Why you need a digital cleanse

Into the Marie Kondo craze? Don’t stop at your physical surrounds – it’s important to clean up your online clutter too.

So, think you’re not a hoarder?  Stop what you are doing and ask yourself these questions.

How many photos are stored on your devices? Are they sorted into albums? Is your desktop a sea of randomly named documents, and are you drowning in thousands of unopened emails?

It’s time to face facts – digital clutter is the new hoarding, and few of us are immune.

In fact, researchers have found the increasing trend to digitise our lives can cause levels of stress similar a traditional hoarding disorder.

Access to free or cheap storage is making us loath to erase our photos, emails and documents, trapping us in a revolving door of “capturing, storing and sharing”.

So while Marie Kondo has sparked a global spring clean in the home, a digital cleanse can be just as good for the soul.

Here’s how to do it:

digital clutter

Digital photos

Let’s get the toughest chore out of the way first.

From the 200 pictures of your pug, to Thailand trips dating back to 2003 and every Instagrammable meal you’ve devoured since, tackling the mountain of digital images we’ve captured can seem insurmountable.

RMIT senior research fellow in Business, IT and Logistics Dr Stan Karanasios suggests starting by creating an inventory of our photos and where they are stored, be it on phones, hard drives, cloud services or USB drives.

“Most people would be alarmed at the number of places they have their photos stored in; it could be as many as 15,” he says.

But using a simple, consistent file structure with self-explanatory names for photo albums and photos can help when you go hunting for them. Try putting dates at the end of the folder name in the format: “yyyymmdd” or “yymmdd”, e.g. 20190228 or 190228.

“I recommend consolidating all your photos into one cloud storage (like Google Drive or Dropbox) or physical device, and regularly backing up to an alternative system,” he says.

“Bear in mind though, that physical devices such as hard drives and flash drives eventually will fail.”

Print out photos of important occasions and milestones like weddings, and save them as TIFF, JPEG or PNG files, as these are likely to be more transferable over time.

Social media

It might not clog up your phone on laptop, but unwieldy social media accounts can suck up precious time and head space.

Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer says one way to become happier and more productive is to declutter our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts by unfollowing friends and pages that are not “adding value” to our lives.

To stem the tide of alerts that constantly distract us, she suggests limiting notifications on all apps to only the most essential updates.

“I get Facebook private messages and event invites emailed to me so I don’t feel like I am missing out too much on personal communication,” she says.

Dr Karanasios says it can also be worth downloading important messages sent on Facebook Messenger using the Download Your Information tool, and backing up any emails you  want to keep.

“We rely on Gmail and Facebook, but ultimately they are companies – and companies can fail,” he says.

Unsubscribing from email lists that are no longer of interest will also reduce the amount of time spent clearing your inbox.

digital clutter


It’s one of the biggest banes of modern life – trying to recall a password when doing a spot of internet shopping, booking a holiday or accessing a long-lost email account.

So if your list of logins is longer than the Nile, it’s time to subscribe to a reliable password manager or organiser… and breathe a sigh of relief.

“Browsers are getting better at helping us remember passwords, but it may be helpful to use a password manager to keep on top of the growing list of logins and passwords,” says Dr Karanasios.

Among the password managers recommended online are 1Password, LastPass, Sticky Password and Dashlane.


Save yourself the regular headaches and store your important documents and receipts in the one place.

Cloud services like Dropbox let you organise documents into separate folders to make them easy to find, especially if you use consistent file names.

Clean up your desktop and delete any files and documents you don’t need, so you can easily identify and access those you do.

Dr Karanasios says digital clutter is a conundrum that society has yet to get a handle on.

“It’s a real problem that most people probably haven’t thought about, or have pushed to the back of their minds,” he says.

“But it’s one that is confronting us more and more on a daily basis.”

Written by Elissa Doherty.