Digital Hygiene 101: Cleaning Out the Phone Clutter

January 21, 2021

Digital Hygiene Part 2

This is the second post in our Digital Hygiene 101 series. You can check out our first article on mindful information sharing here.

You know how there is always that one drawer in the kitchen that collects anything and everything? That same kind of accumulation happens to our smartphones, too!

After a while, our devices start to get bogged down with countless text messages, photos, videos, downloads and apps. This not only makes it much more challenging to find things, but all that strain on the phone’s memory and storage space can cause performance issues. What’s more, a lack of storage means you may miss important updates to apps, which is a big security risk.

That’s why it is important to spend some time cleaning out the clutter on your phone when you can, even if it is only a few minutes at a time. So rather than check social media again, try one of these tasks next time you pick up your phone!

If you have five minutes

These are easy tasks you can chip away at whenever you have a spare few minutes: in line at the grocery store, between commercial breaks or with a few sips of morning coffee.

Update your contacts

Be honest: how many contacts in your phone are actually…well, contacted? Take a look through your address book and see who is there. If there is a contact in your phone you know you don’t need anymore, feel free to remove them. You can also make quick updates to surnames, email addresses or caller ID photos.

Who knows? On the flip side, this exercise may inspire you to reach out to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while!

Set texts to automatically delete after a set amount of time

Text messages can start to fill up your storage quickly if you send out a lot of them. Most phones have a setting where you can set a cap for how long text messages will stay on your phone before automatically being deleted. Take advantage of this setting so you don’t have to manually delete hundreds of messages!

If you are really attached to a special message, take a screenshot of it or lock it so it cannot be deleted.

Delete and update apps

Take a look at what apps are installed on your phone and see what you actually use. Many phones come with apps pre-installed that can easily be removed or deactivated. You can also clear out any games you no longer play or apps you thought you’d use more than you do.

For the apps you want to keep, head over to the app store your device utilizes and check for any updates you may have missed. Don’t forget that your device isn’t just a phone: it is a portable computer that can access everything you have personal information tied to, such as social media accounts and banking apps. Updating apps will ensure you have the latest security features in place. You can also set apps to automatically update so you don’t have to worry about it!

Go through your downloads

Any time you download a file online, such as a PDF restaurant menu or a photo from a friend’s text, it is saved in your phone’s storage. Over time, these can take up a lot of space, so navigate to your downloaded files section to see what is still hiding out in there. They are typically in a folder called My Files, File Manager or something along those lines.


If you have a few hours

These tasks are a bit more labor-intensive and might be a good weekend project to settle in for. But putting in some work on the back end will result in some big improvements to your phone’s capacity and performance.

Organize your email

It is so easy to let emails pile up and turn your inbox into a minor disaster. That’s why we are offering a few tips to help tame the beast that is a full inbox!

  • Use tags or folders: For the emails you want to keep, think of the most popular topics you see in your inbox, such as receipts, billing notices and correspondence. You can create folders or tags for these topics to file them away instead of clogging up your inbox. And just like you would a file cabinet, it is a good practice to check your folders occasionally to see if you still need the emails in them.
  • Unsubscribe from email lists: Whether we like it or not, we’re probably on a lot of business email lists and those sales emails can quickly junk up an inbox. You can unsubscribe from these emails manually to ensure you are removed from that business’ list. There are also websites that can do this automatically (for free or at a cost) by linking up with your inbox. But be warned: some may sell your information to third parties, so do your research!
  • Delete emails by sender: Rejoice, for it is easy to delete emails from a single source all at once! If you are using Gmail, simply use the Gmail search bar and batch delete emails that come from the same source. This article will show you how.
  • Turn off social media email notifications: Chances are, you are on sites like Facebook daily, so you probably don’t need an email telling you something you’re going to see when you log in anyway. You can turn off these emails to give your inbox some breathing room.

The key to making these tips work is committing to staying on top of your inbox. Set aside a few minutes every morning or night to check your emails and either delete the ones you don’t need or file them away.

Transfer your photos and videos

This is probably the granddaddy of all phone decluttering tasks, which is why we saved it for last. A staggering 81% of Americans have a smartphone and most are content using the camera included as their primary means of taking photos. Combined with the files we share with friends and family, images and videos can rapidly take up space on our phones.

Here is our guide for staying on top of the clutter!

  • Delete memes and screenshots: This is the low-hanging fruit that is easy to start with. Most memes and screenshots only serve a one-time purpose, so you’ll likely not need them again. Delete these first to give yourself some breathing room.
  • Choose the best duplicates: One of the biggest perks of digital photography is the ability to snap multiple photos…but that also means more storage space is taken up! Scan your photos for any duplicates and choose the best one or two. Chances are, you are not going to need seven photos of the same sunset.
  • Organize your images and videos by folder and tag: Want your vacation and holiday memories in one, easy-to-find place? Make folders for them! We also recommend utilizing tags you can later search for. Tags will make media easy to find, especially if you have photos of the same subject (such as your pet dog) in multiple folders. Check out this helpful article to learn the ins and outs of using tags.
  • Back up your photos: We cannot stress this last point enough. You can set up automatic photo syncing from your phone to a storage service, which is a huge space-saver. But more importantly, in the event something happens to your phone, photos will be safely stored elsewhere. Some popular services include Google Photos, iCloud, Amazon Photos, DropBox and Flickr. While most websites like this have paid subscription options, many have a free version to get you started.

Similar to emails, it is important to stay on top of your photo organization. Set aside some time every month to go through your images to see what can be deleted or backed up. If you stay on top of it, the process won’t take nearly as long as your first big decluttering!

The bottom line: Cleaning out the clutter on your phone will not only improve its performance, but it will also ensure you are getting the latest security updates for your apps. Use a few free minutes to do small tasks like updating your address book or deleting unused apps. Email and photo organization are good weekend projects that will have a huge impact on your phone’s performance and your own peace of mind. 


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