Dealing with Digital Clutter


Dealing with digital clutterPhoto credit: Pixabay

I spent so much of December thinking about my goals and decluttering so many aspects of my life. But I realized today, there’s one area of my life I hadn’t given much thought to: digital clutter.

I came to this realization this morning when I looked at my phone and saw this:

Mail icon

The thing is, you see, I’d cleared out my inbox maybe four or five days ago (confession: I used the handy dandy “mark all as read” button). So how did the number of unread emails climb back into the three-digit territory?

Actually, I do know how. Now it’s really just a matter of dealing with it.

Anyway, it got me thinking about all of the other digital collections I have, and the rather messy state most of them are in.


Decluttering my email will be my top priority, as I use it all the time. It’s going to be a hefty job, though, because in the past I’ve often decided to “get organized” and as a result have a gazillion labels which I probably don’t need, plus a ton of filters that are fine, only I’m probably better off unsubscribing to things rather than filtering them. I found this system particularly interesting, and will probably be incorporating some form of it with my email.


My Evernote account is another disaster area. I started off with too many notebooks, and then I read about a system that used only a few notebooks and lots of different tags, which I decided to implement. And then a little down the road I read of a different system which said to use one main notebook, the “inbox” and I thought, oh, what a truly splendid idea, so I implemented that system instead. Of course, the crux of that system is that you need to go into Evernote regularly and sort through all the stuff you’ve added. Which I obviously have not been doing. And the situation now? Everything is in my Inbox notebook but hardly anything is tagged. Plus I have tags like “book” and “books” and need to sort that kind of thing out.


I love my Pocket app. I use it all the time, so much so that Pocket sent me a nice little email at the end of the year letting me know I’d won the honour of being in their Top 5% of Pocket readers. And they even did up a nice Webpage of my stats here. But the thing about all my activity on Pocket? I have a wonderful archive of articles I’ve read – and nothing is tagged! I typically just send stuff to Pocket, and then when I’m reading, I kind of read from newest to oldest of the unread, and that’s about it. It would be nice if I at least tagged the articles in my archive …

Google Drive

The main Google Drive account I use actually isn’t so bad, mainly because I don’t have that many things in it. But I have another account which has used up almost all the space Google’s given me, probably because I used to use it to store my old iPhone photos. I’d upload them without much thought, either, so there are photos being stored that shouldn’t even be stored, such as blurred patches of ground and other camera mishaps. And I didn’t know then what I know now, that you can upload your photos to your Google+ account, and as long as they’re under a certain size, they don’t count against any of your Google Drive storage space!


I started backing up work files to Dropbox for “just in case”, but until recently I didn’t really have any particular system. I did the same with my writing files – but not all my writing files – and again, I kind of just uploaded rather haphazardly rather than using a particular, well-thought-out folder system. I have no clue why I did this, as I’m pretty good with the file system on my hard drive. But anyway, things are a real mess here. Luckily, organizing Dropbox is something that can be done through Windows Explorer, so I don’t anticipate things being too difficult. And I don’t have to tag anything, which is very nice. One very odd thing, though – I use the Carousel app to automatically save my iPhone photos to Dropbox (a necessity, because I only have 16G on my phone) but sometimes, I can’t find them on Dropbox. I’m hoping decluttering will help me solve that particular problem.

So these are my digital “problem areas” when it comes to decluttering.  How organized are you, digitally? Do you have some digital decluttering to do this year?

15 thoughts on “Dealing with Digital Clutter

  1. Shannon @ River City Reading

    I tend to be kind of obsessive about clearing out my e-mail, but I’m horrible with Dropbox! It’s where my clutter goes to die forever. And I just set up a Pocket account, so something is telling me that it’s going to end up being another similar place. It definitely seems like the New Year is a good time to tackle the digital clutter, even though it can be easy to forget about.

    1. Belle Wong Post author

      I keep thinking about how much time all this decluttering will take! I need to get obsessive about clearing out my email, definitely – it’s at the top of my list! Do you have a specific system you use to keep your inbox tidy, Shannon?

  2. Tina

    I’m glad I came across your website in this article. I had to give up on Evernote as I wasn’t organized there. I had never heard of Pocket! Sounds like something I would like.

    1. Belle Wong Post author

      It’s a great app, Tina, especially for those times when you come across a link but you don’t have the time to read it. Save it to Pocket and it’s there for you when you do have the time!

