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Digital Spring Cleaning: How to Clean out the Clutter

IS YOUR EMAIL INBOX overflowing with outdated, unread emails? Do you routinely swipe through pages of unorganized smart phone apps to find the one you want? If your digital world is a mess of lost files, unread emails, and forgotten passwords, you may be ready for a digital clean out.

Rochester-based professional organizer Tamara Turcott gave CCOR her take on how to keep yourself digitally organized. Her approach is based on the idea of creating organizational systems that work for you. With a system in place, emails don’t pile up in your inbox, your digital files are stored when you can find them easily, and you never forget a website password.



Keep your inbox completely clear except for unread emails and things that need to be done. The way to accomplish this is by keeping folders (or labels for Gmail) in your inbox for various topics, like “Family” or “Coupons.” As soon as you open an email, either handle it right away or file it into the appropriate folder. Newsletters and subscriptions can go unopened into their folders until you have time to read them later.

When peeking at your email during the day, Tamara’s rule of thumb is: if the email can be handled in less than a minute, open it and deal with it—if not, leave it unopened for when you do have time. For the overactive email checker, turn off your alerts and try to check email only once an hour.

MESSY INBOX? No problem. Put all those emails into a folder called “To Be Filed,” and work on filing those emails ten minutes a day. You will soon find that most of them are unimportant and can be deleted. The important thing is to implement your new email system with a clean inbox.



Similar to the email inbox, your computer desktop should be a place for active projects only. Everything else should be filed away in a folder. Keep your file system organized with big topic folders like “Finances” that can have several subfolders within them. But try to keep it to no more than three sub-levels within any big topic folder.

MESSY DESKTOP? You know the drill. Put all those files in a single folder called “To Be Filed,” and chip away at it a little bit at a time. You will find that you don’t need to hang on to most of those files.



Keep your phone tidy by organizing your apps. There are a couple of ways to do this.

  1. Most smart phones have a feature that allows you to group multiple apps into one folder. With this method, group your apps into folders like “Photography” or “Music.” Also, try to keep all your folders to one page.

  2. If folders aren’t your thing, group your apps by page, with each page a different category: a page of games, a page of social apps, a page of shopping apps, etc.



It’s important to keep track of all your online accounts. For this, you can choose a notebook, an app, a document in a cloud-based storage account, or a file in a locked cabinet. Whatever you choose, be sure it is a system that works for you and one you will stick with. Here are some tips:

  • Keep track of all your accounts. This means every time you open an account, keep track of the URL, your username, your password, and if the account is a paid subscription or not.

  • Choose a system that you can easily access. In order for it to work, you will need to update your file often.

  • Choose a system that is private. Make sure your website tracker is something only you can access.

  • Make sure your website tracker is organized in a way that makes sense, with websites grouped into categories.



FILING. When creating your digital file systems, use categories that work for you. You don’t need to remember exactly how your files are structured, as long as it’s an intuitive system that works with how you think. The goal is to be able to find anything in less than 20 seconds.

NAMING. The naming of your files is more important than where it is filed. Be sure to create file and category names that are clear.

KNOW WHEN TO LET IT GO. Are you holding on to business documents from two careers ago or an app you keep meaning to use but never do? Let it go.

KNOW WHEN TO STOP WASTING YOUR TIME. If you’ve been dutifully sorting through your “To Be Filed” folder for an hour without finding anything important, chances are you’re wasting your time. Don’t give too much time to a pile of useless emails or desktop files.

GO DIGITAL. Embrace the cloud, apps, and other digital methods of information storage. Going digital can save time, space, and plenty of trees.


GETTING YOURSELF DIGITALLY ORGANIZED doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. The goal is to get to a place where you have a system that works for you. So, good luck and get organized!

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