra TB or two of data storage costs very little and with it I can facilitate way too much data hoarding.
I’m not overlooking digital data during my declutter goal for 2011!
Digitize Me Cap’n
The first thing I want to stress here is the importance of backing up your data. Like me, I’m sure you have oodles of it, but only some of it is really important. Regardless, hard drive failure is not selective and if your computer crashes, you lose the good with the bad. After getting everything backed up, you can focus your attention on pruning what you don’t need anymore. (don’t worry, I’ll be covering data backup strategies and solutions next week)
Start on your main computer and clean up what is blatantly cluttered, most likely your desktop. Get rid of the shortcuts you don’t need. And if the shortcuts belong to an application you haven’t used in the past few months, get rid of the application. Most applications don’t take up too much storage space, but having a useless icon on your desktop and in your application menu is a distraction and pointless.
Personally, I completely turn off desktop icons; I can’t stand them! But if you actually use your desktop as a starting point for your daily computer tasks, check out Fences. Fences can help grant a bit more control and clarity over your desktop clutter by sorting and grouping icons together.
Another alternative to the desktop is to get a dock system, much like that found on Apple computers. The company behind Fences has one called ObjectDock (as well as a plethora of other free Windows customization utilities) but I personally prefer RocketDock.
Once you’ve tackled the obvious offender, you can move on to less obvious areas of your computer that are sure to have accumulated some clutter over the past year such as your Downloads area and where you store your documents.
One great way to start on your files is by using WinDirStat (my preference) or DiskSpaceFan (a bit slow but prettier) to see, visually, all the files on your computer. By doing this you can see exactly what areas of your computer have accumulated clutter and you can see what sizes all the files are, making pruning the large and unnecessary files easy.
Afterwards, it’s a good idea to look for duplicate files. I sometimes download something each and every time I need it because I forget where I’ve put it or whether I’ve downloaded it recently or not, even though I use Everything Search which is the best desktop search utility around. My computer is littered with duplicates of all kinds. There are a ton of duplicate file finders out there but they always make me worry until I found this one: Auslogics Duplicate File Finder
The great thing about Auslogics, aside from being so simple, is that it uses an MD5 Checksum in its duplicate search. An MD5 Checksum is essentially a unique signature generated by a file and no two files can share the same checksum. (I know it is possible, but let’s not get into that here). When Auslogics Duplicate File Finder does it’s think, it compares checksums accross all the files on your computer and if two files, even if they have different names and creation dates, share the same checksum, they are considered duplicate. This helps me feel warm and fuzzy when deleting duplicate files from my computer.
Computers don’t stay in a perfect state for long once we get on there and start browsing the minefield that is the Internet so once all of your data is backed up and pruned, it may be time to reformat your computer. WARNING: This will erase all the data from the computer and put it in a close to perfect state again, speeding up computer operations and clearing many of the problems that develop over time with Windows installations. If you use Mac or Linux, you are generally safe from this problem.
That should get you at least most of the way to an uncluttered digital life. Next up I’ll cover another of the many lives we have, Life in the Browser.
Do you have any other tools that help keep digital clutter in check? Share them in the comments below!
Image by hummingcrow br>