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Dealing with digital clutter: What it is and 6 places to practice digital minimalism

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When it comes to clutter, there are several types that can pollute our space, productivity, and, ultimately, our lives. Of the many types of messes we accumulate, digital clutter rarely gets the attention it deserves.

However, with remote work here to stay and devices increasingly being part of our daily lifestyles, purging ourselves of unneeded stimuli online is more important than ever. Having devices inundated with data, apps and documents can impact your health, productivity and even put your personal information at risk.

Read on or skip to our infographic to discover exactly what digital clutter is, tips for detoxing your digital devices and the importance of an up-to-date home insurance policy in case a digital accident or cyber theft occurs.

What is digital clutter?

Digital clutter is essentially the disorganization of your data, files and digital devices. This mess can appear in many forms — like a crowded inbox, full phone storage or hundreds of files on your desktop. Digital clutter doesn’t just slow your devices down; it can slow you down as well.

On average, workers spend 45 minutes a day searching through digital information that they need to do their jobs. Research shows that too much information crowding your device can be just as anxiety-inducing as traditional messes. The good news is that with a little diligence and patience, removing stimuli from your device is both a simple and rewarding task.

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From the hundreds of pictures stored on your phone to files filling your desktop, we all have digital clutter. Like tidying up your home space, organizing your digital space can have positive benefits for your health and more.

Reduces stress

Clutter is a known cause of stress, as being surrounded with too much visual information can be overwhelming or feel like there’s too much to do. In fact, a study discovered that a person’s visual cortex can be overwhelmed by objects not related to a particular task — constant clutter on your devices can be mentally draining. Reducing the number of unopened emails on your phone screen or outdated tasks on your to-do list can provide some mental relief and allow you to feel more accomplished at the end of each day.

Increases productivity

Sifting through data is a waste of time and when it comes to working, you know how the saying goes — time is money. Like tidying up your home, cleaning up your devices can make navigating through your stuff more efficient and less time-consuming.

Reduces the risk of cybersecurity threats

Digital hoarding has clear implications on cybersecurity and data protection. The more digital data you maintain, the more susceptible it is to a cybersecurity breach. Additionally, the more unprotected files and documents there are floating around your devices, the easier it is for hackers to access your personal information. Cleaning up your devices and organizing files into safe folders or other barriers can help protect your digital life.

Helps the environment

Taking steps to reduce our digital footprints can make a big impact on our carbon ones. Although we can’t see data, it is physically stored somewhere on servers — which takes a lot of energy to power. By 2025, it’s estimated that our devices and servers will account for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Improves device speed

The more data your hard drive has to manage, the harder it has to work to deliver what you need, which could slow down your device. Eliminating apps, files, or other data that uses storage from your devices can not only improve your device speed but your productivity, as you’ll be able to access what you need with ease.

5 ways to be a digital minimalist

Are you a digital hoarder or have a reluctance to get rid of digital data that no longer holds value? If so, here are a few simple ways to minimize clutter to improve your digital space and experience.

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Digital minimalism challenge
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Declutter the desktop

It’s easy to see clutter in your home, but when it comes to digital messes, there is no limit on the amount of stuff you can accumulate over the years. Think of cleaning off your desktop like cleaning out your garage; remove any files, apps or stored data that you don’t use or no longer need. With more people switching over to remote work, having a reliable and speedy device is more important than ever.

Are you guilty of an embarrassingly messy desktop? Start by creating desktop folders and dropping all of your floating files into a designated spot. Folders can be organized by utility, subject, client, etc. This can significantly cut down the number of icons floating around on your desktop.

Pro organization tip: Breaking bad browser habits by regularly minimizing the amount of tabs open on your computer is a quick and easy way to find relief from digital distractions and clutter.

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Delete documents

The ability to store important documents and personal information on your computer makes life easier — it also makes it easier for hackers to access your digital life. Here are a few best practices for safely organizing digital documents:

  • Place important documents in secure folders.
  • Create a filing system that is manageable for you and will help you access important documents on the fly.
  • Avoid using the same password for all personal information or accounts.
  • Look into using multi-factor authentication (also known as two-step verification) on critical accounts such as banking accounts or life insurance policies.
  • How long should you save documents? A good rule of thumb is that if you haven’t referred to a document in the past six months, delete it or save it on an external backup drive.
  • For documents that only exist digitally, save copies in the cloud or in secure online storage. Use safety measures like a firewall or secure passwords to ensure your files are safe.

Pro organization tip: Keeping electronic versions of your documents on a USB drive can ensure they’re not lost forever if originals are damaged in a house fire or accident.

Purge your phone

These days phones are our lifelines for just about everything. In fact, the average American has 582 saved cell phone pictures and 13 unused phone apps!

What’s more, too many things on your phone can take up storage space and reduce battery life. Constant pings throughout the day can add to your digital distractions and stress. Once you have decided which apps to keep, review your push notifications and see if there are any that you could benefit from removing.

Pro organization tip: If you use your phone for mobile searches, be sure to close out of browser tabs. This can improve your battery life and device speed.

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Eliminate distractions from your email

For many people, checking email is an important part of a daily work routine. However, with unsolicited sales messages, subscription offers, bank reminders and spam, our inbox can get out of control quickly, making it difficult to sift through the important work or personal messages.

A recent survey found that 84% of people perceive those with cluttered inboxes as disorganized and 42% see this as a sign of laziness. To help minimize clutter inundating your primary inbox, create an email account solely devoted to messages that you may want to see but do not need to respond or check on a daily basis. Additionally, categorize your emails by action item, such as “follow up,” “urgent” and “to-do.” This can help you feel less overwhelmed throughout the day, reduce stress and improve your productivity.

Pro organization tip: Go through your email and unsubscribe from messages, companies or offers that you have no interest in reading.

Be strategic with social media accounts

The American Psychiatric Association’s recent survey found that 38% of adults report social media being harmful to their mental health and an additional 45% report some negative effects. Go through your social media apps and organize them into different folders based on categories like career, hobby and friends. Group the different apps into each category to clear up space on your desktop, mobile device or tablet.

Additionally, spend some time on your social media accounts and assess who or what you follow. If they’re not adding value to your day, unfollow or unsubscribe. If anything is giving you negative feelings or stress, it’s okay to remove it from your digital space!

Pro organizational tip: Prioritize people in Facebook News Feed preferences so that you first see the posts you care about the most.

General rules for staying digitally organized

Now that you know how to declutter your digital space, below are seven evergreen tips for keeping your devices organized:

  1. If you don’t use it, delete it.
  2. Rename documents to make them easy to find.
  3. Remove multiple versions of the same document.
  4. Clean out your archive of unneeded documents and files on a regular basis.
  5. Be strategic about browser bookmarks.
  6. Put all documents and files in folders.
  7. Download helpful apps or tools for organization.

If outdated documents are files that are living rent-free on your devices, it’s time for a digital cleanup. Practicing digital hygiene will keep your digital footprint clean and digital assets protected from theft.

Exercising a few simple habits like keeping your inbox organized, unsubscribing from unnecessary emails or spam and deleting unused documents or software can go a long way when it comes to making your life easier and a cyber hacker's life harder.

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