We know what physical clutter looks like–stacks of newspapers, dusty knick-knacks, piles of clothes. But computer clutter is also becoming an increasing problem.

What does computer clutter – or digital hoarding at one extreme – look like? It can be tens of thousands of emails, old photos, and music files taking up hard drive space, making it difficult to find needed information quickly. How many of your video or music files have you looked at or listened to more than once? Do you have hundreds of photos from an event you don’t even recall? How about pictures with people you don’t like in them?

Lack of organization is part of the problem, but for some people it goes beyond that. Have you considered getting a new computer since your hard drive is almost full? Do you continue buying portable disk drives because you keep running out of space? Are you overly excited by the unlimited possibilities of cloud storage?

The problem has only gotten worse since digital storage has gotten less costly. These days you can buy a terabyte hard drive for less than $150 dollars. How big is a terabyte? You can store 2,000 hours of music or 300 hours of high quality video on a terabyte drive. That is a lot of stuff!

So how do you simplify your digital life?

  • Make Choices: You aren’t required to be on every social network or subscribed to every newsletter. Figure out the ones that make the most sense for you and eliminate the others. Consider using a RSS reader to keep up with blogs you follow. Do a quick sort on your digital photos to delete those out of focus or just plain bad.
  • Sift through emails: Delete those you won’t need, archive others, and develop a strategy for moving forward.
  • For computer files, use the same category names on your computer as you do on paper. By using the same structure and folder style as your paper files, it may be easier to find a computer document and put things away in both places.
  • Label your files deliberately. Even though each paper in your file cabinet doesn’t need a name, every file in your computer does. A file name should be descriptive and may need to include: document title, creation date, author, version etc. You should be able to find the digital file you need without having to open it. (For those of you in the advanced course, you can also use metadata to tag your files…more on that later!)

Sometimes the amount of stuff in our digital life can seem overwhelming. But take it one piece at a time and before long you will have computer clutter under control!

Big thanks to Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer® and owner of Custom Living Solutions in San Francisco, for writing the original article this newsletter is based off.
**Image by Flickr user psd, used via Creative Commons.