How To Clean House and Prepare For A New Year: The Digital

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

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18 People have left comments on this post

» MoneyConeNo Gravatar said: { Dec 30, 2010 - 12:12:03 }

Hey awesome post! Just tried fences, and lovin’ it! Installed the duplicate finder, haven’t tried it yet – never know when it’ll be useful.

Already use Everything Search, can’t say enough good things about it!

Now for Mac users, one app I use to find out what files are taking up a lot of space is grandperspective. Shows a graphical view of what’s taking up space.

For copying, carbon copy or super duper. Both are awesome!

Thanks Jesse, very useful post!

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

It’s amazing what developers can come up with, right?

As for copying tools, I’m stuck on TeraCopy for Windows, and rsync for everything else (even Windows when big files are concerned).

Glad you enjoyed this post!

» krantcentsNo Gravatar said: { Dec 30, 2010 - 05:12:57 }

I don’t understand all the terms, but you got me thinking about my digital files. I just went paperless for all my bills. Next, I think I will do a little house cleaning on the desktop. Thanks.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Glad I could get ya thinkin’ 😉

» MotheNatureNo Gravatar said: { Jan 1, 2011 - 01:01:26 }

I have always wondered how “Clean” a computer or a phone is when you “wipe the hard drive and reformate the computer” like when you are getting rid of an old computer or giving it to someone else. As you know I just acquired a refurbished computer and I guess you would “wipe the hard drive” when you refurbish a machine. I am sure it was “cleaned” before I got it but when I opened some of the programs, there was information from the previous owner on it. Nothing important or anything, just interesting. It makes me think that it is really hard to ever actually clean everything off a computer or out of the files. But it is a good idea to try to declutter.

Thanks for the information.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

That machine was reformatted which is to say the entire drive was erased of any data and completely clean. Reformatting the drive, or reinstalling the operating system is the only way to insure the drive is clean of any data when donating a computer. It’s a great way to start fresh for yourself as well because all the applications and here and there files that are created by the OS are erased and you can really start fresh and fast.

» twentysomethingmoneyNo Gravatar said: { Jan 2, 2011 - 11:01:21 }

a great list of tips to declutter… I’ve been spending the past few days getting rid of things I dont need, both on my computer and in my home. It feels great to live with less.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

It sure does, I dunno what I have been doing all these years “collecting” junk. I can’t wait to be rid of it all!

» Car Negotiation CoachNo Gravatar said: { Jan 3, 2011 - 08:01:14 }

J-Man, great list of utilities….I’m gonna try out windirstat and everythingsearch…..maybe someday you should post every utility you use so I can revamp everything!

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

That may take longer than you expect 😉 remember, IT field + geeky tenancies = TONS of app experimentation.

» EvanNo Gravatar said: { Jan 6, 2011 - 03:01:17 }

what do you think of CCleaner?

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I’ve been a long-time fan of CCleaner, been using since beta. It’s a great program and really helps clean things out. It was actually originally in this write-up but I couldn’t quite work it in the way I wanted to, to give it due justice so I plan to highlight it in a future post detailing many of the tools I use outside of the scope of this series 🙂

» Church FinanceNo Gravatar said: { Jan 7, 2011 - 10:01:35 }

I too am a long time fan of CCleaner. I probably run it two or three times per day. I have found over the years that I have to reformat my hard drive at least once per year. Emachines has made this task much easier than it used to be as they give you a disk with with all the original files on it that came with the new computer.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Very cool, have you put CCleaner on a schedule to run automatically? (it is possible, google it 😉 )

I agree, restore partitioning and imaging is a great technology. Windows almost requires a format once per year if you want to avoid any frustrating slowdowns.

» Car Negotiation CoachNo Gravatar said: { Jan 9, 2011 - 07:01:53 }

Took me a while to get back to it, but I just tried WinDirStat. Very helpful utility. Apparently itunes has done a number on me!

On another note, I also installed WAMP, but have difficulty getting my browser to recognize localhost…..asked the expert if I configured correctly and will hopefully have an answer soon.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

itunes is a hog that’s for sure! glad the article could help.

if you need any other assistance with setting up wamp just shout

» Church FinanceNo Gravatar said: { Jan 14, 2011 - 11:01:32 }


Thanks for the tip on setting up ccleaner to run automatically.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Hey just happy to help!

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