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Organize Your e-Clutter Like a Pro

Filed Under: Essential Skills, Know-How

According to professional organizer Justin Klosky, it should take you no less than 10 seconds to locate a specific file on your computer. Would you pass the test?

messy desktopIf your computer's desktop resembles this one, it's time to sort through your e-clutter. Photo: Jaime Derringer

If your desktop looks like the one pictured above, you suffer from a common case of e-clutter. Professional organizer Justin Klosky -- who, last week, taught us how to digitize our lives for ultimate organization -- defines e-clutter as an assortment of computer files that you save but rarely use on a daily basis. Unorganized documents, bookmarks and folders turn your computer into a virtual disaster area, making it nearly impossible to locate items without conducting a search.

The solution? Patience, time and the will to tackle the problem. There is no exact science or step-by-step procedure that will help you organize your digital files. Organization is very personal, and Justin stresses that you need to organize the way in which you will be able to find everything easily. Here's Justin's suggested method.

Step 1: Purge unnecessary files.
Just like you would for physical clutter, set aside some time to devote to the task of trashing unwanted digital files. This includes documents, images, Open up each file individually and ask yourself: "do I need to keep this?" If the answer is truly "no" -- if you have no need for the file and never will -- delete it. If your desktop is full of bookmarks, save them in the appropriate bookmark folder for your browser. Justin notes that you should bookmark items sparingly. It can often be faster to look for something in a search engine with keywords than hunt through thousands of bookmarks and random files.

Step 2. Start organizing the files you're keeping.
Now that you're left with all of the important files, assign them appropriate folders; if nothing appropriate exists, create a new folder for like documents, but be judicious about it. Justin explains that there shouldn't be one folder with 1000 files in it. Try to keep main folders to a minimum and create sub-folders; organization through sub-folders will not only keep your desktop neat but will also help you locate files even faster.

When creating folders on your computer to store files, choose a structure that fits your lifestyle and keep your filing system intuitive to you. Justin recommends thinking of each digital item as something tangible. Ask yourself, "if I were holding this document or CD in my hand, what would I do with it? Where would I file it away?" For instance, if you notice that you use a few specific documents every day, you may want to create a special folder and put those items in that folder. You can also create shortcuts to folders that you use often, and place those on your desktop or in your dock instead of the actual folders and files themselves.

Step 3. Create useful naming conventions.
Name your files in a way that is easy for you to find them. For example, if you're saving a strawberry shortcake dessert recipe, name the file exactly what is in the document. Use underscores or hyphens if you would like to create space in between words. If you'd like, you can also include information about where the file is from or a notable date. For example, you might name the recipe file "strawberry-shortcake-recipe-Real-Simple-Aug-2009.pdf" or "moms_famous_strawberry_shortcake.pdf". There is no one exact way to name files, but those two examples are certainly easier to identify than IMG_4058.pdf.

Step 4. Stick to your system.
This is the "discipline" part of Justin's program. Once you've organized everything, you need to maintain your system -- don't start saving new documents on your desktop again. Instead, when you find a system that works for you, stick with it. When you look back on all of the time you spent organizing and naming everything, it will be worth keeping this system in place to avoid the clutter once again.

Tacking Email Clutter
Does your inbox contain every email you've ever received? Do you have a hard time parting with emails? Justin says that it's okay to save your emails -- as long as you file them away. Here are his best practices for a clutter-free inbox:

1. Don't feel the pressure to delete. Justin says that the beauty of email is that you don't need to delete emails if it makes you uncomfortable. Simply save an email archive and back it up onto an external hard drive just like you do with your other files.

2. Just as you create folders and sub-folders on your computer, do the same in your email program. If you use Gmail, create labels. Use these to group similar emails and move them out of your inbox. You might decide to group emails from a certain person into one folder, or maybe you need one folder for business and one for travel. It all depends on your needs.

3. Back up your old emails into a email archive file, organized in any way you wish. Justin recommends doing it every year -- simply back up your emails from 2010 into an archive file called "2010_emails" and then remove those emails from the program. If you need to go back to these emails, you can import them when you need to. Archiving these will also make your program faster, which will save you more time. Most email programs have an easy way to archive your mail.

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  • Tina

    How about organizing your e-savings? There are a lot of sites that help with that, but this one Http:// has the best in the way of free samples and coupons as well as tips to help you surf and save!

  • Tom Munro


    e-Clutter is a great term and, we agree, most people can't locate a particular photo or video on their computer in 10 seconds. Unless, of course, they are already digitally organized. Justin also shared a few tips in, "Go Digital and Get Organized for Good," and we thought we'd share a few more here on how to start tackling your digital memory collection. It may seem like a daunting task but with a little guidance it can be an easy project. Most important, consumers should select a method that works for their style, build a routine, and get going. Here are five tips on how to get started:

    1. Don’t try to organize your 2 thousand digital pictures in a day, set achievable goals and keep only the best photos (editing, as needed).
    2. Get in the habit of transferring your pictures from your camera to your computer as soon as you can.
    3. Create a well-organized system on your hard disk. Pictures can be saved to folders based on dates, places, people, events, etc. As soon as you put your pictures on your computer file them appropriately.
    4. Back-up your pictures to an external hard disk drive, CD, or an online photo/video site.
    5. When you want to share your photo albums with friends and family, considering using a photo/video site. It’s much easier to send people to a website to view photos then it is to send an email with a lot of email attachments.

    We have other tips on our blog at for those who want more help. Thanks for a good article!

    Tom Munro, CEO Photobucket

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