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I remember when I first started using the internet. Hours spent while at University talking on MSN Messenger, creating the perfect MySpace profile and trying to understand Facebook.

Over a decade later I can’t imagine a life in which I don’t use the internet daily. I use it to keep in touch with friends, work and to be entertained.

But recently, I been reading and thinking about articles lambasting celebrities and politicians for old social media posts.

People have even been arrested or lost their job for an old social media post, how mad is that! The reality is that internet is full of our digital clutter.

The question is, can you remember what you put as a Facebook Status 10 years ago?

Can you swear that you have never done, said or thought anything bad? You’ve never used a word or phrase that ten years ago was slang, and now could be seen as completely offensive?

Written a status or a comment that could be misconstrued outside your friendship group as rude and disrespectful?

I’m not saying the only reason to do a digital clean-up is to avoid possible future embarrassment.

However, we are not the same people we were ten years ago. We have grown up, our tastes are different, hopefully we are better educated and informed.

In recent years, Minimalism has allowed me to clear a lot of the physical clutter from my life. I can now focus my time and energy on things that are important to me.

I’ve also been using Minimalism to clear up my digital clutter. It’s important what I put out in the world, and part of that is clearing up my digital history. I need to be more aware of how what and where I post, use and share.

Putting systems in place in how to manage your digital clutter and online presence will make you feel more in control.

Influencer Marketing Agency Mediakix worked out on average people spend at least 50 minutes on Facebook and Instagram EVERY DAY. That’s not including all the other social media channels such as Linkedin, Snapchat, Twitter, whats app or email. Now more then ever we need to be more mindful of how we spend our time online.

So, without further ado, I’ve broken things down into several sections. Feel free to take my advice for any of these that are relevant to you. This process should allow you to create an online presence you are happy with.  Your digital footprint stops feeling overwhelming and becomes something you have control of.

Computer 

To start with, the best thing is to clear out any old files or documents you don’t need on your computer. Be ruthless, save onto a hard drive or delete forever. For those that remain, filing them into relevant folders can make things more organised and easy to use.

Check what applications you have on your computer and delete any that you don’t use. De-installing them will free up space on your computer.

I would also recommend not only storing files on an external Hard Drive but also having an account with Carbonite, a programme which backs up everything on my computer whenever I am connected to the internet.

I ensure everything that I work on is filed away at the end of the workday. Every week I delete any downloads, empty my trash and make sure my desktop is clear and all my documents are filed. It takes around ten minutes and instantly makes me feel more organised.

Phone 

Go through your phone and deleted any apps you no longer use. I went a step further and also removed facebook,  facebook messenger and email from my phone.

I had a horrible habit of checking these the moment I woke up and I wanted to break this.

I’ve also removed all notifications except for whatsapp (which I use to keep in touch with my family, friends and as my emergency work contact). Monthly I delete excess photos from my phone and back up to my laptop.

A study by analytics firm Flurrys showed that most of us check our phone 85 times a day, for up to five hours.

By reducing what I use my phone for I have reduced the amount of time I spent on it. I’ve found this has made me much more mindful and able to focus on work tasks more easily, without my phone distracting me.

Emails 

I have three email addresses, two for work and one personal. If you have more then this, perhaps look at deleting or cancelling some of your email addresses to reduce the amount you have to organise.

Don’t feel you need to keep your emails open all day. Once you have dealt with your inbox you should log out to allow yourself to focus on something else. Consider having an out of office reply on the weekends or evenings, or like me completely remove your email application from your phone and only look at them once a day on your computer!

I also use the brilliant service unroll.me to see what email lists I am subscribed too, which sends me a ‘roll up’ of my subscription emails, reducing the amount of clutter in my inbox. It also helps me easily unsubscribe from lists I don’t want to be part of, rather than constantly deleting emails that aren’t adding value to my life. I tend to check my ‘roll up’ once a week, and I review monthly if I want to unsubscribe from anything.

