Ah… can you smell that? Fresh new year. Brand new shiny stuff. And just the time to blow the dust off and clear the gunk from your old stuff. I’m probably one of the messiest people around, but I’m smart enough to know a good ol’ proper spring cleaning helps keep everything in order.

The same goes for your online stuff too. Just because it’s virtual, doesn’t mean it can’t get messy. Check your e-mail inbox, or peek at your desktop. Do you see the symptoms of “accumulitis” and “too-many-friendsitis”? Well, fret no more. It used to be a problem for me too, but I know how to fix it.

Optimising your device experience

The first thing I do every year is to give my devices the fresh start they deserve. Whether you’re getting online or doing stuff on your PC/laptop/cellphone, one year’s worth of heavy usage is bound to result in useless or used stuff lying around and messing up your system. No one wants to wait five minutes for their PC to boot up, or deal with unexpected lags and crashes on their phones.

For my PC, I usually do a clean reinstall every year just to ensure I have a clean system running again. This means that I’ll get rid of all the applications I’ve installed but use minimally, or have upgraded multiple times and left unused files lying around the computer and taking up space, and start with a clean and zippy machine.

First, I copy over all the files I need into a directory on my external hard disk (get one if you don’t have one). Then I dust off that old copy of Windows (you can use the Mac one if you’re an Apple user), and reboot my computer with the disk in it (note: you might need to change some bio settings by pressing F2 or Delete at the booting of your PC).

Select “Reinstall Windows” and you’re set! Set aside half your day to do this to allow for yourself to reinstall the applications you actually need and update everything, but once you’re done, your PC might actually be a joy to use again.

For your cellphone, a hard reset every now and then is usually a good idea. Going by the same philosophy, you only want to have the stuff you actually use on your phone, so you don’t clutter it up. Read your device’s manual to find out how to do this. I would recommend backing up via iTunes (for iPhones), Ovi Suite (for Nokia devices), or syncing everything to the web (Android) before you try anything.

Move online

This is the tough part, really. I usually deal with e-mail first, because it is a pain to clean up as you’re always second guessing yourself and wondering “will I need this sometime later?”

In most cases, you probably won’t. I usually only save copies of important e-mail such as, receipts from online purchases, registration notifications from services I’ve joined (still got your Twitter welcome email?), and other important stuff. Move them to a separate folder (“Archive” is what I call mine) and delete everything else in the inbox. If you’re using Gmail, search and filtering can be a great way of keeping a bulk of important e-mail (maybe from the same source).

Social networks is a bit trickier. I’m sure you’ve at one point or another, accepted a “friend” who wasn’t really a “friend.” But you didn’t know any better, and somehow, you’re not entirely comfortable that he can access pictures of you, read your posts and find out stuff about you. Well, there’s no easy way to do this other than to actually comb through your friend list and delete them.

Yes, I know there are a tonne of sites out there that purport to make it easier with things like, But I also follow people who don’t follow me back because I think they are interesting, or they are a corporate Twitter account or news channel.

The key consideration you’ll need to ask yourself, especially for permission-based networks like Facebook or Foursquare, is “am I really comfortable letting these guys view my personal information?” Let’s face it, the guy you just met at last night’s party isn’t really your “friend” yet. Maybe have him on Twitter?

I try to keep the people I know on different networks separate – so Facebook is for people who are really friends in real life, while Twitter is more for engaging people with common interests. As for Foursquare, I’ll let you know my location if you’re really a friend to me.

So there you have it, just a little spring cleaning advice to get your digital life back up at full speed.

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