Digital Spring Cleaning

It’s about that time a year in the northern hemisphere for Spring cleaning to commence! In addition to the standard clean up of your residence, don’t forget to clean up your digital residences too! Don’t let those personal photos, videos and emails sit for much longer. While you are still stuck inside waiting for the coldest part of the year to end is the perfect time to back up your files and respond to long overdue emails, voice-mails and more!

What is digital Spring Cleaning? It’s time to clean up all the things left undone in your digital life to prep for the new year that’s ahead. It’s also a time to catch up and complete all the things you have left undone in your digital life from the past year. Just like regular Spring Cleaning it’s about taking the extra time to clean up overlooked areas to keep everything under control.

As we all have different uses for our devices and things left undone here is a list of things you may have overlooked that you should review and clean up before the end of the month. Don’t worry about doing them all in one day. Schedule some time a few times a week or multiple times this month to sift through all of it. I know my own digital cleaning list will take me more than an afternoon or an entire weekend to complete.

Back Up Your Files/Schedule Automatic Back Up’s/Clean Up Your Back Ups

If you are like most people, then you probably have a number of pictures, videos and files saved in a number of locations. Some on your phone, others on a camera, and the rest on your PC, tablet or memory cards. Move all of these files to a central location and back them up. In addition to finding all your files and ensuring they are stored in a central location (so you don’t lose them), you will also want to configure your PC to automatically make back ups of your files so if your PC dies or your laptop get’s stolen you still have a back up copy else where. Better yet is to schedule automatic back ups. You can learn how to do this on Windows in one of my previous articles here. If you already have your back ups set, don’t forget to clear out old copies! Windows will fail to create new back ups if the disk becomes too full.

Clean Up Your Inbox/Text Messages/Reminders/To-Do Apps

Inbox zero is a great idea, and if you haven’t heard of what it is it’s the idea of keeping your inbox at 0 mail items at all times. Realistically speaking this is very hard to do, especially when it’s rather easy to keep an email as a reminder. So, you don’t have to go for inbox zero, but try to clean up your inbox and take action on any old emails you have let go. I recently cleaned out mine and had a number of emails from a year ago and even some older. I even found an email to one of my friends I thought I responded to but hadn’t!

Next step is to prune your old text messages. I have my phone set to limit the total previous messages to 100 per contact and delete the oldest message when I hit the limit. By default these messages may be saved to the cloud depending on what messaging service you use. Save any important messages and images and clean them out. Your messaging app will probably run faster when you are done as well.

Use a to-do app or reminders? Clean them out as well. Take action on any longstanding items in the list or remove them. There is no need to clutter your list with items that are done, or will not be done. A great side effect of this is that a cleaner list should help you focus more and feel less stress.

Change Your Passwords

When was the last time you changed any of your passwords? If you can’t remember or it was over a year ago change them NOW! Preferably you should change every password at least every six months. There is no frequency that is too often for changing passwords(Ok, daily or multiple times per day would be overkill and more hassle then what its worth.) With the number of companies reporting breaches and user information stolen, one of the best ways to protect your accounts is to change your password often. This will help keep you safe from data breaches that are not discovered immediately. Always change your password after any service you use reports a breach. Also, don’t use easy to guess passwords or common phrases. Currently the best kind of password is a random long phrase with mixed case. Adding in numbers and symbols helps, but no need to make the password hard to remember by substituting letters for them. Also remember, the longer the password the better.

Clean Up Your Online Accounts

This day and age you probably have a couple dozen if not more different online accounts. Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon… the list goes on and on. Cancel unused accounts so your information is removed from their servers. This will reduce your threat surface from online breaches by reducing the number of businesses that hold your personal information or could allow fraudulent purchases. Removing saved credit cards from online retailers would also be a good idea. Your card information can’t be stolen if it isn’t saved.

In addition to removing accounts it may be time to clean your accounts. Go through and remove old wish-lists, favorites, likes etc that you don’t care about anymore. Yes, even clean up your friends list and take inventory of what your online presence is. How about old photos you posted on Facebook or Picasa etc? Remove anything that isn’t relevant or needed.

Uninstall Unused Programs/Apps

On your PC/Laptop, phone or tablet remove anything you don’t need or use anymore. Games you no longer play, social apps you don’t frequent anymore(look into closing those accounts as well), and extra software that may have come preinstalled on your device. Not only will you free up space but uninstalling these programs could give you a performance boost as well. Many programs launch themselves when your device boots so they load faster when you want to use them. That’s nice, but 20 programs loading and running in the background that you don’t use can cause poor performance and make your device feel sluggish. Get rid of these things now!

Back Up Your Phone/Tablet

Once you have removed all the excess items from your phone/tablet you should make a back up of all the data saved to it. Contacts, apps, photos, videos etc. Creating a back up will allow you to quickly restore your phone if it needs to be reset or if it get’s lost or stolen.

Organize Your Cables

If you have a desk where your PC or laptop lives you probably have a birds nest of wires nearby for peripherals and power cords. Get yourself some Velcro ties, twist ties or other organizational item and get those cables under control. Group runs of wires together and create a cord bundle and wrap any excess into a nice manageable spool. Your desk area will be cleaner and you may even reclaim some space. If your cords are on the ground this should also reduce a potential tripping hazard.

Dust Your Desktop

If you own a desktop PC, now is the time to take off the side panel and clear out any dust build up from the past year. Get yourself a can of compressed air and knock that dust loose. Use cotton swabs to clean fans and other hard to reach areas. Just try not to touch any of the electronics, use only air for that. It goes without saying, please power off your machine, unplug it and press the power button to fully discharge the power supply. Don’t risk electric shock or short circuits! I recommend using an anti-static strap to reduce the risk of ruining your components. As always only do this if you feel comfortable. There is potential to ruin your PC so do this at your own risk! However your PC should be cleaned regardless so contact a local geek or repair shop to do this for you if you don’t know how or don’t wish to do so yourself.

Closing Thoughts

This is a great list to start with, but I am sure there are other areas to clean that I overlooked.  If you can think of them share them with all of us in the comments!  Also, as much as this is a list for Spring Cleaning these are things that you should probably get into the habit of doing regularly.  I know it can be tough and I even fall behind or ignore some of these tips from time to time.  However, that doesn’t mean now isn’t a great time to start!

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