This is going to be my last summer cleaning post, so I decided to make it a super important, super comprehensive one. When most people think about cleaning, they think about physical stuff. Of course, since a lot of us spend a great deal of time on the computer, our phones, the internet, etc, it’s important to keep those “spaces” clear too, particularly if you’re getting ready to go back to school in the next month or so.
I have a Mac and an iPhone, so I’ll be focusing mainly on how to do things from that perspective, but I think most of these tips are fairly platform-agnostic with minimal tweaking. This is probably going to be a super long post, so let’s get going already.
Step 1: Install those damn updates
I know, I know; it’s annoying. Why does Java even HAVE so many updates? Still, according to computer safety experts, updating your software is the #1 thing you can do to keep your computer safe from assholes (A term I vastly prefer to “hacker”, because “hacker” sounds cool and “asshole” is a little closer to the truth). So, if you’re on a Mac, go to the little apple, Click “About this Mac” and then “Software Update” and install it all. On Windows, go find Windows Update in the Start menu and run it. Simple!
Of course, after it restarts, check again for more computer updates, then, move on to plugging your phone into your computer, going to the App Store (or whatever it’s called on your phone), and updating your phone and all its apps. Finally, try going though the applications on your computer and web browser and making sure you have the latest version of all of your apps.
Step 2: Delete apps you’re not using
A lot of people have at least a few computer programs or phone apps lingering on their HD that they are probably never going to open ever again. Don’t let that be you. Useless apps waste space and annoying ones are always opening up, or sending your information to their nefarious publishers or nagging you about updates that you don’t care about etc. Better to just delete them and move on.
Mac users can open their Applications folder and go to town, dragging things into the trash can, but Windows users should probably go to the “Add/Remove Software” window (or whatever they call it now). On your phone, you just stick your finger on the app until it starts to shake and then click the x to get rid of the app.
Don’t forget to also check your browser add-ons for unnecessary toolbars or apps that might be tracking you online!
Step 3: Rename your files and put them where they go
Most operating systems come with pre-labled folders like “pictures”, “music”, “videos”, and “documents”, and as it turns out, it’s pretty handy to store your documents in those folders because it gives your apps a good idea of where to start looking for them. To start, it’s a great idea to drag the items lurking on your desktop to their corresponding folder, trying to get your desktop as empty as possible. Ideally, only things that require your active attention should go on the desktop (important apps can be pinned to your bottom taskbar instead), that way it’s also easier to see your pretty background.
Next, take your phone or digital camera and make sure all of your pictures find their way onto your computer. You wouldn’t want to lose all your
selfies precious memories just because you dropped your phone or lost your camera somewhere. Consider a photo management software like iPhoto or the Windows equivalent (Photo Gallery, I think it’s called) to help you keep track of your photos. Of course, you should make sure to upload all the cute ones to Facebook!
Finally, take a peek in your Downloads folder and either delete or re-categorize all your old downloads. Be sure to sync with your phone after doing this so you can take your music, photos, and other documents with you on the go. As always, if you’re not going to be using something anymore, delete it!
A note about folders and file names: You should ideally be able to tell what a document is before you have to open it. Make sure to use enough folders to group your documents so it’s easy to find them again, even if you’re not sure exactly what you named a document. For example, I have separate folders for my work stuff and stuff I do for fun, and inside of those folders are folders for each project I’ve done. Experiment with different files until you feel like everything has a place and there is a place for everything. You’ll be glad you took the time.
Step 4: Get some useful apps!
There’s quite a few apps I use every day that make my life so much easier, and I would never ever want to be without them, so here’s a quick highlight of the ones that are great for streamlining and organizing your life:
Yes, an absolute must-have; I really hate when I’m online shopping, stop, and then see advertisements following me around of the things that I just looked at all over the damn place. I think online tracking is very, very creepy, so I use AdBlock. I know it’s controversial, so you should consider turning it off for sites you like and want to support, but I’m frequently appalled by how cluttered the web looks without my beloved Adblocking.
A lot of the security features deemed important on the list I posted above have to do with strong, unique passwords, 2-factor authentication, and using a password manager. LastPass is an excellent password manager that lets you randomly generate strong passwords for all the different websites you visit, save them to the cloud, and autofill (or even autologin) with just one master password. It’s free for desktop computers, and using the passwords on your mobile devices requires premium which is a piddly $12 for the year.
Countless internet articles can explain why it’s important to have a unique password for EVERY. SINGLE. WEBSITE. you visit, but frankly, that’s a lot of websites, particularly if you do online shopping. If they’re all good passwords, there’s no way you’re going to remember them all. And it’s not so much that Google is going to get hacked and your Gmail account password is going to be compromised, it’s that the little online shop where you buy your homemade, artisanal bath soap is probably run by people who are great at making soap and really bad at doing IT, so they might store your password in an unsafe manner. An asshole could grab THAT password and use it to get into your Gmail. So don’t reuse passwords! Never ever! Grab a password manager and try to add ALL your passwords!
