How to declutter your phone


Clean out the apps and files that are taking up too much space on your smartphone.


If you've never bothered to organise the apps on your phone, to clean out old files, or to wrangle your notifications into a sensible order, that disorder can make your phone an overwhelming, slow, and buggy device. You can fix this and give your phone new life. Decluttering takes just a few minutes.

This article was written by Thorin Klosowski of Wirecutter (New York Times group) and republished by CHOICE. It was originally published on the Wirecutter website. You can read it here in its original version. Photo: Michael Hession © 2019 The New York Times.

Delete apps you don't use

Ever downloaded an app for a single purpose, such as a conference, work meeting, or vacation, and then left that app on your phone to digitally rot away on the home screen? The easiest way to declutter your phone is to get rid of apps you don't need, and both Apple's iPhone and Google's Android provide simple ways to figure out which apps you don't use.

The easiest way to find those neglected apps is to look at all the apps in a list. On an iPhone, head to Settings > General > iPhone Storage. On Android, open the Play Store, tap the hamburger menu in the top-left corner, tap My apps & games > Installed > Alphabetical, and change it to Last Used. 

Delete apps that are listed as Never Used or that you haven't opened in months. I also prefer to delete rarely used apps for services where I can just use the website instead.

Once you've cleared out apps you don't need, it's time to organise the home screen. Everyone's sense of order is different, but having a system – any system – in place is useful to prevent clutter in the future. Melanie Pinola, managing editor for Zapier, has a simple method for organising folders: "One thing I learned is to group apps into folders by verb or action. So, 'Write,' 'Contact,' 'Read,' etc. This makes it easier to get directly to what you want to do on your phone and is also gratifying in a way to tie an app you're opening with a purpose and action item."

Sometimes organisation is fruitless, and if your phone takes too much time to organise, there's one easy solution: Don't bother. Instead, get in the practice of launching apps from the search menu. On an iPhone, pull down on the home screen to open search, type the first few letters of an app name, and then tap the app when it pops up. On Android, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to pull up the app drawer and then start typing. Once you get the hang of launching apps like this, I recommend limiting your home screen to four or five rows of apps you use the most and hiding everything else on another page.

Free up storage

Sometimes I miss 16GB phones – the studio apartments of phones – which required a certain mindfulness and decision-making to prevent them from overflowing. In this age of nearly infinite storage, it's easy to collect more junk, and as you run out of storage your phone begins to feel sluggish. To clear this up and speed up your phone, you need to peek into some menus you may have never visited.

First up are your messages. Messaging threads filled with GIFs, memes, videos, and photos can take up a ton of space. In iOS, you can change how long your phone stores messages so it clears out old threads automatically. Head to Settings > Messages > Keep Messages. Once there, set how long you want to keep messages before they self-destruct. If you want to keep the text but delete attachments, head instead to Settings > General > iPhone Storage, scroll down to Messages, and then tap Review large Attachments. This screen will show you all the big files. Android's Messages app doesn't have a setting like this, but you can swipe left or right on a message thread in Messages to archive old threads. Most third-party apps, including WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, have some means to clear out old messages.

The biggest storage hogs on your phone are likely photos and videos. Back them up to an online cloud backup service like Apple iCloud, Google Photos, or Amazon's Prime Photos. Once you back up the photos, you can delete them from your phone and access them remotely through the backup service.

If you're still short on space even after taking those steps, the culprit might be an app that's hoarding data. Podcasts, music, and video apps are usually the biggest offenders. To see what's taking up space in iOS, head to Settings > General > iPhone Storage. On Android, pull down the notification shade and tap the cog and then Storage. This screen displays a list of all the apps on your phone. For example, the Prime Video app on my phone takes up 2GB of space, even though I've never downloaded a video. To clear out app data on an iPhone, tap the app from the Storage screen and then tap Offload. Once the phone is done deleting everything, tap Reinstall. On Android, tap the app name and then the Clear Cache button.

If you have an Android phone, you should also clear out the downloads folder. Open the Downloads app (Files on some phones), tap and hold a file name, and tap the trash icon to delete the file.

CHOICE's smartphone reviews reveal which models deliver the best camera, fastest performance and are easiest to use.

Disable unnecessary notifications

It's not just apps and storage that get in the way. It's also the cacophony of notifications cluttering up your phone's lock screen.

First, enable Do Not Disturb. This way, calls, texts, and whatever other nonsense comes through when you're supposed to be sleeping won't wake you up. If I need to focus on a deadline for work, I enable Do Not Disturb during the day, too.

You should disable most notifications. Beth Skwarecki, health editor at Lifehacker, prefers a nearly notification-free environment: "Very few notifications are both useful and urgent. Pretty much the only notifications I allow on my phone are ones I've set for myself, like calendar reminders, and certain messages from actual human beings." Another simple rule: If you already open an app a lot, you don't need it to send notifications.

After all this, your phone will feel new, free of pointless dreck accumulated over years of use. Finding what you're looking for will be easier and faster, and you'll spend less time on your phone.

© 2019 Wirecutter thewirecutter.com – Distributed by The New York Times Licensing Group


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