4 Types of Digital Clutter

When you think of the word “clutter” what comes to mind? Usually it’s that messy pile that keeps growing on that armchair no one ever sits in or the counter space that never seems to be clear. Where we put stuff attracts more stuff.

But when was the last time you stopped to think about how digital clutter effects your everyday life? Not only the files that reside on your computer / phone / device but also the distractions that prevent you from being productive during the day or the things that steal your attention in microseconds that add up to pretty big chunks of time.

4 Types of Digital Clutter


Digital clutter causes a few main issues:

  • It makes it hard to focus, think notifications, endless desktop icons, having to scroll through endless folders
  • It makes us feel overwhelmed. It’s a lot like walking into the kitchen when there’s a clear countertop vs. piles of junk mail. Our minds react to our environment. When there are tons of files, photos, or apps in front of our face, it’s natural to feel a slight stress response
  • It prevents productivity. Ever heard of shiny object syndrome?
  • It stifles our attempts at time management

One of the first ways to start being more mindful of how you keep your digital and online space is to build your awareness around what these types of clutter are so you can call them out when they take over.

1) Files and photos without a home

::sadface:: Everything just wants a place to belong and no one likes being stuck in the Desktop graveyard. I am so guilty of saving anything and everything to my desktop when I’m in a rush or working on a project. What ends up happening (besides my computer crawling to a halt) is that it becomes increasingly difficult to find what I saved on my desktop in the first place — which was the EXACT reason why I saved it there, BECAUSE it was empty, ugh.

When we get in the habit of mindlessly saving things to the desktop, the pile grows, and then it’s hard to remember what happened. How did it get like this?! Saving things to your desktop can accumulate quickly and when the overwhelm hits you may find yourself deleting things without checking (I’ve deleted important files this way) or throwing them all into a rando folder (also on the desktop) that only comes back to haunt you later.

A few tips to end the madness:

  • Save quick files to a delete folder. This is the perfect place for screenshots, photos you need to move or upload somewhere else, or files that you’ll toss after you read them. The key is taking time at the end of each day to empty your delete folder
  • Choose a destination (home) for things you download. Creating a digital file system (more on this later) can help you easily place files in specific places so you know where to find them later. There’s nothing worse than trying to find a screenshot on your desktop surrounded by a list of 16 other screenshots….
  • Use a simple and clean desktop background that encourages you to keep less. Backgrounds with quotes, blocks for icons, or a picture of your cat —- if it means you won’t put a PDF icon over their eyes
Mindful Productivity Blog

2) Endless internet tabs because “oooo I wanna read that maybe

There was a pivotal moment in my life where I reached the deep end of tab-topia-land. I got an error message while trying to open up another Huffpost article that said “you’ve exceeded the number of available tabs”

Mother of god what have I done?

It was in that moment that I realized that not only had I digitally hoarded my way into info-oblivion, but I also hadn’t accomplished a damn thing in hours. My mind also felt overwhelmed, distracted, and I started feeling super irritable (no, I DIDN’T watch the last episode of Homeland, John, ugh).

Keeping tabs on your tabs helps you stay focused and prevents that awful cascade of thoughts that start with “maybe I can be more productive doing THIS though…

Tips for your tabs:

  • Limit yourself to 2-3 tabs at a time at most (hey if you can manage 4, go for it, but this is what has worked for me)
  • When you are tempted to read another article that you can’t possibly lose, throw it in a GoogleDoc or place where you can come back to it. Also, ask yourself, will my life really change if I read about How to Make a Frozen Strawberry Margarita WITHOUT Ice?! I mean maybe, but check yo’self.

3) Shiny FREEBIES – come to me my precious!

This is ironic considering I totes have a freebie for you at the end of this post (that’s for you to decide at the end) but it’s important to monitor how often you’re opting into online freebies, PDFs, and other downloads unless you’re okay getting lost in your inbox. I’ve always wanted to be slowly smothered by PDFs and welcome emails… 

Sometimes getting excited about endless new info can serve as a way to distract ourselves from the ownership of our own issues. Dang Sarah, way to cut in deep, you don’t know me! Hear me out though. There have been so many times when I’ve seen a fitness tip or “cure” for running or the “best” recipes made with the thoughts of unicorns only to find that I a) never read them and b) prevent myself from actually taking action because I feel like I’ve totally “done something about it” by getting an email.

Your inbox is one of the most sacred places you have in your digital space. You can truly monitor what goes in there, what you send out of it, and who gets an invite in. There are even badass systems in place to block out junk. No other space is really like that online. Decide how you want that space to look and honor it.

Inbox tips:

  • Keep track of your subscriptions and if they feel out of hand you can always use Unroll.me  to automatically unsubscribe from all the things
  • Not feeling a series of emails? Unsubscribe. It’s okay, you can always hit a website back up in the future and rejoin if you miss them!
  • Create filters for your emails within your Gmail account (I’ll come back to this later on)
  • Star important emails, people and even companies you love so they always show up in your inbox. Part of the joy of decluttering is making room for the things you DO love!
Ditch the Digital Clutter

4) Notifications and alerts

Both on your computer and your phone to FitBits, Apple Watches, and whatever else we now have to notify us about more data, it can be incredibly hard to focus! I once had a friend tell me that I couldn’t text, email, or send her any kind of message during certain hours because she hated the alerts….newsflash…..you are in control of those! And luckily we’ve reached a time now where you really can control what’s bothering you on digital devices.

Turn off the noise of constant alerts and notifications and life just feels like a smooth slow ride of enjoyment. Think about the last time you were out in nature or went to a party and didn’t have your phone on you, it was probably a lot less stressful, at least after the FOMO wore off 

Things to turn off and deactivate:

  • Turn off Facebook sounds and alerts for Facebook Messenger (I seriously went months listening to *ding* all day because I sometimes have Facebook up in the background). It was so much better once I turned that off. On a desktop go to SETTINGS > NOTIFICATIONS (with the globe icon) > Click on EDIT next to “On Facebook” > Turn sound options to OFF
  • If you’re an iPhone user, go into SETTINGS > NOTIFICATIONS and go through your apps and turn “Allow notifications” completely off. If there are apps you want or need to hear from, consider banners instead of alerts that disappear after a few seconds.
  • If you use a Mac, click on the toggle button in the upper right hand corner of your screen, select the NOTIFICATIONS tab, scroll up and turn the DO NOT DISTURB button to ON
  • Turn off Outlook or any Chrome reminder pop ups
  • Set your phone to DO NOT DISTURB or SLEEP MODE

Did you find this helpful? Download my simple Ditch The Digital Clutter Checklist below to keep on your desk or remind you of how to stay clutter free during the workday!

Digital Clutter Checklist