How to Reduce Digital Clutter?
Security while using the Internet has become a major issue for everyone over the past few years. People are starting to become wary online and are employing tighter security measures in order to protect their data (which will ultimately protect their lives). Here are just some examples of how people are protecting themselves online:
- Use of strong passwords. These days, people do not use simple passwords anymore (everyone has already said goodbye to “password” and “123”). Instead, passwords being used are alphanumeric and contain special characters.
- Two-factor authentication. Also known as two-step verification, this security measures allows you to log in to your account not only through a username and password, but also by something that is in the possession of the account owner.
- Avoid suspicious emails and links. Phishing emails are prevalent, so people do not open emails from people they don’t know. URLs that do not look reliable are also being avoided.
- Go incognito. When doing financial transactions online such as shopping and money transfers, most people choose to open an incognito browser in order to protect their financial data.
Making use of the security measures does not mean that you are overreacting. Protecting yourself in the digital world should be the norm because more and more threats such as cyber crimes are popping up. Believe it or not, you can be the next victim of ransomware, doxing, and identity theft. Everyone who use the internet is vulnerable. Nobody is immune. If you are doing the things mentioned above in order to protect yourself, we are asking you to also do one more thing: clean up your digital clutter.
What is Digital Clutter?
Look under your bed, at the bottom of your dresser, and your basement. Now, check out your attic and your garage. Did you see the science project you made while you were still in eighth grade? How about the boxes that contain piles of newspapers from years ago? Your old shoes, the ones that don’t fit you anymore, may even be around there somewhere. Those things are clutter – things from long ago that you don’t actually use anymore but are still stored in your house.
The digital world is no different. As a matter of fact, we could have a lot more clutter in the digital world than in the physical world. More in terms of value and potential harm its loss might cause, rather than the actual number of things just lying around.
What constitutes digital clutter? Anything that you stored can be digital clutter meaning that everyone has digital junk hidden in their computers, laptops, mobile phones, and other gadgets. To make digital clutter easier to understand, I took the liberty of going through my files in my laptop and here’s what I found:
- Three years pile of billing statements in the form of PDF files from credit card companies, internet service provider, and a magazine subscription. Because everybody is going paperless, they send the bills to my email address. I download them out of habit, pay the companies, and sort of forget about the PDF files.
- Screenshots of completed online purchases which contains sensitive information such as billing and shipping address, type of credit card used, and order number.
- Scanned copy of a child’s birth certificate with the registration number, the parents’ full name, date of birth, and all other personal information.
There are more, but you get the point. Anything that has piled up in your computer is considered clutter no matter how small its size is. Even applications that you no longer use can still take up space in your tablets and mobile phones. Email addresses and online accounts that are no longer being used are also considered as digital clutter. It is important to go through all gadgets and accounts, and declutter.
But why is it important to identify what clutter you have in the digital world? And why do you need to declutter? All those billing statements, birth certificates, pictures, and other files contain personal and sensitive information that can compromise your identity and safety. Imagine them in the hands of a hacker. Yes, clearing digital clutter is one security measure that people must start to apply.
How to Clean Digital Clutter?
Cleaning up digital clutter entails basic computer knowledge, and could be hard work for some. But it is ultimately worth it. By the way, you can avoid the fear of having digital clutter through a virtual private network, and this will be explained in a while. For now, here are six decluttering tips that you will find helpful.
1. Check your downloads folder.
Your downloads folder is very prone to clutter. You can just download anything, view or read the file, then forget about it. It is important to delete files in the download folder that you no longer use. Dedicate a time each week to just go through your downloads folder and delete unnecessary files in order to declutter.
2. Close and cancel accounts that you no longer use.
Overtime, you may have opened several online accounts that you no longer use presently. You may have signed up for a website that you only used once. Or you may have an old email account that you don’t log in to anymore. Close those accounts and make sure they are deleted. The company that owns the website may still have the information you gave while the account was still active, but at least hackers won’t have any real use of it anymore.
3. Delete applications.
Check your mobile phone and see which applications are seldom opened. For instance, you may have downloaded an app that counts the steps you’ve taken, or an app that analyzes a woman’s ovulation period, but you are not really using these apps anymore. Uninstall these apps, but before doing so, make sure that your account with the app developer is deleted as well.
4. Organize your inbox
Deleting email messages can be very difficult to do. What if I will need this particular message in the future? This question enters our minds before we delete an email. However, it is important to delete email messages that you have taken action to already, especially those that are from years ago. Check your email right now. Do you have messages from news sites and other websites that are ten years old already? That’s clutter, so delete those.
And to avoid building up clutter in your email account, immediately delete messages that are no longer useful to you. An invitation to an event that has already taken place, for example, can already be deleted. This way, you can avoid clutter.
5. Create a backup
The first four tips talk about deleting files, applications, emails, and even online accounts. Deleting is the only cost-effective way to reduce clutter. However, when it comes to important files, or even those that are just simply too hard to let go of, the delete button is just too difficult to reach. Photos are a great example of this. We are sure you have accumulated hundreds of gigabytes of pictures and it would be difficult for you if you were asked to delete any one of them.
Thus, we suggest creating a backup for these files before deleting them from your laptop or mobile phones. You can put them in a cloud service, or in an external hard drive that is password protected. You may be deleting the files, but you know they are still with you in some way.
6. Delete cookies and browser history
This decluttering tip is pretty basic. Cookies can actually be trackers that advertisers use to gather your information including browser history. It is just right to make it a habit to delete cookies and browser history. Do it every day, right after using a browser, in order to avoid clutter. This way, you are less vulnerable to advertisers.
All decluttering tips mentioned above are quite basic, and anyone – even those who are not tech-savvy – can do them. It may be tedious work at first because you need to sort a lot of things out, and if you are like hundreds of people online, you surely have gigs of clutter lurking around. However, once you make it a habit to declutter, you will be protected against security breach and privacy invasion. Even if criminals are able to hack into your gadgets or accounts, they will have less to work with because you have already deleted items that might be useful to them.
Of course, the best way to make sure that there won’t be any security breach and that your privacy won’t be invaded is to make sure that you are not discoverable by hackers, criminals, and even your internet service provider. This is possible when you use virtual private network while browsing the Internet. There are hundreds of VPN services all over the world, and there are even free ones.
However, it is more preferable to go for a paid VPN service rather than a free one because free VPN service may come at a higher cost for you. Free VPN service are often used by big companies to track your online habits, which actually defeats the purpose of a VPN. Thus, you better subscribe to a reasonably priced VPN services.