Every spring, you'll hear about folks doing a massive cleaning around the house, to open up the windows and get a breath of fresh air both figuratively and literally into their homes. Maybe you're one of those spring cleaning people yourself. Toward the end of December, I like to do to the same thing - with my digital life.
At first glance, it seems like there's not a lot you can do to keep your digital lifestyle in check, but in fact there's quite a bit you can do. Here's my list of things like I to do to get a fresh start in January.
Take an inventory of the applications you have installed on your computer. Personally, I use a Mac, however, this tip applies to anyone using Windows or Linux as well. You'll have an easier time finding applications if you remove ones you haven't used in a while. If you're on a Mac, be sure to check both the
~/Applications, as some apps might be located within your user directory's Applications folder. With apps like AppCleaner, cleaning out all the kerfuffle that comes with a Mac app is as simple as dragging the icon to the trash.
Speaking of the Mac, if you've lost a ton of hard drive space over the past year it's time to inventory your whole hard drive. Doing a hard drive inventory isn't as scary as it sounds. I personally use DaisyDisk to sift through all the bits and bytes of data I've added to my laptop over the past 365 days. It was due to this I found the MobileBackups "feature" causing me to lose a significant portion of my storage.
If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed on social media, take an inventory of your accounts. Something I did last year was to take some time to figure out what social media accounts I really use and which were cluttering up space in my digital life. As a result, I dropped two or three from my repertoire. This has two benefits: it will cut down the app clutter on your mobile device, and you won't feel as obligated to take photos of every bit of food you consume.
Curate who and what you connect with on your remaining social media accounts. Throughout the year, we tend to impulsively "Like" Facebook pages and follow businesses and people on Twitter. If seeing posts from those pages and brands is just adding noise to your news feed, maybe it's time you unfollow them. If you still want to remain connected on Facebook consider using the options available to hide posts from another account, but remain friends or continue to Like the page.
Take an inventory of your app footprint on your phone or tablet. Do you really need three calculator apps and 5 messaging apps? Figure out what you need to be the most efficient version of your digital self and scale back. Sure it's easy to download more apps when you have a 64 or 128 GB iPhone, but when you start to put things in a folder labeled Unused Apps, you have a problem.
Purge your collection of cables, adapters, and connectors. If you're like me, when you see gadgets and gizmos designed to make your life easier, you tend to hoard them. I could have had boxes and drawers filled with this crap classified into their own zip code over the years. Sure, you justify it by saying that you might need that 30-pin adapter some day, but if you don't have any devices that you can use with it, what good is keeping it around? Having 15 power strips lying around is definitely handy, but if you only actually use 2 or 3, it's time to make a trip to Goodwill.
Go through your email accounts and delete, delete, delete. Nothing says Happy New Year like a clean inbox. The problem with unlimited storage email providers like Gmail is that it make us lazy, giving us mental permission to contribute to chaos and clutter. Take some time to go your inbox and sub-folders in your email account and purge out things you don't need. If you absolutely need to keep the 300 emails receipts you have for tax purposes, consider saving them to a PDF that you can put in the cloud (Dropbox, iCloud). That's a much better use of storage. If you're using Gmail on iOS, consider switching your mail settings so that it uses the Delete mailbox and not the Archive mailbox to ensure you really are deleting those emails.
Do more than delete emails, unsubscribe from them too. If you think you get too many emails, you probably are. Sort through the latest marketing emails from the companies you subscribe to and consider how often you read them. If you rarely read emails from a brand you receive weekly emails from, strongly consider unsubscribing to them. Personally, I ebb and flow between the marketing emails I receive. When I think I'm getting too many and I can't keep up, I'll unsubscribe. If I find later that I'm missing reading the content, I'll sign up again. It's that simple.
On my Mac, I love to clean out old passwords from OS X's Keychain. Why is this important? Well, the most obvious is that I can keep my digital footprint small and uncluttered. The bonus is that I can find old accounts that I haven't logged into in a while (a sign that I might need to close out some online accounts). This keeps my digital security tight.
Update your passwords or upgrade accounts to 2FA. Why wait until the latest security breach to start using secure passwords? If you're still using
Password123for everything, consider updating to something a bit harder to guess and use secure cloud password storage like LastPass or 1Password to keep your passwords safe. If you're using a Mac and want a low-footprint solution, you can use the suggested password tool that comes integrated into OS X. This way, you'll always have a secure password on your accounts and they won't all be the same. If you're lazy enough to ignore all the advice on secure passwords, consider enrolling the accounts that offer it in two-factor authentication (2FA). This option works by sending you a one-time use code (usually by text message) that you can use in addition to a password to keep your accounts safe.
If you have a Facebook account, it's a good idea to cull through your app authorizations and purge the one's you don't need. I actually do this a few times throughout the year. By using Facebook, I've made a heavy concession to my online privacy already. So why would I want to share additional data with apps that I seldom use or don't use at all? To do this, go into your account's Settings tab and remove the apps you don't need or want.
- Review your Twitter account's app authorizations as well. Like Facebook, you can remove old authorizations for anything that was once connected to your Twitter account via OAuth, which is especially handy if you've removed the two dozen Twitter apps from your phone you no longer use. To do this, visit your account settings page and sort through the list.
Using an iPhone 5S or newer? Turn on Touch ID. Some take it for granted that Touch ID has been out on newer Apple iDevices for a while, but if you're one of the few that hasn't set this feature up yet, think about doing so. Not only does it help keep your device secure, but it makes it a snap to authenticate and start using your device from a locked state. For an added layer of protection, there are even some iOS apps that will allow you to use Touch ID to access the data within them.
If you're a habitual user of public Wi-Fi hotspots, considering using a VPN service. Last year, I started using Cloak (iOS/OS X only), which is a super-simple VPN service. For the low cost of $9.99 per month, you can surf safely to conduct business or even if you're the kind of nerd that enjoys Internet privacy. If you're using Windows or Linux, similar VPN services are just an Internet search away.
If you're hosting your own website, consider using HTTPS. Remember the days of Netscape and the mantra of "checking for the lock" to see if what you're viewing was over a secure connection? Considering the state of digital security these days, why not spread some secure holiday cheer to your website? No longer is a secure transmission only for sites that handle payments. Using Let's Encrypt, you can make any self-hosted site sure with TLS.
- Take the time to review your browser plugins. Do you remember all the third-party plugins you've installed in your browser over the past year? Eliminate your browser as a potential source of a security breach and review what plugins you've installed in your browser. I like to keep my plugin footprint pretty low, so I remove plugins I've disabled for more than a month. If I don't use it, it doesn't need to be lingering on my system. Period.
Sure there's a lot here to take in here, but it's all solid, well-worth-it advice that I've taken myself. If you think I've left something out, leave your tip or suggestion in the comments to share it with others.