I’m sure some people use this for work or something, but I use it to make my grocery list on my computer and bring it with me on my phone. I can also share my grocery list with people I live with, so I can make sure we don’t get 2 of the same item. If you have text-based documents you often need on your phone, consider putting them in Evernote. (I KNOW it does a lot more than what I’m saying, too; this is just what I personally use it for.)
First there were bookmarks, then we realized we never actually got around to reading ANYTHING we put into our bookmarks folder, and then someone invented Pocket, which is actually really awesome. Pocket lets you take any article and read it later, often without an internet connection (great for taking your tablet or phone to the doctor’s office), and displays all your bookmarked articles in a visually appealing format (instead of a hard-to-read list).
Try taking all of your bookmarks, deleting the ones you’re never, ever going to get around to reading, and sticking the rest in Pocket. (Btw, Pocket comes pre-installed on Firefox, that’s how good it is.)
When I bought my MacBook Air after my old MacBook Pro started running so sluggishly, I wasn’t expecting how quickly I was going to run out of storage. It seems like in the modern age of streaming, computer manufacturers are quick to skimp on HD space. I, with my old fashioned jumbo collection of
pirated music albums and entire seasons of TV shows, was quickly left with no home for new downloads, so I decided to take a bold stance and deleted most of my music and put all the Tv Shows into cold storage (i.e. I put them on my backup drive), and turned to streaming service for my music needs.
Since then, I’ve actually felt like it’s easier to discover new music instead of playing the same old tired albums that have been in my iTunes since 2005 (don’t judge). Yes, I have to listen to the occasional ad, and I can’t always pick what I want to hear when I’m on the go (unless I pay for premium), but it’s actually been a pretty great experience and I recommend giving it a try. There’s a whole bunch of services to choose from, but I personally use Spotify and I like it way better than maintaining a personal music library.
Admittedly, I used to use this a lot more than I do now, but Dropbox is still super useful for transferring files between computers, and (what I mostly use it for), creating shared files between you and your friends so you can share music, pictures, and movies with each other easily. Some files are just too big for e-mail, so Dropbox comes in handy.
Other notable webapps are Google Calendar (MUST! Put all your appointments on it and make sure it syncs with your phone), Gmail, Feedly (for keeping up with websites and blogs I like to read), and Mint (for keeping track of your finances)
Step 5: Get to Inbox Zero!
If your inbox is crammed full of e-mail, there’s a pretty good chance you might miss something you want to read. So take a moment to open your inbox and start sorting through your e-mails using the following flow list:
- Can I just delete this?
- If yes, see if it’s also possible to unsubscribe
- Archive any e-mails that don’t require action but shouldn’t be deleted
- Any e-mails that require action should be taken care of immediately, then archived
- Any actions that can’t be done immediately should be put on your “to-do calendar” and remain in your inbox only until that date
Step 6: Back it up!
I’m sure you have plenty of precious files stored on your computer and I’m willing to bet it’d be a huge pain in the ass if you woke up one morning and they were all gone. Unfortunately, that nightmare scenario becomes reality for way too many people because they never back up their computer, even though they know they should. A lot of people I talk to don’t really seem to know what backing up their machine means, or how to do it.
All you have to do is get a big enough memory device (like an external hard drive), plug it in your machine, and your computer (Mac or PC) will most likely ASK you if you want to use it as a backup drive. Your computer is begging you to back up, so just say yes.
Step 7: Physically clean your computer and phone
Your keyboard. Your mouse. Your monitor. The inside of your machine. Chances are, all of these things are really, really disgusting. Turn off your computer (after you’re done backing up) and take a damp cloth and wipe the grime off the outside of your computer, the mouse and the keyboard. If you’ve got a desktop machine, turn your keyboard upside down and shake the grime out, or get some canned air and blow all the crap out, then open your case and blow all the dust bunnies out of there too.
Step 8: Check social media privacy settings
I won’t go crazy and say you should go on a social media purge where you delete all those friends you never talk to (I mean you could, but I’m not so sure it’s a good idea; I wouldn’t have the job I do today if it weren’t for random acquaintances on Facebook), but you should at least check who can see the things you post, and consider putting some friends (Frenemies! Ex-Lovers! Trolls!) on limited profile viewing. Similarly, if someone you know is always humblebragging, or posting stupid political garbage, or liking dumb news stories, consider unfollowing them. It’s way better for your psyche not to have to see a bunch of annoying junk every time you log on to social media, and it doesn’t come with the baggage of unfriending them.
Finally, take a moment to review which apps have access to your Facebook profile and delete any that don’t belong.
Woo! Told you it was going to be a long post! I’m tired now, so I’m going to get ice cream, and you should too! 🍨 Enjoy your newly cleaned, freshly organized digital space!