  3. Trish

    I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I don’t use any of the programs that you listed here in your post. My work inbox can kind of be unruly as I try to keep any open items in my inbox, but it’s my gmail that truly gets out of control and the only thing I really use it for is bookish stuff. It was a big saving grace, though, when Gmail introduced the new tabs. I find them so useful!

    The place where I really struggle is my digital photo albums. Goodness gracious are they a mess. Loving these organizational posts Belle! Keep them coming!

    1. Belle Wong Post author

      I think it’s probably a good thing, Trish. All my photos are on either Google Drive or Dropbox and I don’t have a clue how to get them organized either. And today I remembered one more digital thing I need to organize: my ebooks! The list just gets longer … :)

  4. Care

    yowza and I’m also needing to declutter my digital. I still don’t have the hang of dropbox in fact it confuses the heck out of me because some things go there when I don’t really want it to and then I can’t do what I wanted to do so i’m all confused. Anyway, when I was student teaching, they gave me a school google account and can you believe that in just 6 weeks I have more docs and emails that I need to decide to save before they take the account away!! it’s crazy. But I’m here to support and cheer you on and if we need a support group, let’s do it!

    1. Belle Wong Post author

      Let’s think about that support group, Care. I’ve been staring at my email and feeling very very stressed!

  5. Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

    I have a “things to organize digitally” list and it is basically the same as yours! I’ve gotten better about e-mail, but my Drive is a mess and so is Pocket. I’d like to get caught up on those this year, but we’ll see what happens. Good luck!

    1. Belle Wong Post author

      Thanks, Kim! I just read a post on Jamie Todd Rubin’s site on how he uses Pocket to cut down on the notes he sends to Evernote, so now I’m thinking I might give that a try.

  6. Bernadette

    I am lucky I guess – I am pretty organised by nature – indeed in a way I organise for a living (on a larger scale for a big organisation) so my digitial life is reasonably well taken care of, My tips for what they’re worth…

    -Unsubscribe from as many email newsletters as you possibly can – cuts down the number you receive – i tend to do it as soon as I can (e.g. if I am buying something from a new store I untick the box that asks me if I want their newsletter right there or set my preferences to send me nothing if possible)
    -If an email will take less than 5 minutes to deal with (either responding or taking the action it demands) do it now
    -I use auto filtering where possible – things like receipts, tracking information and all that that you need just in case – I never see them – they go to a folder and get marked as read – I only go to that folder if the item doesn’t arrive when I think it should have
    -Use auto-text/text expanders as much as possible (i have a text expander on every device/computer I use – phrases and sentences I type regularly are all in here to make typing quicker (which means I more emails fall into the ‘can deal with in 5 minutes’ category)
    -with Evernote I do find that less tags and more notebooks is the way to go – though not a huge number of either – I’ve got about 14 notebooks and some of those are effectively closed (e.g. I have one for each financial year into which all my receipts and statements for that year go – once I’ve done my taxes for that year I never look at the notebook again but the stuff is there in case I get audited)
    -I schedule time to clean up all the stuff I have sent to Evernote once a week

    I am much better organised now that I use a kanban style ‘to do’ manager – I use Trello but there are others – it works for me because it allows me to have a huge list of things I want/need to do eventually but only a handful of ‘to do’ things that I actually want/need to do right now – helps with focus and helps to work out what’s really important

    Good luck with your digital decluttering – everyone’s got to find a system that works for them

    1. Belle Wong Post author

      Wow, thanks so much for these tips, Bernadette! I’ve been thinking about getting a text expander app for my phone but never thiught about getting one for my computer. Ive tried Trello but a lot of my to-dos include links and for some reason on my phone they don’t show up as a clickable link, but maybe I will give it another try. I hadn’t thought about putting receipts into an Evernote notebook – it’s a great idea! Plus I just saw that Evernote has released a scanning app. You’ve given me a ton of ideas – thank you!

  7. Suey

    Wow! This makes my head spin! And makes me realize how unorganized my digital stuff is too! I got an external hard drive awhile back and had plans to put all the important stuff on it and have YET to do it. It’s making me crazy.

  8. LeviSJ

    Ok, I never realized how cluttered my gmail inbox was until I read this post. Today I discovered I have over 3,000 read emails just setting there. I always keep my “unread” mail notification clear, but I tend to read and go to the next without actually doing anything with the previous one. Thanks for the realization and motivation for cleaning that out. I think it will make things I need to keep easier to find later.


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