Ditching the Digital Clutter 2: Files

Ditch the Digital Clutter 2 (1)Now that you’ve cleared out your e-mail and are excited by that progress (just remember to stay on top of it), we’ll move on to the files on your computer.  For most of us, digital storage, even in “the cloud”, is not unlimited; at some point, you will run out of space.  But even if you didn’t, even if you could have all the storage you needed and then some, for free, for EVER – would you really want that? The answer (I hope), is a resounding NO.  Just think about it…think back to all of the paper clutter you’ve already purged thanks to KonMari. Think about all of the paper that comes into your house on a regular basis. Now imagine throwing NONE of it away – ever.  I don’t care how neatly you might have it sorted, you do not need nor want every sheet of paper you’ve ever touched. And yet, digitize a file and somehow it becomes acceptable to keep it because it’s not taking up any space. But it is – and more importantly, having all that excess makes it difficult to find the files you actually need, when you need them.

I’m going to focus on how to purge and sort your personal computer, but these can also apply to work machines as well. Odds are your employer would prefer you not clog up precious server storage with lots of junk either. And adhering to some of these suggestions might also keep you from losing files.

Hard Drive and Cloud Storage

Even if you have all of your files on your computer, that might not be the only place you want to save them.  Computers die and with them go your files, so it is a good idea to have a back-up.  You could save to an external drive, but being a mechanical device, it is also prone to fail at some point, so your best bet is to use cloud storage.  Whether you choose to save all files to your hard drive and back up to the cloud, or save directly to the cloud is entirely up to you and likely determined by how old you are.  Digital natives (mainly millennials and younger) would likely never dream of saving to a computer; they are more likely to be cloud folks.  Digital immigrants, however, are less likely to trust something we can’t physically touch, so we tend to store in both.  The steps I will give you will work either way.

If you are using these tips to clean up a work computer, you are probably using server or cloud storage.  Either way, remember that personal files stored on work computers, servers, or cloud storage become the property of your employer and are not private. So it’s best to remove your personal items from your work computer for your own piece of mind.

Time to Purge!

As always, we are going to discard first, sort later.  For reasons I have never understood, some folks like to use their desktop screen as file storage.  Not only does this make for an incredibly cluttered desktop, but it also makes it a little hard to find anything. About the only time I put anything on the desktop is if it is a temporary file, something that I need just for that moment to attach to an e-mail or to download and print. Once I’ve used it, I move it to the trash and get it off my desktop. If you have files or photos on your desktop, trash any that you know you no longer need. Leave what is left and we’ll revisit them later in the process.

Access your file storage (whether hard drive or cloud) and set the window to list or details view instead of thumbnails or icons. This will allow you to see more of what you have at one time.  Also, we want to be able to see not just the name of the file, but the date, type, and size as well.

  • Sort by Date
    • Click on the Date Modified header to sort the list so that the oldest items are on top.
    • Ignore the folders and start with individual documents. These may be text documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, etc.
    • If you named your files well, it will be easy to tell whether or not you need to keep or delete the item.  If not, well…
      • Open each one item are unsure of
      • If you need to keep it, rename it so that you’ll know what it is
      • If not – delete!
    • Continue through the list of items until you’ve deleted all you do not need

***I am going to address photos in another post, but if you come across ones that you want to delete now, by all means – go for it!

  • Folders
    • Open each folder and follow the same procedure for individual files
    • If you empty an entire folder, delete it

If you are like me, you have files on your computer and files in the cloud. I have computer files, Google Drive files, and Dropbox files.  At the moment, there is no rhyme or reason to this, but as I am sharing these tips with you, I am also cleaning up my own mess.  So if you have multiple file locations, before you do any sorting, you’ll need to go in and follow the procedure above for deleting all of your extraneous documents.  While you are at it, if you have thumb/flash drives laying around, you’ll want to round them up as well. See what’s on each and if there are things you need to save, move them to your computer or cloud storage now for sorting.

Creating Folders and Sorting Files

Now that you’ve cleaned out all of the unnecessary files, it is time to sort them.  You wouldn’t just open a file cabinet and dump papers into the drawer, so you don’t want to do that with digital files either. How you sort your files is going to be determined by how many you have and how detailed you want to be. If you don’t have a lot of files, you might consider creating folders for each year (2016, 2015, etc.) and then just place the files into the corresponding folder.  If that is too broad and you prefer to sort by subject, you can do that instead.  Skim through your files and see which ones seem to naturally belong together.  Maybe you have a lot of recipes,  files related to a hobby, or spreadsheets for tracking expenses.  Create a folder for the group and name it (ex. Recipes), then move all of the related files to that folder.  Continue in that way until most, if not all, of your “loose” files have found a home in a folder.  If you have a few that don’t seem to fit anywhere, I think it is fine to leave them outside a folder.  You might find that later on you add files that can be grouped together to create a new folder.

And just in case you think I forgot, it’s time to go back to your desktop files.  Move them to the new folders you’ve just created. Clean desktop, sorted files…doesn’t that feel good?

Backing Up Your Files

All of this work is for naught if you don’t have your files backed up in some way. If you’re main storage is already on the cloud, then congratulations – you are done here!  But if you just did all of this work to the files that exist only on your computer, then you have a few more steps to go – but they are more than worth it.  There are many free cloud storage options available, and you may already have access through your e-mail provider or operating system.  Most can also be integrated with your computer so that they are accessible as a drive, which makes saving and retrieving files a breeze. Do some research to determine the best cloud storage provider for your needs.  Then set up your account and sync it with your computer. Once that is done, you should easily be able to move or back-up all of the files from your computer to your cloud storage.  Not only will your files be spared from damage to or loss of your computer, but you will have access to those files anytime, anywhere, from any device.  The digital natives in your life will be very impressed!

Maintenance

As with your e-mail, you have to stay on top of this if you don’t want to be drowning in loose files again.

  • Place items on your desktop TEMPORARILY – ideally, for no more than 24 hours. After you’ve done what you need to with the file, trash it.
  • If you have an item you must save, be thoughtful about which folder you put it in so that you can find it easily later.
    • If the file was created by someone else, be careful that you don’t change the file extension as that and render the file useless
    • If you created the file, give it a name that makes sense (moms_applepie)
  • Go back through your files at least once a year and see if you need to purge again. It will be much easier to do going forward now that you’ve done the hard part.

E-mail…check!  Computer and cloud files…check!  What’s next?  Digital photos…

 

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