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Cleaning your computer files is about as fun as organizing your basement. But the payoff for both chores is sweet: Now you know where your important stuff is, while all the junk is in the trash.
Even better: When you blow away your digital cobwebs, your machine will run faster and more efficiently than it has in years. Here are the three smartest ways to de-clutter your computer.
Scrub the Big Stuff
We guarantee there are large files on your computer (in excess of several megabytes) that you haven’t touched in years. Maybe you downloaded a movie in 2010 and it’s been hiding out somewhere ever since, hogging 4 gigabytes of precious hard-drive space.
Or maybe you have 150 old selfies at 8 megabytes each, all tucked away in a forgotten folder.
Open up your computer’s primary file directory (usually your Documents folder) and perform separate searches for files with the extensions, “.mov,” “.avi,” “.jpg,” “.pdf,” and any other common media-file types you use.
Warning: There could be thousands of these files. You should first sort them by size and dump the largest ones that you’re sure you don’t need any more. Then sort them by name to find large clusters of files to trash. (So long, all 37 clips from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.)
Target Temporary Files
Several programs on your computer, like Microsoft Word, secretly create temporary files for backup purposes, says Leo Notenboom, a technology expert who runs the computer blog AskLeo.com. Word, for example, saves a temporary file of your open document every couple of minutes.
These temporary files get deleted when you save your work and exit the program. But if the program suddenly closes or your computer crashes, the temp files don’t disappear—they stick around your hard drive and take up space.
Fortunately, you don’t have to search for temp files. Just download a copy of CCleaner (free for Windows and Mac users, piriform.com), an app that rounds up and kills off all unnecessary files from your machine.
While this app does take up a little bit of space, it’s much less than the space those unnecessary files take up. Plus, you can delete and reinstall the app every time you use it.
Relocate Your Archives
We all keep tons of files hanging around from old work projects, email archives from three jobs ago, and miscellaneous bits and bytes from our assorted past lives. It’s okay to hold onto these for nostalgia’s sake, but there’s no need to store them on your actual hard drive.
Take some time and move all your personal files to one central location, like your Documents folder. Then, copy that whole folder onto a backup hard drive or cloud storage service, such as DropBox or Google Drive.
Both services offer free storage for up to 5 GB (DropBox) and 15 GB (Google), with paid options for more space. They work just like folders on your desktop, but the documents are backed up automatically online and are accessible through any web-connected device.
But give your archive folder a new name—like “Archive June 2016”—and delete any files from your computer’s hard drive that you haven’t touched in at least a year. Create a new archive every month to keep your primary machine clean.