Because I send emails for work, as well as sending out to subscribers of betternotstop,  I want what I send to be useful and adding value to the people that receive my messages. As a result, this makes me think carefully about what I send, and if people choose not to reply, or to unsubscribe I don’t feel any personal affront – I understand I simply am not adding any value to them!

I  have also started working to inbox zero, which means I finish each day with an empty inbox.

The benefits are many. I never miss an important email and it makes sure that I respond to people in a timely fashion.

I simply open my emails, start with the oldest message first and either respond, delete or archive. If a response takes less then two minutes I do this straight away, if not I will add it to my to-do list based on how important it is and then file it away.

Social Profiles

Firstly, I deleted anything I no longer used and then tidied up and streamlined the profiles I still have. This is the most in-depth section of this article and to implement will take a fair amount of time. Trust me, it will be worth it.

Facebook

Friends / Unfriending People. 

In the past, I have had over 1,000 friends on facebook, but the reality is that many of those people I had met once or didn’t know very well at all.

Over the years I have changed how I use my account. I want to use it to keep up to date with news from my closest friends that may not live near me, but also connect with new people through facebook groups.

I have reduced my friends recently down to just under 40, with only Family members making the cut. This may seem extreme, but I messaged any contacts I had spoken to in the last year explaining I was just using Facebook to keep in touch with family and log into applications, and provided them my email and mobile number if they wanted to keep in touch.

I got rid of a lot of people I haven’t spoken to in years, as well as lots of friends of friends. I would be pretty surprised if any of these people noticed. I also deleted a lot of people that I work with, because while I do like all of them, and often socialise with them outside work I want to keep my facebook private.

I suggest the below vetting process when looking at your Facebook Friends.

  • Am I related to you?
  • Have I spoken you within the last year and would I make social plans to see you soon?
  • Have I met you while travelling and would like to keep in touch?

The important question is to ask yourself how you use your account, what information you are happy to share with other people and are you happy with the information that is being shared with you?

For many people reading about the apparent Facebook ‘perfect lives’ brings on anxiety, depression or feelings of loneliness.

How to avoid that? Delete them and carry on living your perfect imperfect real life.

Status, Timeline and Activity

I’ve had my Facebook account since 2008 and if you scroll through my timeline, you can see what I had for lunch ten years ago. Can I be sure that I haven’t written anything stupid or potentially offensive in the last ten years?

While most of the status updates I created are boring and pointless (Did anyone REALLY care about my narcissistic rants about my wonderful weekend six years ago?) many are just plain embarrassing. They had to go.

I downloaded a copy of my Facebook data (which be done in General Account settings) and then deleted my complete timeline (right back to 2008). This sounds much easier than it actually was, but trust me, it was totally worth it.

I did this by installing the free chrome extension ‘social book post manager’. After installing the chrome extension I went to my activity log, clicked on the extension icon on my browser and as you can see in the below image was deleted as I type this.

This was a bit glitchy. I did this a year at a time, often needing to repeat the process several times. I did this over the course of a few days, mostly will I was watching TV or reading a book at the same time.

Another alternative is to complete delete your facebook account and start again. For me, I found it much more cathartic to watch my internet embarrassment be deleted in front of my eyes, a sort of modern-day punishment for sharing my boring and frankly embarrassing status updates from the last decade.

A full really helpful article on how to do this can be found here.

Photos & Videos 

Again, have a look at the photos and videos you are tagged in. If there is a photo you don’t like that perhaps a mate put up five years ago, it’s ok to ask them to take it down. In fact, if you want to go hardcore you can just report them to facebook to remove them for you.

Security & Privacy

I headed to my account settings and checked all my settings. Ones to look out for are:

  • What devices is your facebook is logged in on (should just be your computer and phone, anything else make sure you are logged out)
  • Update your password (I chose a new one which I now use for nothing else)
  • Update your primary email
  • Look at who can view your activity
  • Make sure your friend list is private
  • Decide who can friend request you

I understand this may seem extreme for some people, but it’s really important for me to make sure that my digital presence is not only a true reflection of me but also something that I have a sense of control over.

