Laptop computer sitting on a desk

How To Free Up Space on Your Devices (Without Losing Your Stuff)

In the same way real-life clutter builds up around the house, digital clutter (i.e., space-hogging media files, documents, apps, outdated downloads, unused programs) accumulates on our devices. Not only is it harder to locate individual items on a crowded device, but it can also become more difficult to install updates and get optimal performance. After all, storage-loaded devices are slow and often disorganized.

With 2021 as good as here, it’s time to create a clean slate for your digital life in the new year. Here are easy and accessible ways to make space on your phone, tablet and computer. 

First, edit your photos 

Rich media files like photos and videos tend to take up more space compared to other types of data, so this is a great place to start to free up a decent amount of storage with minimal effort.

As comforting as it may be to have them, you probably don’t need every single photo and video you’ve ever taken stored on your phone, tablet or laptop. When you start clicking through, you’ll see files you can delete without a second thought—random screenshots, out-of-focus or duplicate images, and footage you’ve already shared or posted. Then get a bit more discriminating, because you’re likely to find there’s even more you can delete.

You may also have photos and videos that you want but that don’t need to be taking up space on your device full time. Read on to learn about external storage solutions.

Check in on your apps

Your applications, or apps, can be full of downloads, documents and data that you no longer need. Go to your computer’s hard drive storage and you’ll probably find old files, doubles and triples of downloads plus documents you never meant to keep. You’ll also find extra data in your web browser. Here’s how to clear all of these in a few clicks (though you’ll have to spend some time going through it all):

  • Clear your web browsers’ caches and cookies

  • Empty your trash and download folders

  • Remove apps (or obsolete versions of apps) that you no longer use

Making these steps part of a regular digital cleanup routine will help reduce the a great deal of excess on your device and save you from a long slog through your system. 

Some devices also give users the option to offload their apps when storage gets tight, meaning they’ll automatically delete underused or unused apps when storage gets low. Not to worry, offloading won’t delete the documents and data associated with any apps that get deleted. Your device will hold onto those in case you wish to restore the app later on. 

Invest in an external hard drive

If you have digital clutter on your computer or laptop, an external hard drive is a simple solution. Many have multiple terabytes of storage, which is great if you need to export a high volume of data. But if you just want to clear up your music library or documents folder, a USB flash drive can free up a surprising amount of space, and the transfer is as easy as removing them altogether. Whatever solution you choose, do it often.

Make use of the cloud

If you’re looking to consolidate files across your devices to keep everything stored in one place, a file management app is a great solution. Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and, for Apple users only, iCloud are all efficient and easy-to-use options. While there are some differences between them, they all allow you to upload documents, photos, files and folders to an online storage system you can access wherever you are. 

You can treat this system as a backup for your devices or as a complete alternative to saving space locally (i.e., directly on your device), in which case you’d upload documents to the cloud then delete them from your device. With these services, you can save and share data between your devices, or with other users, quickly and easily. And for a small subscription fee, you can expand your storage capacity to suit your needs. 

Organize, organize and organize some more

After following the previous steps and clearing much-needed space on your devices, take some time to work on how information is displayed. Try these steps to create folders you can use to consolidate and clear up what you see on your screens: 

  • On mobile devices, drag and drop apps into folders to keep your home screen looking neat and to make sure you can find related apps in one place (for example, put all your social apps in one folder and news apps in another). 

  • Use folders on your computer, too, and don’t underestimate the importance of how you sort your files. Files can be listed alphabetically or chronologically, so choose what works for you.

Bottom line: a tech cleanse is good for you and your devices

Yes, it’s daunting at first, but you’ll feel so much better once it’s done. Not only will you experience faster operation on your devices, but you’ll likely feel less distracted and overwhelmed when you use them, too. With a little streamlining and organizing, you can make your devices more functional—and more fun to use.

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