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Spring Cleaning? Here Are 4 Tips to Declutter Your Computer and Smartphone

How to organize your apps, delete old files and back up what you really need

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We’re all guilty of holding on to things longer than necessary — those extra remotes from televisions long gone, decades-old favorite jeans that you insist you’ll wear one day, even the set of golf clubs collecting dust in the basement.

But having too much stuff is messy. The same goes for your technology.

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Too many programs, movie and music downloads and hundreds of photos and videos can wreak havoc on the performance of your devices. That doesn’t mean you need to buy new laptops or the latest smartphones and tablets with more storage.

You can back up important files, safely remove what you no longer need and organize what’s left. Think of it like spring cleaning for your electronics.

1. Back up all the data on your devices

Before you organize or delete files, make sure to back up your data. While you’re cleaning up, you may inadvertently delete something important.

For local and offline storage, pick up an inexpensive external hard drive that can hold a lot of data or use a solid-state drive (SSD), USB thumb drive or memory card. Popular brands include SanDisk, Seagate and Western Digital (WD).

Use your mouse to drag and drop files onto the external drive, using Windows Explorer on a PC, Finder on a Mac and Files on a Chromebook. Keep your physical backup solution in another location if possible. Otherwise, the backup files could be destroyed if your home catches fire or floods.

Another option is to use a cloud service such as Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud or Microsoft OneDrive that stores your data on internet servers instead of a hard drive. Typically, you can get up to 5 gigabytes (GB) of free cloud storage. But if you need more space, opt to pay for extra storage as a monthly or annual subscription.

2. Clear out the old and organize what remains

When was the last time you organized and removed files from your computer desktop? If it’s littered with icons that prevent you from seeing the background image, now is the time to reorganize.

For computers. You can find the software installed on your desktop computer or laptop quickly and easily:

• Windows 10 or 11. Type the word “remove” in the search window at the bottom left of the screen to find Add or remove programs. Choose it and you can view all installed software and get rid of programs you no longer want.

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• Macs. Open Finder, the half blue and half white square, smiling-face icon. Click Applications in the list at the left. Right click on the program you want to uninstall and choose Move to Trash or grab it with your mouse and drag it to the trash can 🗑️ icon on your desktop.

• Chromebooks. Click Launcher, the circle icon in the bottom left corner of your screen. Right-click the app you want to remove. Select Uninstall or Remove from Chrome.

Separately, you can see all the files you’ve accumulated on your internal hard drive, external hard drive or in the cloud. In Windows, open Explorer. On a Mac, open Finder and look inside the Desktop, Documents 📄, Downloads and iCloud Drive folders listed on the left side. On Chromebook, the place to look is in Files.

Dump your old and unwanted files into the recycle bin in Windows and Chrome and the trash 🗑️ on a Mac. You can click and drag them to the bin or right-click and choose the appropriate option. Holding on to the shift key while you click will allow you to grab multiple items at once.

For smartphones, tablets. If you have an app you no longer need on a smartphone or tablet, tap and hold it. You’ll see an option to uninstall or remove it from your device. This applies to Apple iPads, iPhones and Android devices.

On an iPhone or iPad, the app icons may wiggle around when you hold them. This means they’re ready to be moved or deleted using the minus button that appears at the top left of the app. On some Android phones, holding an app launches an X, which you can click to remove apps. If you have an older Android device, you may be prompted to drag and drop the app icon to the top of the phone or tablet screen, where it says Remove or Delete.

If you want to better manage your apps, drop them into folders by subject matter or favorites. Hold down an app on your phone and drag it to another app.

Your device will create a folder for the apps automatically and label it based on the combination you created — for example, Games, Photography or Social Media. You can change the title. Continue dragging apps into that folder as needed.

While you’re at it, give your device screen a proper wipe down.

Video: How to Clean Your Phone
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3. Keep your operating system up to date

To get the best performance from your smartphone operating system, allow regular updates or plan them for the time and day of your choice.

PC users who have Windows 10 should consider upgrading to the free Windows 11. Mac users with enough memory should update from Ventura to Sonoma.

The same goes for individual programs as software makers fix problems or add more functionality. You may see a notification about updates when you launch an app, or you can go into the Settings ⚙️ or Options area of your favorite software to look for updates there.

Just as important are updates for your hardware to implement upgrades and patches for any vulnerabilities. Go to the Support area of websites for devices like your wireless routers and printers. Search for terms such as “firmware update.”

4. Establish safeguards for privacy

Advances in technology benefit you and scammers. That’s why using cybersecurity software to protect your devices and important files against computer viruses is critical.

Free apps can be useful but also pose security risks. To minimize the chances of a data breach, use strong passwords or passphrases for all your online activity.

For secure online banking, opt for two-factor authentication, which uses a password and a one-time code sent to your mobile device, to confirm your identity.

This story, originally published May 18, 2020, has been updated throughout.

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