Spring Cleaning your Electronic Devices Properly

Thursday, February 16, 2017 by Mikey Anderson

With spring on the way, many of us will start cleaning our desks and our homes, but what about spring cleaning our devices?  Now is a perfect time to clean them out and increase your storage space for the year ahead.  Before you start though, you should ask yourself what you’d like to gain by cleaning out your device.  Are you looking to increase performance or increase storage space?  Do you want to get rid of old documents you’ll never use again?  Do you want to just wipe everything and start over? Once you’ve got a goal in mind, you can choose an option that best suits your needs.

In this article, we’ll attempt to highlight some key concepts you should take into consideration when spring cleaning your devices. Whether you’re talking about a mobile phone, PC or laptop, there should be something here you can use for any device and situation.

 Backup first

First things first - make sure you’ve taken the time to create a full backup to an external device.  Sure, you could go ahead and only back up the files you think are the most important, but what if you miss something and accidentally delete it later on?  You’ll end up trying to recover your data, when you were actually trying to get rid of it!

If you’re not sure how to keep the perfect backup, we’ve covered how to do this in a previous article.  Check it out and make sure you’ve chosen a method that suits you and your data.  Once you’ve settled on how and where you’ll back up your data, make sure you review your backups thoroughly.  There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve got a safe backup, only for it to be non-existent, corrupt, or just not the data you were expecting to see. Nobody wants that!

 Start your spring cleaning

Once you’ve finished your backup, you can begin with looking at what data you can get rid of.  A good place to start is checking for duplicates; do you really need to keep 5 different PDFs of the same map on your phone?  See what you can consolidate and delete; you’ll often be surprised at just how much “junk” you’ve collected!

For PCs and laptops, you can use the Disk Cleanup utility to see what you can get rid of.  You’ll find this in the control panel or system settings.  You’ll usually find that there’s old programs and temporary files that could do with a clear out, as well as any other files that your operating system identifies as unnecessary.

Another really quick way to free up some space is to delete your browser history and downloads folder (checking there’s nothing important there first!). Most of us will realize that we’ve accumulated a lot of unnecessary files that can be removed.

 Cloud services

Another avenue to explore is the option of cloud storage.  Depending on how much data you have, this can quickly become expensive and inefficient.  However, if you’ve only got a few photos and files, why not back them up to a service like Google Drive, rather than storing them all on your hard drive?  You’ll get 15GB of storage for free, with the option of paying to upgrade if you’d like to later on.  You also get the benefit of being able to access your files from any device, which is handy if you need to open/edit documents on the go.  Of course, the beauty of the cloud is that everything is backed up and not saved locally, meaning you get better data security while also freeing up your local hard drive space - it's a win-win!

 How healthy is your hard drive?

While you’re at it, why not check the condition of your hard drive or SSD? There are special tools available that allow you to delve into the technical depths of your drive and check to see if everything is in working order. There are lots of free options to choose from; if you’re unsure about what to look for a good starting point is choosing one with ‘SMART’ checking functionality. You can read this article for a more in-depth understanding of what that means, but you’re essentially after a tool that can show you the overall condition of your drive so you can make decisions about the likelihood you

However, be careful with any tool you choose, even if it looks simple to use.  It’s sometimes very easy to make accidental and fatal changes to your drive, often resulting in data loss.  If you’re not fully aware of the features and what they do, or you’re not technically-minded, then it’s best to consult your local IT specialist for some advice rather than risking your data (or avoid using these tools at all).

 What if you want to get rid of everything?

If you want to completely wipe your device and start over, there are many ways of doing it.  If you’re going to continue using your device, then you don’t really need to worry about going overboard.  You could try formatting the drive or if you’re using a mobile phone/tablet you can perform a factory reset.  In either case, you’ll need to go through and set up and configure everything again. You’ll also want to be sure you’ve taken a backup first (and check that it’s working), as we mentioned earlier.

Formatting your drive can make for a challenging situation if you need to recover files you’ve accidentally deleted.  If you’ve used a dedicated data erasure tool then the process is irreversible and the likelihood of a recovery is slim - so be warned!

If you’d prefer to just wipe everything and donate/resell/recycle your device, then you should use a proper data sanitization tool first to make sure all of your data is gone.  You don’t want to sell your laptop or phone online having left your data there for someone to browse through!  Depending on your needs, you can use different tools; for personal use you can get away with using free software, or trust an IT specialist to do the job for you.  However, if you’re erasing company devices you’ll want to use a certified, enterprise-grade solution so you’re staying compliant with data regulations and company policies.

 Clean with caution

Whenever you’re spring cleaning your devices, it’s best to back up everything correctly and then tread carefully in terms of deleting unwanted data.  The last thing you want to do is inadvertently cause damage due to a rash decision or deleting important system files.  Make sure that you’ve decided on exactly what you want to clean up, so you can figure out the best way of doing this while avoiding data loss.  Once you’re done, make a note to do it again on a regular basis.  Good data hygiene and backup practices not only improve your data security, but can also improve the performance of your devices – who doesn’t want that!