How-To: Digital Declutter

It’s that time of year when many of us throw ourselves into a mammoth housework marathon known as “spring cleaning.” As you subject your home to a good scrubbing, why not also do a “digital spring cleaning” and refresh your digital life, too?

Don’t stress – this isn’t as involved as cleaning all your windows inside AND out or taking a toothbrush to your baseboards. To help you out, we’ve broken a simple declutter process into four easy bite-size pieces, so you can easily do one per week (or, for you overachievers, all at once) and end the month with a sense of accomplishment (even if you don’t get to those baseboards!)

Week #1: Keep a Clean Machine

Ensure all internet-connected devices – including PCs, smartphones, and tablets – are squeaky clean.

  • Update software on all internet-connected devices to reduce risks from malware and infections.
  • Clean up your mobile life by deleting unused apps, keeping others current and reviewing app permissions. 

Week #2: Make Sure You’re Secure

Enhancing the security of your online accounts is a must and a fast, simple way to be safer online.

  • Lock down your login: Your usernames and passphrases are not enough to protect key accounts like email, banking and social media. Strengthen online accounts and use strong authentication tools whenever offered.
  • Secure your router by making sure it has a strong passphrase and does not broadcast who you are through its name, such as “the Jones Family” or “123 Elm Street.”
  • Make your passphrase a sentence that is at least 12 characters long. Focus on positive phrases that you like to think about and are easy to remember. On many sites, you can even use spaces.
  • Make unique passphrases for important accounts like email, finance and healthcare.
  • Write down your new passphrases and store them in a safe place away from your computer.
  • Check to ensure all devices are password, passcode, fingerprint or eye-scan protected.

Week #3: Digital Files: Purge and Protection

Be sure to properly dispose of sensitive information and devices that capture and store personal data. In addition to computers and mobile phones, external hard drives, USBs, embedded flash memory, wearables, and networking equipment can all contain valuable information.

  • Clean out your old email and empty deleted folders. Save only those emails you really need. If you need to keep old messages, move them to an archive.
  • Delete or archive older files and outdated financial statements.
  • Unsubscribe to email, newsletters, alerts, and updates you no longer need or want to receive.
  • Update your online photo album by deleting or backing up old or less flattering photos.
  • Update online relationships by reviewing friends on social networks and all contacts lists to make sure everyone still belongs.
  • Copy important data to a secure cloud site or other drive where it can be safely stored.
  • Password protect back-up drives and keep them in a different location off the network.
  • Permanently delete all old files. Keep in mind, simply deleting and emptying the trash isn’t enough to completely get rid of a file. Permanently delete old files using a program that deletes the data, “wipes” if from your device and overwrites it by putting random date in place of your information.
  • Clear out old hard drives or other devices, even if they’re in a locked storage area. Information that still exists is information that could be stolen. Wipe or destroy unneeded hard drives as soon as possible.

Week #4: Clean Up Your Online Reputation

Make sure your online reputation shines.

  • Own your online presence by reviewing the privacy and security settings on websites you frequent to be sure they are set at your comfort level for sharing.
  • Clean up your social media presence by deleting old photos, etc. that are embarrassing or no longer represent who you are.
  • Update your “online self” by reviewing your personal information and updating it where needed.