Group & Pages (including a shameless plug)

The rise of Facebook advertising has made it really hard to see the information you want from pages.  I have turned to using Facebook groups as a way to connect with people that share similar interests to me.

Think about streamlining the groups and pages to check they still align with your needs and not providing information overload. I have gone from being a member of over fifty groups, to just twenty and will be monitoring which ones work for me on a monthly basis.

Checking your pages and groups and removing those you don’t use is a great way to make sure the information you are receiving is useful to you.

This is something that surprisingly Facebook makes super easy in pages. Just go to ‘pages’ and you can review the pages you like. I had ‘liked’ over 200 and have found that I don’t get a lot of use from these at all – so have deleted them! Freedom!

I am finding groups a much more interesting and interactive way to get information and support online.

Apps

This is one that is very easy to forget about but is super important. You may have heard the term ‘Big Data’ , essentially this covers information available online. Everytime you use facebook to log into an app or service, apps use your data and information for all sorts of things. The best thing to do is clear these up!

Head over to settings on your Facebook account menu and click on apps. I was shocked to see that over the years I have logged into facebook via 120 apps! This means that they all have access to my data – not cool! I’m down to a manageable 20 now, and I know exactly who and what has access to my data now.

Twitter 

I found this one super easy to tidy up – thank god after the hours I spent tidying up my facebook! I simply deleted it.

If thats not an option for you, I suggest installing the app – tweet delete which will delete every single tweet you have ever posted in about two seconds.

It is a completely free service, and you can choose how many or few of your previous tweets are deleted.

This will give you a clean slate. Or you can just spend a few hours scrolling through your feed to delete anything that you feel is not relevant or important.

Instagram 

I love Instagram and have kept this app on my phone as I enjoy using it. However, after having the app for several years I noticed I was following a lot of people I didn’t know or whose posts I didn’t enjoy.

I follow alot more people on instagram that I don’t know for inspiration and advice. Like facebook, Instagram offers us all a false reality of people’s lives, and it can be very easy to be

After reflection, I also decided to schedule instagram posts for work and make an effort not to look at it after 6pm (work time) Again, this may seem extreme for you, so another option is to spend a few hours unfollowing any accounts you don’t find useful.

Linkedin 

This has grown hugely for me in the last year for work and I want to talk about it more later. I have over 900 business connections, all with access to my online business profile. As well as updating my profile, I simply deleted a lot of my connections.

As well as complete strangers, I also had old university friends on there. I asked myself two questions before deleting someone. Have I worked with them in a professional capacity? If I saw them at a networking event would I say hello and have a chat?

Also ask yourself if you need to stay on here? I work in a few different capacities (writing, project management, and ecommerce) so it’s an easy place to direct people to for work. Maybe you could just delete the whole thing!

Check your overall Digital Footprint. 

Lastly, google yourself. Check there is nothing online about you that you are unhappy with or worried about. There are several paid for services you can use who are able to erase content about you, at a price. Think about whether you think this is important or relevant to you.

I’m not considering a career as a celebrity or politician so paying for people to erase content about me is not an interesting option for me. Perhaps you want that peace of mind?

And we are done!

Minimising and tidying up the last decade of digital clutter you have on the Internet is a big job, but not impossible and just will take a bit of patience and time.

To be honest, it was at times annoying, frustrating and tedious.

It was also eye-opening to see the amount of information that could be easily accessed about me online. I had been careless through the years about who I was sharing my information with. 

Just through this process I personally:

  • Removed over one thousand connections of people to my personal information
  • Removed thousands of tweets, posts and likes
  • Deleted hundreds of groups, pages and apps who had access to my information.

Do you have any tips or tricks on how to clear up your online clutter? Let me know in the comments!


Also published on Medium.