Digital Decluttering: Time to Digitize Your Yearly Spring Clean?

Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done.

Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.

Spring is almost here, so if you’re like most Americans, it’s time for the annual spring clean. It fills some people with dread, while others love the chance to start anew. But with so much of our modern lives now lived online, is it time to ditch the tradition and create a new digital spring clean?

Your Digital Life Has Expanded Exponentially in the Last Decade

A decade ago, you likely had Facebook and Twitter installed on your smartphone, but you probably hadn’t heard of apps like Twitch, Discord, TikTok, Zoom, Whatsapp, and Snapchat, much less installed them. There weren’t as many social media platforms available. The iPad had been out less than a year, so other than one or two messaging apps, most people only needed to keep their laptops organized.

Fast forward to 2023, Statistica’s research shows that six social media platforms now boast over a billion monthly users. The number of platforms has also exploded. Trying to keep up with so many apps, all of which want your time, not only dilutes your focus but is a cause of anxiety for many.

The option to use whichever app best suits the task is great. But the constant notifications and the feeling in your head that you must check for new messages, replies, or likes is another source of stress.

An Ancient Tradition to Clean Up a Modern Mess.

The annual spring clean became a tradition to rid the house of soot after a long winter of burning coal, but long after replacing coal fires, many still keep up the practice. A study by Ipsos conducted last spring found that “Nearly eight in ten Americans report spring cleaning at least once a year.”

An annual purge of the house might be necessary for some, but in the days of robot vacuum cleaners, is it time to turn your attention (and your spring cleaning) toward a different aspect of your life? It’s time to spring clean your digital life.

Do You Need Those Apps?

How many unused apps do you have cluttering up your smartphone?

According to a study by Simform involving 3756 cell phone users, the average person has 40 apps installed on their phone, but more than half are unused.

It isn’t only the number of apps on your phone that draw you into the digital chaos, there are four other common culprits.

  • Photos
  • Files
  • Tabs
  • Information

Without paying for syncing and storage services such as Apple’s iCloud or Google Drive, your photos remain strewn across multiple devices. You likely have pictures on your phone and tablet but also on old phones, laptops, SD cards, and various online platforms.

Are your files sorted into folders on your computer or laptop, or is your desktop covered in applications and documents you downloaded months ago? Cloud storage solutions are great for making files accessible, but if you don’t have an organized, single location for your files, it won’t relieve enough stress to be worth maintaining.

Browser tabs are another avenue through which overwhelm creeps into your life. How many tabs are currently open in your browser on your phone or laptop? I routinely have more than 50. Some browsers close all your tabs when you exit the program, but most don’t.

What do you do with the great tip you read on Twitter yesterday? Or the recommendations your friend gave you over lunch? If you’re using Evernote to take notes, you’ll take better notes in Obsidian (find out why below.)

Aside from the obvious security concerns of leaving photos all over your digital landscape, maintaining all these pockets of files, images, and information is taking a toll on your mental energy. David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, calls this “mental RAM” your subconscious holds on to everything you need to maintain, making you less effective and more stressed.

It’s Time for a Digital Spring Clean

To figure out how you can best deal with your digital chaos, I reached out to Sam Stone. Sam owns “Smarter and Harder,” a blog about digital minimalism and other personal development topics. I asked Sam what we should do about the ever-increasing digital dross in our lives. 

He told me, “Think like a minimalist within your digital spaces. Prioritize what you love and declutter everything else.”

It sounds like the perfect advice for a yearly digital spring clean.

Start with all the unused or unnecessary apps on your smartphone, and delete them. Then, if you realize later that you need them, you can always download them again.

Next, it’s time to deal with all those pesky browser tabs you never close. Go into your browser’s settings and find the option to “close all tabs on exit.” Enable it.

Finally, you can solve the problem of files, photos, and information with one solution – a second brain.

A second brain is a hub for your digital life. It’s a place to store your notes and tasks, files, and photos. Second-brain software such as Obsidian took inspiration from note-taking applications like Evernote but expanded the idea to create a single location for anything digital.

A second brain makes your files easier to find and gives you the confidence that you can find what you need when you need it.

  1. Download a second brain app like Obsidian
  2. Decide where you want to keep your second brain. It could be on your laptop, an external hard drive, in the cloud, or on your phone. 
  3. Then create a location for files, photos, and information
  4. Use your second brain for all your digital files and information, and the software will take care of everything else.

There’s Always Next Year

Don’t worry if your devices slowly start to accumulate more and more digital clutter. You can deal with it during your second annual digital spring clean next year.