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6 Tips to Renovate Your Digital Life: A Resolution You Can Actually Achieve in 2023

Updated: Feb 27

SurroundUs digital organizer working on photo organizing.

*Some of the links included in this post are affiliate links, meaning that at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you choose to click through and make a purchase.

Setting New Year’s intentions and resolutions is an age-old tradition that dates back to ancient civilizations.

The Babylonians, for example, made New Year’s resolutions as part of their religious practices. They believed that the gods would bestow good fortune on those who made amends for their past mistakes and resolved to do better in the coming year.

Though we’re guessing the goals of the ancient differ greatly from our modern ones, the sentiment is the same. We are all striving to make progress towards a more fulfilling life.

One of the modern pickles we’ve found ourselves in is a glut of disorganized photos that we can’t ever truly enjoy because we lack a cohesive system for editing and organizing our digital libraries.

Regular readers of ours know how passionate we are about photo organizing, as we have seen first-hand the transformational impact of a fully curated and edited digital photo library.

For this reason, many people choose digital organizing as a New Year’s goal, only to find that this daunting task isn't achievable due to the time constraints and pressures of daily life.

Apple desktop computer.

Why Do We Keep Failing at Our Digital Organizing Resolutions?

If you find that you have set such a goal, but have yet to come up with an actionable plan for achieving it, don’t be too hard on yourself.

In fact, studies have consistently found that only 8-12% of people successfully keep their resolutions in a given year. Some common reasons for this failure include: setting goals that are unrealistic, failing to keep track of goals, and simply forgetting about them altogether.

Organizing your digital life on your own may fall into the first category: your expectations just aren’t realistic.

Consider your digital photos alone (just one aspect of your digital make-up). Recent studies suggest the average person stores around 2,000 images on their phone alone, though we usually see a MUCH higher number (more like 10,000-15,000!) These stats don't even take into account the cloud, external hard drives, and the computer’s internal memory.

While you may have the basic skills, you probably lack the time to bring order to the chaos if you have yet to implement a sustainable process. What this means is that your most treasured memories and important files could be buried under piles of duplicates, screenshots, and junk.

This year, we encourage you to keep your digital organizing resolutions! Don't give up! With a little bit (okay, a lot) of patience, dedication, and persistence, you can see real change. To help get you started, we’ve compiled a list of practical tips from our pro digital organizers that will put you on the path to finally renovating your digital mess in 2023, DIY-style.

The laptop of a digital organizer working.

Tips to Regain Control of Your Digital Life in 2023

Disclaimer! The tips below are simply a big-picture overview. Consider them an outline to help you move toward a less cluttered digital life.

You'll find as you dive deeper into the process, new complexities and obstacles will arise. This is normal! We never promised renovating your entire digital life would be easy (pst... that's why we exist!) What we really encourage you to focus on is using each of the below to form new habits and improve your all-around digital hygiene.

As we already mentioned, this will require intentional planning, research, and time. The good news is that you do not have to go it alone if you don't want to. Enlisting the support of pros still counts as achieving your goals! Getting help is simply a click away.

But, for those of you who are fired up and ready to tackle your digital life on your own, here's how our pro digital organizers recommend you get started:

1. Declutter Your Desktop

2. Tackle Your Email Inbox

3. Backup Important Files

4. Use a Password Manager

5. Establish a Digital Legacy

6. Organize & Curate Your Family's Photo Collection

Tip #1: Declutter Your Desktop

Let's be real - your desktop can be a scary place if you're not constantly working to keep it clutter-free.

Maybe you've even tried to organize it and reduce the mess a time or two, but with constant downloads, projects starting, and new files cropping up, it's impossible to stay on top of.

What ends up happening is that your desktop becomes a nightmare of icons and files, and it can be overwhelming and difficult to find what you need. It honestly seems easier to just give up or ignore the mess than to face it.

A laptop with a messy desktop filled with icons and files.

