As far as popular New Year’s resolutions go, “get organized” is often near the top of the list, right behind “get fit” and “get out of debt.”
Since it’s now officially the New Year, and since so much of our lives are now digital, maybe it's time to tackle those long-neglected projects like cleaning up your contacts list and digitizing that dusty box of old photos.
The start of the year is the perfect time to get your physical and digital house in order, says Erin Doland, editor of the home organization blog Unclutterer.
“It’s like the joy you get from crossing things off your to-do list. Life can be magical in the small moments. And why not start the year off that way?” Doland said.
Doland says tackling one task at a time may be the key to following through and actually finishing your projects. Here are some small steps you can take to get your digital life in order and get organized in 2016:
Update your address book
OK, this is an easy one. You just received a big batch of beautiful holiday cards with everyone’s updated information on them. Pile up those envelopes, pour yourself a drink, and then take a few minutes to update new or changed addresses in your records.
If you do not yet have a digital address book on your computer, now is a great time to create one. If you’re not sure where to start, there are templates available online for Microsoft Excel and Google Drive. Or you can use the template from Minted.com, a card company that will address your envelopes for you if you use their form.
Digitize your old photos
Chances are, somewhere in the back of a closet or storage area, you have a box of old photos or stack of albums just collecting dust and taking up room. If you want to cut the clutter, free up some valuable space, and still savor the memories, digitizing is the way to go.
There are several ways to go about digitizing your printed photo collection. The first, and most dreaded and time-consuming, is to use your own scanner and do it yourself — one photo at a time.
Another option would be to use a company like ScanMyPhotos.com that will scan, crop, edit and archive your photos starting at $0.16 a piece, depending on what quality you choose. Or, for $145, the company will send you a box that you fill up with photos and send back to have them scanned. A box typically holds 1,800 photos. Within 10 days, you’ll receive a DVD of all the images plus the originals.
Declutter your documents
You can’t really get rid of all your important papers, but with a scanner and a shredder, you can reduce the piles of files. Doland says knowing what you need to keep is key.
“Different people have different needs for what needs to be kept in physical form, and different states have different laws for what they will accept as proof for tax purposes,” Doland said. “So I recommend you acquaint yourself with what is right for you and your situation. That might mean picking up the phone and calling your accountant or talking to a tax lawyer before you shred anything.”
“And I recommend that if you do keep something in physical form, that you actually scan it too,” Doland said. “If your house were to go up in flames, it would at least be nice to have a copy out in the cloud of whatever it was that was important enough for you to keep in physical form.”
Documents you can scan then shred include bank and credit card statements, utility bills, receipts and other non-essential paperwork that may include sensitive information on it.
Cut clutter from your inbox and phone contacts
Streamlining an overstuff inbox or outdated contacts list can be just as therapeutic as shredding dusty documents.
A few tools that can help with inbox overload:
Unroll.Me –- This simple service allows you to unsubscribe from unwanted email lists in bulk and rolls up the ones you do want into a daily email.
Google Inbox -– Users of Google’s new app Inbox (for Gmail) have the ability to bundle messages and achieve the seemingly impossible –- clearing your inbox completely.
Mailstrom -– Another inbox cleaner, this service promises to help you power through your inbox and remove thousands of emails quickly.
Doland’s advice is aim to keep only completely necessary emails in your inbox and file or archive everything else.
Back up your data!
Technology consultant Mike Beeferman says getting your digital house in order doesn’t matter if you don’t back up what you have. He says if you do just one thing well digitally this year, it should be to resolve to back up your data — and often.
“Most people think that if they have a new computer, they don’t need to back anything up. But you do. From day one you need to back it up,” Beeferman said. “It’s really important. Have one copy in your house and another copy elsewhere. Do it regularly. Back up your documents, your photos, your music, your pictures. Those you can’t replace."
Both he and Doland recommend having two forms of backup — one in your home and one in the cloud.
Overwhelmed with where to begin on getting organized? Beeferman says start by putting a backup plan in place. “Have a backup plan first and then have a plan in place in case your computer craps out.”