Digital decluttering is removing unnecessary items from your digital spaces, often followed by reorganizing the digital space.
You will find digital clutter in all your digital devices, such as your smartphone, computer and tablet. It’s everything from notifications, social media posts, files and PDFs, emails, news etc. Basically, all digital content.
And wow, do we get bombarded with digital content nowadays! The world has created more information and content in the period of 2006-2016 than in all recorded history before 2006…! And our rate has only been increasing since.
Besides the large amounts of content, it’s easy to build up digital clutter because it’s invisible in our physical spaces. It doesn’t take up any room and it doesn’t get in the way.
Except that it does get in the way when you can’t find a file you downloaded, your device crashes or you get overwhelmed by all emails and notifications.
Digital tools and content have taken over our lives. I believe there are 2 things we need to decrease the hold they have over us:
Digital decluttering = get rid of all the built-up digital mess and organize it neatly
Digital detoxing = to lower the actual use of digital tech in our lives
To get the most out of our lives, we need to look at both.
For now, we will look into digital clutter and the benefits of digital decluttering in this post.
5 types of digital clutter
Digital clutter is usually not a hoarder problem, like physical clutter. No, it often comes from a point of procrastination, overwhelm and not seeing the need.
Before you start to declutter your digital life, it helps to identify which type of clutter you have. Most likely it’s a combination of all types, but try to categorize each piece into one of the 5 types. That will make it easier for you to know how to proceed.
1. Wishful thinking clutter
Wishful thinking clutter is all the stuff you have saved because you didn’t have time for it then but hope to get to someday.
They are blog posts, ebooks, bookmarked webpages, an email with tips, a freebie you downloaded, and so on.
You keep these things because you think they will be useful and improve you. However, you need to make time to actually read or use these items. If you don’t, the list will only grow longer and it will be even more daunting to start.
According to habit expert Leo Babauto of Zen Habits, it’s very common to hold on to things that represent a better future. Not only digitally, but also physical stuff such as workout equipment or gardening tools.
But his advice is to “Live in the present, not in the future. Do things right now that make you happy and don’t keep objects as placeholders for some perfect future that will never come.”
When you come across something interesting, read or watch it immediately or within a week. If you won’t, just trash it.
And regarding any digital clutter that you have already built up in this category: select the most interesting ones and schedule a time to get to it within a week.
Be real with yourself, if you know you will most likely not get to it, simply delete it all.
2. Homeless clutter
Like the name says, this is clutter that has no home on your device. For example, it’s in a ‘temporary’ location like your desktop or any other random places.
Although your homeless clutter is not stored correctly, there might be useful and valuable information in there. This could make it very hard to find an item when you need it.
Or it really is just clutter, perhaps ‘wishful thinking clutter’. In any case, you need to make a decision about where your homeless mess is going to go – delete it or save it in a place where you can find it back.
3. ‘What if’ clutter
We see this type of clutter also often in physical clutter: ‘What if I need this item one day?’
Or maybe you think it seems important, so you should hang onto it.
But how much of these type of items do you actually go back to? Will you really need or use it in the future?
My suggestion is just like the general rule for physical clutter: If you haven’t used it in the last year, just toss it.
4. Disposable clutter
This is the type of stuff that is outdated and/or you know that you have to get rid of but you just never got around to doing it.
I know it’s not the most exciting thing and it might not give the same satisfaction as trashing physical clutter. But your device – and your sanity – will be happier if you get rid of the unnecessary data taking up space for nothing.
The first time you tackle disposable clutter, it’s probably a lot. Like, really, a lot. Because you have procrastinated too much on this task, it has built up into a big problem.
But after that, if you keep it up regularly, it will only take you a few moments.
5. Sentimental clutter
Sentimental clutter are the items that have an emotional attachment. Now, I’m not going to suggest to delete these items.
But what’s the use of having sentimental items, when you can’t find them?
That’s why you need to find all your sentimental items, like photos or perhaps a project end result, and save them in a spot where you can easily go back to if you want.
Though, you still need to categorize. Because you might think something is sentimental, it could also be ‘what if’ clutter or disposable clutter.
If you think it’s all sentimental, you will still end up with a bunch of data on your device.
10 Benefits of digital decluttering
If you are not sure yet why you need to declutter your digital life, here are 10 benefits of digital decluttering.
1. It speeds up your device
If you have a lot of data stored on your device, it will slow down. So go ahead and uninstall apps and programs that you don’t use, delete all your duplicate photos and clear out files.
2. It will boost your productivity
You will be more productive if you can easily find a program, email or file that you need to work on – instead of losing time and breaking your ‘flow’ by having to search.
Besides, point 1 also helps in this regard. A fast device won’t interrupt your workflow.
3. It improves your focus and concentration
On a daily basis, the average person receives 5x more information than 35 years ago. Because there is simply too much content to consume daily, we skim through it all, not really reading it. This leads to a shorter attention span and loss of focus.
Furthermore, it is hard to stay concentrated when there is a lot of clutter around you, just like in the physical world.
A bunch of icons on your desktop background, phone notifications, distracting apps, not being able to find something you’re looking for – they all take your focus and concentration away.
A clean and neat device that is streamlined makes it easier for you to keep your focus on one, single task.
4. Digital decluttering will reduce stress and frustration
A cluttered area, whether physical or digital, impacts your peace of mind. Every disorganized area triggers frustration because you know that it should be more organized.
And this ties in with points 1 and 2 above: 1. A fast device saves you frustrations and 2. An organized environment makes it easier to find something and is a less stressful workplace.
5. It helps you to build confidence
Although you might think this one is a bit farfetched, there is truth in it.
Decluttering your digital life is a daunting and overwhelming project for most of us. So if you’ve completed this project, you deserve to feel good about yourself!
This also gives you the confidence to tackle other projects that seem overwhelming. With the right tools, you can handle anything!
6. It will give you more emotional energy
Whether it’s physical or digital, clutter drags you down. As mentioned in ’10-minute Digital Declutter’: Clutter causes low-level agitation and anxiety that zaps your energy and makes you distressed.’
An organized space gives you more calmness, peace of mind and a feeling of freedom. This gives you extra energy and time to focus on things that really matter to you.
7. It helps you prioritize
In a decluttering process, you have to make a lot of decisions, ranging from small to big.
For each item that you come across, you have to decide whether to keep it or delete it. And if you’re going to keep it, you’ll have to decide where to save it.
Going through your clutter is a learning process for yourself, as you might discover certain patterns that you may want to stop or keep doing.
8. It can save you money
Digital decluttering can save you money as your current device might still be good enough – it’s just overloaded. It might run perfectly if you clear its storage, saving you from buying a new device.
It can also earn you money as your productivity and focus are improved, which can lead to better work/business.
9. It helps to discover lost stuff
You know that feeling of discovering an old and perhaps sentimental item when you’re clearing out physical clutter? It happens in your digital world as well.
Going through old files and photos can help you find long lost documents or precious photos.
10. It gives a fresh start
Who doesn’t love a fresh start and a clean slate? Clearing out your digital devices frees up space for new projects.
A cleared out device also makes digital declutter maintenance easier.
Let’s get started with digital decluttering
Okay, so you have read this post and are ready to declutter your digital life! Where do you start?
My post Doing a Digital Deep Clean is a good starting point where you will learn the basics of digital decluttering.
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