Ask a Pro Digital Organizer: How Do You Spring Clean Your Digital Files?
Updated: May 17
The perennial tradition of spring cleaning may find you blasting your favorite nostalgia tunes, throwing open the windows, and cleaning out accumulated clutter from your home.
This satisfying ritual has well-documented health benefits, and can create opportunities to rediscover lost treasures you may have forgotten.
We often focus on the rooms and areas of our home where we spend the most time, but you may have overlooked an area where you also spend a lot of time: your laptop and other devices.
It's no secret - we all tend to put off projects that feel too intimidating, and so the invisible mess of digital clutter goes untended.
If you are looking to neaten up your digital life, we've asked our professional digital organizers for their favorite ways to spring-clean your digital files and keep things tidy all year long.
3 Ways to Spring Clean Your Digital Files From the Pros
Pro Tip #1: Organize Files by Category
As you scroll through your pictures or files, do you notice any themes popping up? By organizing your files into categories, they live in relevantly-titled folders based on these particular themes or collections.
With this approach, our digital organizers recommend titling your folders with broad, easily identifiable category names and then creating sub-folders to contain more specific titles.
Organizing by category works well with any sort of digital file (photos, documents, etc.) and is a great method for those that are detail-oriented, as you can get pretty granular.
For example, a folder titled ‘Favorite Recipes’ may also contain more specific sub-folders within it such as ‘Appetizers,’ ‘Main Courses,’ ‘Desserts’ etc. These subfolders within the 'Favorite Recipes' parent folder can be broken down even further, for example:
• Chips and Dips
• Hors d' oeuvres
• Frozen Desserts
These category names can apply whether you're organizing photo files of favorite dishes you've made, perhaps for a portfolio, or if you're trying to save PDFs or screenshots of recipes you'd like to remember for future use.
Organizing by category gives everything a home, making locating what you are looking for much easier. As a pro tip, adding descriptors to individual file names and following the same file name structure can make finding your files a breeze using use the global search feature on your device.
For example, if you title your photo file Dessert_Cakes_MoltenLavaCake, not only will it be super easy to sort this file into the proper subfolder, but it will also populate in global search using any of the relevant descriptors within the title.
This method of organizing may be time-consuming up front, depending upon how long you have let your files pile up, but once established, you can make a weekly or bi-weekly habit of quickly sorting files into folders to maintain a neat and navigable digital collection or hard drive.
Pro Tip #2: Chronological Nested Folder Trees
When organizing photo files in particular, you can use nested folder trees to separate images by year and month chronologically. This can be great for keeping track of special events and for family archiving.
While a big task at first, once you have established a chronological system, it will become much easier for you to quickly and effortlessly sort images as you add them to your digital library moving forward.
A chronological nested folder tree might look something like this:
• New Year's Party
• Tom's Birthday
• Beth's Valentine's Day Performance
• Misc. • March
• Spring Break Trip to Florida
• 10 Year Anniversary Dinner
• Saint Patty's Day Parade
...and so on.
While this is a great approach for keeping digital photo files organized and tidy locally on your computer or on a hard drive, it can also be applied in a cloud-based photo management system (think Apple Photos, Google Photos, etc.) using folders and albums.
Life happens chronologically, and this method of organizing allows us to keep our memories and life story archived in a similar fashion.
So, with this approach, the next time someone asks to see that one photo from the 2007 family trip, it will take you a matter of seconds to locate and pull it up, enabling you to enjoy the entire purpose of taking the picture in the first place.
Pro Tip #3: Keyword Tagging in a Photo or File Management System
Have you explored the possibilities of keyword tagging? This can be a powerful tool for enhancing searchability for DIY digital organizing projects.
The keywords or labels attached to images or files, also referred to as metadata, can include the file's who, what, where, when, and why. This can help with ease of searching, creating projects, or photo-sharing from within your photo or file management system.
For example, applying the keyword 'Ben Soccer' to any photos of your son Ben playing soccer within your system will automatically make these photos populate when searching this specific keyword. Talk about narrowing your search results by thousands and thousands of photos by simply applying one relevant keyword!
Many cloud photo management services such as Google Photos also have face-recognition software, or 'people tagging' capabilities, built-in, which automatically sorts your images based on who is in the photo. Geo or location tagging can also be a useful organizational tool and a way to visually locate your photos based on all the places you've traveled on a map.
Keyword tagging or labeling can apply to file management systems outside of those just pertaining to photos, such as Dropbox or Google Drive, as labels and keywords can be applied in these platforms, making searching for your files and documents quicker and easier.
In addition to tagging a photo or file in cloud management systems, tags can also be applied when organizing digital files locally on your computer on both Mac and PC. As mentioned previously, relevant descriptors in file names can even act as keywords, making it possible to quickly find your files when you need them using the global search feature on your local device.
While these tips are simple to learn and implement, finding the time to undo years of digital neglect is not always easy.
As the volume of data we accumulate grows exponentially with each passing year, it is more important than ever to have effective and consistent digital organizing practices in place. Otherwise, we can easily get buried under the sheer volume of our digital 'stuff.'
Remember: whether you have a few questions on best practices or want someone to do your digital spring cleaning for you, there is no shame in having a digital organizer in your corner. Consider speaking with our friendly and knowledgeable pros, who can help put you on the path to a tidier, more manageable digital life.