But here's the thing - a messy digital workspace can still contribute to unnecessary stress, procrastination, and a cluttered mind (just as a physical mess does). This impacts productivity and efficiency as you work through your day. Studies have even shown that excessive visual clutter has a negative impact on working memory, reducing cognitive capacity for everything you need to get done.

So, next time you sit down to watch TV for the evening, perhaps consider going through your desktop at the same time to delete any unnecessary files or icons and create folders to organize the rest. It can be a fairly mindless task, depending on how much clutter you've accumulated.

Mockup of an Apple desktop computer.

To help you get started, we've included our Clutter-Free Desktop Organizer Freebie. (If you're Photoshop-Savvy, we've linked an editable Clutter-Free Desktop Organizer here, enabling you to include your own background image).

Tip #2: Tackle your Email Inbox

An overflowing email inbox can be stressful and time-consuming to sort through.

Just like our messy desktops, it's easier to avoid our never-ending and ever-growing list of unread emails than to tackle them head-on.

But if you truly want to reclaim your digital life for the better and plan to tackle it DIY-style, you're going to have to be intentional and set aside the time.

Some actionable steps to make real changes in your inbox include going through your emails and deleting or archiving any that are no longer needed. You'll also want to consider setting up relevant folders or labels to organize your emails by topic or priority.

Ever heard of Inbox Zero? Sounds like an impossible dream, right? Well, achieving zero visible emails in your inbox might not be as challenging as you think.

A digital organizing working on a contact management project.

Tip #3: Backup Important Files

We all need a realistic way to store our digital stuff. Losing important files can be a nightmare, so it’s crucial to make sure you have backups of your data in case something goes wrong.

At SurroundUs, we recommend having 3 full-size/original copies of your digital files. This may be your personal computer, the cloud (think Google Drive, Backblaze, or Dropbox), and an external hard drive that you use to back up your computer and important files. These copies shouldn't include ‘optimized’ versions of your photos or files (like what you might have on your phone to save device storage space).

One caveat to this is that storing excess data in the cloud can have consequences for the environment, so it’s important to be intentional about what you're backing up. First, eliminate unneeded files and duplicates. Plus, this has the added benefit of making your files easier to find later on!

Tip #4: Use a Password Manager

Online security is a hot topic right now. It's more important than ever to have a solid system in place.

We get it. Having a different password for every online account can make it impossible to remember each. And it's so frustrating when you're constantly locked out of all your accounts!

But using the same password for every platform is a big security risk and makes you vulnerable to hackers.

Consider this: if someone with ill intentions gains access to your main email account, they can basically destroy your whole online identity, as they can use your email to change any passwords linked to it. Scary thought, right?

Passwords and notes written down in a notebook.

A password manager makes it easier to manage it all, by helping you to create and store strong, unique passwords for all your accounts in one secure place. This can help you outwit the hackers, and keep your information private, where it belongs.

While a few of our favorites include popular platforms like Bitwarden, Dashlane, and 1Password, there are plenty available on the market to compare, each with its strengths and shortcomings.

Tip #5: Establish a Digital Legacy

While it's not fun for any of us to think about, digital legacies are becoming increasingly important, as they establish what should happen to your digital assets and accounts after you pass or become incapacitated.

Up until recently, tech companies have not had to adhere to many standards when it comes to your accounts after you pass, so it is important to be aware of user policies and have a legal plan in place to prevent your assets from being lost, deleted, or misappropriated.

You'll want to create a solid inventory list of all your online accounts, considering things like social media, online banking and investments, email accounts, and digital files like photos and documents.

Next, you'll need to appoint a digital executor, someone who will have access to your online accounts and can carry out your plans when the time comes. For example, when it comes to social media accounts, do you want your profile to be deleted or memorialized?

As our digital lives grow, many companies are beginning to realize the importance of allowing their users to prepare their digital legacies and appoint legacy contacts. To name a few, Facebook, Apple, and Google already have built-in digital legacy contact features available to their users.

A lay flat of photo prints, a thumb-drive, and old CDs.

