Computer Spring Cleaning, Part 2: Dealing with Data

The following post is from Michelle of Mommy Misadventures:

Cluttered desktop
source: dysleeper

Last week, I covered cleaning your physical computer. For Part 2 of Computer Spring Cleaning, we’ll look at dealing with digital clutter and organizing the data stored on your computer.

Digital Clutter

I have a confession to make: I was a digital hoarder.

Looking through my computers was like looking through a time machine. I kept everything!! Sure, I’ve upgraded computers several times in the past ten years or so, but I had a bad habit of bringing my old data with me.

After years of this, I found myself buried in data. It was hard to find files and I was slowing my computer down.

At first glance, digital clutter may not seem like that big of a deal. After all, it isn’t taking up physical space. Yet too many files and unorganized folders means that you have to search through more files to find what you want. Your computer also has to work harder to sift through files that are taking up space on your hard drive.

Cleaning up clutter and reorganizing your data is not too different than organizing your physical space. It starts with getting rid of files you do not use, archiving files you want to keep but don’t use on a regular basis and then employing an organizing system to help keep your current and future files organized.

Purge

Get rid of any files you do not use. Be honest: do you really need to keep all the files have downloaded over the last few months/years? If the answer is no, off to the Recycle Bin (or Trash if you’re a Mac user) it goes!

Applications may create temporary files, usually identified by the .tmp extension, when installing or updating. The problem is that applications do not always delete these temporary files and they just take up space on your hard drive.

If your Programs (Windows) or Applications (Mac) folder is cluttered with programs that you’re not using, uninstall them! To uninstall programs on Windows machines, use the Add/Remove Programs utility. You can access Add/Remove Programs by going to Start – Control Panel and then finding Add/Remove Programs.

Mac users can get rid of most unwanted applications by dragging the application folder into the Trash. But be careful: some applications have uninstallers. If the Mac application you want to remove has an uninstaller, it is best to use that. There are also third party applications that can help you uninstall unwanted programs including AppZapper (premium) and AppTrap (free).

Archive

Once you’re done deleting files, move on to figuring out what you want to keep. Chances are that a good chunk of the files you do want to keep aren’t files that you need to keep on your hard drive at all times. For files you want to keep but don’t need on a regular basis, archive them for safe keeping off of your main hard drive.

Archive vs Backup

The terms “archive” and “backup” are often confused. Archiving is putting away data that you do not use on a daily basis for long term storage. Backing up makes copies of data you are currently using so you can quickly replace it in case it becomes corrupted or otherwise compromised.

Options

There is some debate about what is the best media for archiving your data. Burning data to optical media like DVD or CD is cheap and should last for at least a decade. USB flash drives are convenient but have a limited life span and are more expensive than optical media. Archiving to another hard drive is fine but there’s always the possibility of overwriting data or hardware failure.

Organize

Once you’ve cleared away the digital clutter, it is time to reorganize what you have left. Everyone has their own favorite way of organizing but here’s a few hints to get you started.

Naming Schemes

One quick way to organize your files is to use a naming scheme that helps to identify the file at a glance. For example, I like to include the type of file and day started on my document files. A blog entry draft started on April 1 may be named 0401-Blog-Title-DRAFT.doc.

Use Shortcuts

Create shortcuts to files or folders you use often. Short cuts are a great way to save time when you’re working on something.

Changing Your View

Windows and Mac both default to alphabetical views when viewing file folders. Alphabetical views work for a lot of things but try checking other views like Modified, File Size and File Type to see if they work better for you.

For example, I find that it is easier to find files I’ve downloaded into “My Downloads” if I view it by “Modified” rather than alphabetically. By using the “Modified” view, I can see the newest additions to the folder first.

 

Maintenance

Once you’ve got your data all sorted out, you have the perfect opportunity to perform maintenance tasks. Performing regular maintenance, allows you to go longer between archiving and data decluttering.

Keeping it organized

Keeping your hard drive organized isn’t too different from keeping your home organized. By knowing where you’ll save your data to before you download it, you can help keep your folders from getting cluttered.

For example, my downloads live in the My Downloads folder on my computer. I know that I tend to download things like photos, fonts and applications so I make folders for those particular things. Anything that doesn’t fit into these categories gets put into a “Miscellaneous” folder which I then sort later.

Backup

If you do not already have a backup solution, now would be a good time to implement one.  Choose a backup solution that works best for you. Both Windows and Mac have built-in backup services (Windows Backup and Mac OS X Time Machine) that allow you to backup to network drives, external disks or optical media. You may also want to try online backup services like Mozy or Carbonite to back your files up to an online server. 

Windows Tasks

If you have a Windows machine, this is a great time to set a System Restore Point as well as Defragment. If your Windows installation somehow becomes corrupted due to things like a bad application installation, malware, etc., System Restore allows you to restore your settings to a previous Restore Point.

Defragment is a Windows utility that reorganizes your data on your hard drive. Windows stores files as fragments on your hard drive rather than continuous blocks of data on your drive. When files are very fragmented, it can take Windows longer to process. Defragmenting speeds up your computer by putting the fragments together to make it easier for the operating system to access. Depending on how large your drive is and how fragmented the files are, defragging can take anywhere from an hour to several hours so it is best to leave this task until you’re done with organizing your data.

Windows includes a Scheduler utility that allows you to schedule regular maintenance tasks like System Restore and Defragment. Set up the Scheduler to remember your maintenance tasks so you don’t have to!

Are you battling digital clutter? What are some of your favorite ways to organize your data?

Michelle Mista is a former IT professional turned work-at-home mom. She muses about motherhood at Mommy Misadventures. A geek of all trades, she loves computers, video games, photography and coffee and is on the constant quest to balance life, work and geekery.
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