The start of the year is an interesting time for most people. We analyse what has gone by, we make plans for the future and inevitably we plan for the future to be better than the past. This often involves getting rid of the stuff that is holding us back, keeping us down and making us a disorganised mess – the declutter!

I would put money on the majority of you having cleaned out a drawer, a closet, a room at some stage over the past 2 weeks and if you haven’t, you have plans to do it soon. And while this is a great idea and I have partaken of these activities myself, the area that often gets overlooked in our quest for minimalist perfection is our digital lives.

Storage is cheap, phones have more space than our first computers did and USB hard drives are enormous and cost almost nothing so why would we bother? I think the main reason is that the more digital “stuff” we have the harder it is to find what we need and the stuff we do have starts to lose a little of it’s importance. There is absolutely no way that we need all the stuff we have so let’s try and work out what is important and what can be ditched.

I’m going to take you through a series of activities where you can slowly work through your computers (or phones) and begin to lessen the load. We will start easy and work our way up to the hard stuff. Along the way you will hopefully learn some practical skills that you can implement in a whole load of different ways to make yourself more productive and in the long run, spend a lot less time in front of the screen.

The Download Folder

The place we are going to start is the download folder. This is where a whole bunch of stuff ends up when we click on a link, choose to read a PDF, save a picture to use later and the program files we have downloaded and installed. It’s the sorting pen that never gets sorted.

There is nothing wrong with keeping the documents that end up here but a lot of them can probably go and the ones that are left need to be filed in the correct place. We will start by organising our screens so we can determine what is important and what is not and then look at some quick ways to file the information where it needs to be kept.

Change the view

So in order to see what is worth keeping and what needs to be trashed we need to change how we look at our files. You may already have it set up like this but just in case.

On a MAC

Open up Finder

Go to your Downloads folder, either through Favourites or using Go | Downloads (or the shortcut Command+Option+L).

There are four ways to view items in a Finder window: as icons, as a list, in columns, or in Cover Flow. To choose a view, use the View buttons at the top of the Finder window:

Finder View Buttons on a MAC

The best option for seeing what files are is the Cover Flow option. This view gives you a huge preview and allows you to see not just the name of a file but also its contents.

Cover Flow View in Finder

A note about Quick Look

All four views can display a preview, but have you tried Quick Look. Use it in any view by selecting a file and pressing the spacebar. A new window opens and displays the file’s contents. This can save a lot of time when you just want to glance at some files to find the one you’re looking for.

On a PC

Open up Explorer and use maximise the window so it takes up the whole screen.

Browse to your Downloads folder.

Click on the View Tab and select the Preview Pane button to turn it on.

Turn on the Preview Pane in Windows

You can play around with the bar in between your files and the preview to make the panels smaller or larger.

Deleting Files

Now that you can see what is in your Downloads folder, go through and preview every file and delete the ones that you are certain you no longer need. Use the Delete key on a PC or right click and Move to Trash on a Mac. Try not to overthink, if you are unsure keep it and we will file it correctly in the next section. Items that can absolutely be deleted include:

  • Program files you have downloaded to install
  • Pictures downloaded and then used in Facebook posts or blog posts
  • PDFs that you know you can download or view again if you need them

#note to save my own butt: if you are not confident about deleting files or if you have some really important stuff in there, please do not start deleting willy nilly and then blame me when you can’t find something. If you are not sure, consult a professional 🙂

Organising Files

Once the bulk of your files have been deleted, you should be left with just the items you need. Again, there are some tricks you can use to make this process easier and to ensure when you need this file you are able to find it again.

  1. Rename any ambiguously named files by right-clicking on the file and choosing rename. So photo.png becomes girl sitting at desk for blog.png.
  2. Try and bulk move when possible. Hold down the Ctrl Key (PC) or Command Key (Mac) and click on all the files that belong in the same place.
  3. Move the files to a new location using click and drag if you feel confident – this will always be the quickest way but you need to be able to see the new location. Whether you are on a Mac or a PC you can go to File | New Window to open up a second location where you can then browse to the folder or location where you want your new files to go. With a bit of manipulation (see below) you should be able to see your Download Folder side-by-side with where you want to move your files.

Side-By-Side Views on a PC

This one is easy. Simply have 2 Windows showing and click on the title bar of the first one and drag it off to the left hand side of the screen. Then click on the title bar of the second window and drag it off to the right hand side of the screen. Some operating systems even make this easier by offering the windows for the second half as soon as the first gets dragged off-screen.

Split the screen in Windows to see 2 windows side by side

Side-By-Side Views on a Mac

Click and hold on the fullscreen button in the upper-left corner of a Finder window. The left half of your screen will become shaded in blue.

You can release your trackpad or mouse button to open the current window on the left half of your screen, or you can drag the window over to the right half of the screen, which will then become shaded in blue to open the app on the right half of the screen.

The other open, non-minimised apps that are compatible with Split View will show up on the other half of the screen as thumbnails; click on the thumbnail of the other Finder window to open on the other side of your screen.

Summary

So there you go, the first in a series of tasks to get you started with decluttering your computer. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment below.