4 Tips for Your Great Digital Cleanup

Spring cleaning of the digital sort



Priya Gohil


Spring is here, along with its characteristic pull for us to shake off winter hibernation and get the cleaning products out, ready for a spruce up. Alongside airing musty cupboards and packing away the woollies, this is as good a time as any to bring that zeal to clean to your digital life. Downloads, emails, passwords, old files—they may not fester in dust but the longer you procrastinate, the harder it is get going on that data clutter.



Reduce Spam in Your Life

Rather than ignore unwanted e-mails landing in your inbox, it’s time to get rid of them for good. Hitting delete each time may be a quick way to move on but it’s a short-term fix. You are better off unsubscribing altogether, even if it means you have to spend some time upfront trawling through your inbox, deleted, clutter, or junk folders to sift out the e-mails you don’t read or want. Automated services can deal with this on your behalf, but it’s best to get the job done yourself as you could run into further privacy issues otherwise.


Experts warn against unsubscribing if the e-mail looks dodgy. For one, you could be just confirming your account is active only to invite more spam to land or, more seriously, be directed to a compromised website. If you can’t easily tell your spam e-mail is from a bona fide company or high-volume mail campaign (according to McAfee, hover over the unsubscribe link, and you can identify the web address that's associated with the company or person who sent you the e-mail) then it’s better to flag the e-mail as spam. This should reduce the messages you receive from that address.


Downloads to Go

It’s easy to overlook the Downloads folder on your hard drive, but guaranteed it’ll have a dolly mixture of files that you’ve downloaded, unzipped, and moved elsewhere without coming back to delete the original download. Same with the desktop. Time to clean up your desktop otherwise that nice wallpaper will remain obscured behind a checkerboard pattern of files and folders. But do it carefully in case there’s an irreplaceable file hidden behind a name like “YEU-2022-0385” that needs preserving.


Snap Happy

Taking a photo has never been easier. Thanks to their size and portability, mobile devices allow you to take candid rapid snapshots of daily life wherever you are. These can be transferred to the desktop for editing, or simply remain stored in the photo library. The bottom line is there’s a profusion of images sitting in various places, making it hard to scroll to the ones we really want to keep. Decide on which one of the 12 versions of a selfie you want and delete the rest. Get rid of those out of focus shots while you’re at it—you’ll never need them. As well as decluttering, you will be freeing up storage space and possibly saving some money on top of that—how many of us really need that extra-cost cloud storage just to dump some images we’re unlikely to use or want?


Password Hygiene

Better security demands longer, more complex passwords. But trying to remember umpteen unique passwords is not easy and going down the reset password route each time you want to access a website, online account, or pay for something is just plain soul-sapping. The alternative is using weak, easy-to-guess, or repeated credentials, which can leave you vulnerable to cyber hacks. Credential-stuffing attacks happen when a hacker uses your compromised password from, say Facebook, to try and gain access to other common online services you may use, like Netflix or Instagram. To avoid this, experts recommend a password no less than 11 characters and made up of a mixture of letters, numbers, and special characters. Password complexity (passphrase versus password) may be the best weapon against being hacked, but most users now have password memory retention fatigue. One solution is a password manager app, such as 1Password, Dashlane, or LastPass to name but a few. These services can create random and long passwords on your behalf and remember them next time you log in to a service. Hey, presto! You only have to remember one password, and that’s for your password manager. There are plenty of password manager apps on the market ranging from free to available for a small monthly subscription fee. But, what price is having peace of mind?


One qualifying note to the above: Even a complex, varied character-led password may not foil a would-be hacker for long. Now cybersecurity experts advocate the use of passphrases over passwords, citing a random collection of words and overall length will be harder to crack in the long run. It may be counterintuitive to ignore special characters for prosaic words, but even the FBI advises on the use of passphrases. But, people should choose carefully, avoid common phrases like “thecatsatonthemat,” and opt for random ones “axemaplerainchew.” Again, there are online tools to help you generate an effective random passphrase.


Happy cleaning!