Digital clutter: The benefits of a digital 'spring clean'

Digital clutter is 'overloading our brains' but there are ways to take back control.

When was the last time you backed up the photos on your phone?

Unsubscribed from a mailing list? Unfollowed people you are no longer friends with?

Throughout the course of everyday life, we accumulate digital detritus - files, emails, subscriptions, social media accounts - dragging it around behind us like a comet's tail.

But how does living with all this digital clutter affect us?

"Digital clutter is overloading our brains," said Dr Libby Sanders, an expert in organisational behaviour from Bond University in Australia.

She points out it is not uncommon "to feel very tired" or "more stressed" knowing you have 50 unread emails.

This feeling can often lead to procrastination and avoidance behaviours, according to Dr Sanders.

It is a phenomenon that screenwriter and director, Cyrus Bezyan, can attest to.

"I noticed I would get into a cycle of mental exhaustion and information overload and a large part of that had to do with the constant flow of information and data that I would either receive or produce," Bezyan said.

So he decided to do something about it.

The system Bezyan implemented is kind of like a digital spring clean, a routine clean up that keeps everything shipshape.

"The key word is routine," Bezyan said.

Setting it up "requires a bit of time investment," Bezyan said.

"But the time and headspace saved [down the track] has given me way more time back."


Move everything out of sight and into folders, whether that's off your desktop, your home screen, your inbox, or wherever; this helps reduce any chance of you feeling overwhelmed.


Go through everything on your devices, hard drives, and USB sticks, and delete anything that's not necessary - this includes files, emails, apps, software programs, bookmarks, saved lists, subscription services - so that all that's left is useful.


Set aside a time each day to go through your emails, texts, and DMs, and reply to people with the aim of getting to zero unread messages. Go through your notes each week, deleting anything superfluous and filing anything relevant into folders. Once a month go through your photos and videos, deleting or archiving them as necessary.


Store everything valuable on an external hard drive or ideally multiple. You could even consider paying for a cloud-based service that does this for you.

While that may seem involved, steps one and two are one-off time commitments and Bezyan said the pros far outweighed the cons.

Beyond productivity, being distracted "definitely impacts our relationships as well," Dr Sanders said.

"Research has shown that [when we're distracted] we're less focused on the person in front of us, we might read their emotional responses and get the wrong information," she said.

Our own emotional wellbeing can be detrimentally affected by digital clutter, especially if we're constantly flicking between multiple social media accounts.

"If you can reduce the number of platforms you have to use … that can help [reduce overwhelm]," Dr Sanders said.

But what if, like me, you're required to be on social media for your work?

The key was to be intentional in the use of social media and not fall into a rut, according to Curtin University internet studies associate professor Crystal Abidin said.

So if you find yourself looking at the Instagram story of a someone you went to primary school with but haven't talked to in 15 years, maybe hit the unfollow button.

"I follow and unfollow lots of accounts all the time," Dr Abidin said.

Doing this changes what the algorithm serves up and the lack of familiarity helps reinforce that you are using social media for a reason.

Ensuring "your attention is actively given to [social media]," Dr Abidin said, could help prevent mindless scrolling.

No matter your motivations or the strategies you implement to reduce your digital clutter, Dr Sanders says there's one important thing to remember.

"Lying on the couch watching Netflix, or scrolling through your phone is not actually giving your brain and your body the chance to detox from technology," Dr Sanders said.

"It's an addictive thing ... so try put the technology away, get out in nature, and do something else."