In our tech-centric world, digital accounts and assets now should have a seat at the estate-planning table. Having an established, organized digital legacy will give you peace of mind of knowing that your digital assets are protected, and can also prevent unexpected obstacles for your heirs.

Tip #6: Organize & Curate Your Family's Photo Collection

This is a big one, and will likely be the most time-consuming part of tackling your digital life.

We’ve written extensively about the importance of eliminating digital clutter from your life, from mental health benefits, to actually being able to use and enjoy your best memories.

Our photos are some of our most cherished possessions. They represent the memories we share with our loved ones and favorite people. This makes this portion of your project feel extremely personal and sentimental, which can often be a roadblock in achieving real progress. It is simply too overwhelming.

By following our pro photo organizing tips, this can finally be your year to delete low-quality images, eliminate duplicates, and have the navigable photo library you've been longing for!

Photos in an old family photo album.

Commit to a monthly check-in.

The best way to set yourself up for success in managing your digital photos? Commit to a frequent check-in of your photo library. We suggest setting a weekly or monthly alarm on your phone or penciling it in on your calendar. This may seem daunting, but we believe devoting 5-10 minutes each month to checking in on your collection can save you a lot of time from trying to catch up later.

Delete as you go.

You know that adorable picture you took of your dog sprawled out on the couch last week? Our guess is that you probably don’t need 30 shots of it from 10 different angles.

Your smartphone is an awesome resource for capturing quality shots, but it's easy to get a little too snap-happy, leaving you with a cluttered and untidy photo collection. So, how about saving your future self some time and storage space, pick your 1-2 favorites, and delete the rest as you go. You’ll be thankful later.

Get rid of screenshots.

Always taking screenshots of things you want or need to remember? While handy, non-photo images can cause a lot of camera roll clutter. Each month, go through your photo collection to scan for screenshots. If the image is no longer needed, make sure to delete it. If it is still needed, move it over to your Notes app and delete them from your camera roll (Learn how with this free download, a Clutter-Free Photo Tip!).

Import from Shared Albums and emailed or texted photos.

Consider any photos sent from friends and family or shared with you via Shared Albums. These photos are not automatically saved to your collection simply because they are viewable on your device. You must import the photos into your own photo library in order to save them to your collection. Otherwise, if the shared album, text, or email thread ever gets deleted, you will lose the photos. The process of importing will look different for each photo platform, so make sure you are up to date with your platform's most effective method.

Organize your photos with favorites & tags.

Your smartphone makes it easy to capture a lot of photos - sometimes too many photos.

A big goal we recommend shooting for in your library is accessibility. How easy or difficult is it for you to find your photos when you need or want them?

Tagging and favoriting are organizational features that many photo management systems (Apple Photos, Google Photos, Mylio Photos, etc.) offer their users, meant to make photo libraries more navigable. Spending time each month applying favorites or tags, like people, time, keywords, or location, can greatly improve searchability. And when the average person's photo collection is trending above 75,000 files, this is essential. Who has time to manually scroll through that many pictures?! Most of these features are even available straight from your phone using the 'info' menu option.

Do yourself a favor and spend a few moments each month organizing your collection by utilizing these features. You'll save yourself SO much time later when you're desperately searching for that one photo you just know is in there somewhere. Besides, what's the point of even taking photos if you have no solid way of finding them later?

Final Thoughts

Digital clutter is a modern affliction that often requires an intentional, well-thought-out solution.

While you may have the ability to overhaul your digital life, you likely simply lack the time, which is why it's still sitting on your list of to-dos. Sticking to a plan and accomplishing things in bite-sized increments will be crucial to your success. While progress will be slow, with a bit of patience, you can begin to see real progress and change in your digital clutter situation.

Remember, the goal here shouldn't be to clean everything up one time and then forget about it, but more so to create lasting change in your habits to keep your digital life more streamlined and manageable moving forward.

And if along the way, you find you're overwhelmed or just simply too busy, consider having a conversation with our friendly tech professionals who can assess your digital organizing needs, suggest the best services to stop the mess in its tracks, and set you up for clean digital living in the coming year. You don't have to be in this alone.

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