Digital Spring Cleaning

How much space do you have left on your computer? Are you one of the many folks who has to pay for extra space to store all your stuff? Is your new(ish) computer bogged down by too many things running at the same time? All of these are signs that it is time to cleanup your computer.

At one point I had multiple hard drives full of stuff and over 100 apps on each of my devices (phone and computer at that time). The point is digital junk adds up just like physical junk and can cause just as much damage.

Why clean up your computers?

It might seem like modern computers are capable of storing and running everything but that’s not true. How often have you ever had to close a few browser tabs to get things to run faster or an app to squelch a memory error? If you’re like me you’ve probably even bought a whole new device to store or run more. All of it is destructive.

Too much data slows your computer. Whether it’s too many photos, documents or something else your computer is searching through each of them and processing some part of them every time you go looking for your more current data.

This ads up. On Mac, for example, Spotlight (the search application for files and data on your computer) indexes every single file on the system. This means that the more you have to look through the more it will take the computer to find what you’re looking for.

It’s also true with old apps. Not only do they take up valuable hard drive space and slow searching but they have a few additional issues. First, old apps may pose a security risk if there is a security patch you haven’t applied. Even if you’re not running the app there might be pieces of it running in the background that can then compromise all the data on your computer simply by still being there.

Then there’s the apps we keep running in our taskbar rather than shutdown. Active apps, whether we use them or not, take not just hard drive space but RAM and other system resources as well yet it isn’t uncommon for me to help a friend with a “slow computer” and find they’re running literally every application they’ve ever installed (or, more accurately, trying to among the errors that running to much has generated).

Whether it is too many browser tabs or too many apps in general the cost adds up. Add that to the raw data, the pictures, documents and more our apps generate and hoarding data can quickly become as expensive of an endeavor as hoarding anything else.

It’s time to clean up

Cleaning up your data

Once you realize you have too much, it’s time to get rid of what you don’t need.

The easiest thing to do is look at your documents folder and decide what is needed and what isn’t. While this will vary for everyone, of course, I can tell you that as an Engineering Manager who lives in writing documents and other communications, my email has 29 messages in it since I started at the company 3+ years ago (that’s 29 total, not just in my inbox). My documents folder has 17 docs and I have little data in other apps located on any of my computers.

I might be extreme in cleaning things out but I’ve learned there is little you will actually need to keep for later. If you don’t need it, get rid of it. If you need to save it for later but don’t need quick access to it back it up to an “archive” device and still get it off your computer. Currently I use iCloud for this. I have about 100GB in my digitized CD collection, photos and old documents that I keep “just in case” and never touch. Removing all the extra data from my computer has been great at both making it faster and making sure I can rebuild the whole hard drive or move to a new computer very quickly without copying a whole bunch of garbage over.

After the extra docs and other data is gone it’s time to tackle those apps. Frankly, if you’ve managed to get your data down to a minimum it might be easier to rebuild your computer/phone/tablet with a fresh install of the operating system at this point. Just reinstalling apps only as you need them will help make sure that you’re not hoarding apps you don’t need and will cleanup cache and other data to make the computer itself run faster.

Of course, rebuilding everything might not be in the cards. If you’re on a Mac I recommend CleanMyMac to fully remove any apps you don’t need in this case. While there are similar apps for other operating systems I’m afraid I can’t recommend any of them anymore as I no longer use them.

Keeping things clean

Once you’ve cleaned things out, make sure you keep it that way. Maybe it’s using your new “archive” drive to archive old docs once a month or running CleanMyMac regularly to remove any extras. There are a lot of ways to do this but the point is always the same, keep your data to a minimum for both the performance and security of your device.

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