When you've owned a computer for a long time, it's easy to lose track of how much junk you have sitting in it. Maybe you're addicted to apps and always trying out new things, or perhaps you save every single file you've ever created in one place. I decided to put myself on a diet, avoid downloading anything new and force myself to hold down the delete key.Photo by EldridgeGerry.
The reason I decided to go on a delete binge is simple: I was having a hard time finding what I wanted. Generally speaking, I'm good at keeping up with cluttered computer files, but I had let things get out of hand. I had over 400 apps from the iTunes App Store, nearly 600 unlistened podcasts, text messages from 2008 still stored on my phone, and software I hadn't used in five years. My solution was to dedicate an afternoon to nothing but the delete key.
The Three Questions I Asked Myself
To start, I needed to come up with a system for validating all this junk. I was happy to just delete some of it freely, but others I needed to ask myself three essential questions:
- When was the last time I used this?
- Do I still have a use for it?
- Have I found an alternative?
For instance, I had four different "minimalist writing apps". Four apps, same function. Three of them had to go. Here's how I handled the deletion process.
How and Where to Delete Binge
In order for this to really work for me, I had to come up with a rule. That one rule is pretty simple: You can only delete things. This means no reordering, organising, archiving or anything else. Just deleting. I tackled this process in a straightforward manner:
- Delete old applications: This whole process started because I glanced in my application folder and noticed I had apps that I hadn't used in five years. Do I really need that copy of Toast Titanium 8 installed on my computer? Probably not. So I sorted the Applications folder by "Last Opened" (Date Accessed in Windows), and starting pulling old apps to the Trash Bin. When I was done I had removed about 100 programs.
- Clean Up iTunes: As you probably gathered above, I have an app problem. Oddly, I don't actually keep that many apps on my phone, but that doesn't stop me from downloading, checking out, and then subsequently forgetting about lots of different mobile apps. I had 400 apps downloaded in iTunes. I went through and deleted every app I don't use. Now it's down to a somewhat more reasonable 120 apps. While I was cleaning up apps, I also deleted lots of podcast subscriptions. If you don't listen to podcasts, iTunes automatically adds an exclamation point and unsubscribes from the feed. I went through and deleted everything with an exclamation point, no questions asked and no excuses made. Finally, I sorted my music library by "Last Played" and got rid of music I don't listen to.
- Delete old docs: On a roll, I decided to do the same thing with documents. I went through every folder and deleted anything I didn't need anymore. It was a little tough to clear away the clutter without trying to organise everything, but I managed to get rid of heaps of junk in the process. I did the same with my Dropbox account and any other random folder I could find.
- Delete old contacts and messages: Finally, I decided to tackle my contacts lists too. The messages app on my iPhone has been sluggish lately, so I went through and deleted all the old conversations. As best as I can tell, the iPhone saves every old text message, which means I could pull up conversations from all the way back in 2007. Why would I ever need to do that? I deleted them all, then went in and deleted any contacts I didn't need anymore while I was at it.
Essentially, I decided to find the bulk of my junk and then remove it. In my case, this was mostly software. Yours might be email or ancient files. It might even be junk in your house. When you do it with the one rule that only allows you to delete, you get the process done quickly. You can always go back and organise another day if you want.
In the end, my computers and phone all feel a little zippier. More importantly, I can find what I'm looking for more quickly. I also found myself making use of what I actually own a lot more. Instead of getting frustrated by being "behind on 600 podcasts", I narrowed it down to the few I actually like. The process itself was about eliminating choices. Sitting for an hour and just pushing the delete key also just feels oddly satisfying. Give it a try yourself.