Digital decluttering: Organisation expert gives advice on tidying up your digital space

woman on phone drinking coffee
Got 13,000 photos you can't bear to start deleting? Consider this your sign to start. Photo credit: Getty.

After the success of the 2019 documentary Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, many of us took to cleaning and decluttering homes with gusto. 

Childhood toys? Outfits we haven't worn in years? If it didn't "spark joy" it went in the bin. 

But there's one area of life many of us still have piles of unused and unwanted possessions - our digital sphere. 

If you have thousands of photos, unread documents and stacks of downloads on your computer or phone, you'll know the overwhelm of attempting to sort through "digital clutter" to find what you need. 

A new survey by GoPro of 4000 people revealed the average person loses documentation of 11 cherished memories per year, mainly through accidentally deleting them (48 percent). Other reasons included running out of space on a phone or camera during an important event and losing important photos and videos by failing to save from a text or email. 

Nearly 50 percent said that they have so many photos and videos on their devices that if they don't favourite a 'keeper' right away, it's basically gone forever, while 62 percent of respondents reported that they sometimes or often feel overwhelmed by trying to select the best photos or videos to share out of a collection they've captured.

So how best to tackle the mammoth task of digital tidying? That's where Australian organisation expert Gemma Quinn comes in. 

Quinn is one of the leading experts on the organisational method created by Marie Kondo and is Australia's first certified KonMari consultant. 

Her area of expertise is digital decluttering and she's put together some of her top tips on tidying your digital space. 

If you've been putting it off, consider this your sign to start working your way through the 13,000 photos on your phone - if you're anything like me, you definitely don't need that many pictures of past meals. 

Organising photos and video 

  • Organise your photos and videos around curated memories. Try to keep between five and 10 images of a particular event; anything more can be overwhelming.
  • To make the most out of your photos and videos, collate and create short videos of them. Professional looking videos can easily and automatically be created by using apps like GoPro Quik or Adobe Spark. 
  • Incorporate your favourite photos into your everyday life. This could be a private feed of your favourite shots or a digital photo frame.
  • Share your memories and joy with those you love. Once you have your memories edited and saved, it's easy to share them.
  • Always ask, does this photo or video spark joy?

Here are some examples of when to review your photos:

Holiday photos: I love editing and remembering my holiday memories at the airport or on the plane on the way home from holiday. 

Everyday photos: Your daily commute on public transport is a great time to edit your photos.

Photos of your children: Editing photos of your children while you wait to pick them up from school or activities. 

Organising digital files

Similar to organising photos, to become confident in managing your digital files, the key is to keep it simple:

  • Follow a simple folder structure. In Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein's book Joy at Work, they recommend the following folder structure:
  1. Current projects: Have a subfolder for each project you are currently working on, this can cover all types of matters from household projects to current insurance claims and medical matters.
  2. Records: These documents aren't typically modified and are normally provided to you by others. Examples include legal contracts, educational transcripts and medical results.
  3. Saved work: Documents from past projects you'll use in the future, research or career portfolio pieces.
  • Leverage your search functionality: Search technology is incredibly powerful now. Use easily searchable labels (clear informative) for easy finding in the future, eg: Home loan contract
  • Don't keep multiple versions of documents, just keep the latest version.

Sometimes it can be hard to decide what documents to keep, so here are some simple questions to ask yourself:

  • Is this the most current version of the document?
  • Will this document provide me with guidance or inspiration for future work?
  • If I needed this information, where would I go to find it? Most of the time, we just google the information even if we have it stored elsewhere.
  • Do I have a legal need to keep this document?
  • Does this document spark joy?