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6 ways to declutter your smart phone and tablet

This digital detox will speed up your devices and make their batteries last longer

Published: January 23, 2014 04:00 PM

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We hope you're following through on your New Year's resolution to get your life organized. But have you thought about decluttering your mobile device? Don't fret—we’ve got a plan to help you categorize, systematize, and truly mobilize your smart phone or tablet.

Tackle self-created content

Spend 10 minutes deleting photos you don't need before your gallery becomes unmanageable. Tomorrow, spend 10 minutes deleting unwanted videos. And don't forget to do this periodically, especially if you spend a lot of time with cute kids and pets.

Unsubscribe from listservs

Hit the "unsubscribe" button in tiny print at the bottom of the e-mail, and say goodbye to the endless stream of "limited-time offers." And sign up for Unroll.me to automatically unsubscribe from dozens of subscription e-mails at once. It even condenses the e-flyers you want to keep into a single message.

Pick multipurpose apps

Download a new app only if it will help you achieve your declutter goals. There's no reason to have three separate task organizers for to-do lists, grocery lists, and read-it-later lists when a single app can handle all three. Springpad (for Android and iOS) is a personal assistant in your pocket. For example, bookmark a recipe, and Springpad adds its ingredients to your grocery list and writes a reminder to go to the store before picking up the kids from their extracurriculars. 

Use those apps every day

Choose apps you'll use frequently, and make them a part of your daily routine. If you use loyalty cards every day, for example, lighten your wallet with CardStar (for Android, iOS, and Windows) or Key Ring (for Android and iOS). Both scan and store all of your loyalty cards—from grocery reward cards to soup-and-sandwich freebie cards—and even let you sign up digitally for discounts from retailers.

Find the right mobile device for you with our smart phone and tablet buying guides and Ratings.

Organize your apps with folders

Use folders to keep your apps organized and easy to find. Two tips to keep in mind when labeling folders: Don’t be vague, and keep the folder name short and simple. Try to keep similar items together, like "Movies," "Music," and "Reading." If your folder evolves over time, you can always rename it later, so don't be afraid to play around.

Android: If your Android phone is running on the 4.0 version of the operating system, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, you can create a folder by selecting and holding the home screen. A new folder will appear. Now you can drag and drop apps to it. On the 4.4 OS, a.k.a. KitKat, just slide an app icon over another and drop it in the folder. After a new folder appears, you're prompted to name it. After naming it, just drag and drop icons into it. If you need to go back and rename a folder, just open it and touch its name.

iOS: As when you're deleting an app on iOS, select the app you want to move into a folder until it begins to jiggle on the screen and grays out. Then, still holding the app you’ve selected, slide it over another app and drop it in the gray box that's appeared around it. To rename a folder, just open it, click and hold your finger over the title, and select the X next to the folder name. Then you can start typing. Just don’t forget to keep it short, as a folder can only fit 10 characters on the screen after you collapse it.

Windows: Out of the box, Windows phones don't come with a way to create folders, though there are apps you can download, such as App Folder, to create them. And you can still get more organized by "pinning" apps to the Start screen. Pin an app, also known as a tile, by tapping and holding the tile you want to move until it pops into the foreground. Then you just drag the tile to where you want it, and select the Start button when it’s in the right place. To unpin a tile you don’t really use, simply tap and hold the tile you want to remove, and click Unpin.

You can also enlarge your tiles to make the important ones stand out or shrink them so that you can cluster them into groups. To resize a tile, click and hold it until the Resize arrow appears. Then tap on the arrow until the tile changes to the size you want. When you're done, select the Start button.

But before you pin, unpin, and resize things, keep in mind that you only want to pin the apps you use every day. These could include your email, a social-networking app, an exercise app for that other New Year’s resolution, and your favorite photo album of your loved ones.

Dump unused apps

You've heard the advice about tossing or donating clothes you haven't worn in a year, right? Think of your smart phone as a closet, and apps as clothes. If you haven’t used a particular app in the past year, time to toss it. Don't be nervous about removing apps you haven’t used in a while, though: You paid for them and can always redownload them later for free. (Just remember that all of your previous data will be gone.)

Not sure how to delete unwanted apps or create folders? Check out the steps below for your operating system.

Android: If you've installed an application using Google Play, go to your device's Settings  menu. Select Apps or Application Manager, depending on the options you see on your device. Click on the app you want to uninstall, and select "Uninstall." If you don’t see the uninstall button (or just see Uninstall Updates), then it's probably a system app that can't be uninstalled. System apps are those that came installed on your device when you purchased it—Google Maps, for example.

While you can't delete systems apps, you can deactivate them and make them disappear from your app drawer. In the Application manager, open the app and press "Force stop," uncheck Show notifications, press Clear data, and press Disable. The app will no longer appear in your app drawer.

iOS: Select the application you want to delete and hold your finger over it until it begins to dance its wobbly dance. (It should only take a second or two.) An X will appear in the top left-hand corner of the app. Click on the X. A prompt will appear asking if you're sure you want to delete the app. Select Delete, and you’re done.

Windows: On Windows Phone 7 and 8, the steps to delete apps and games differ. Delete an app from the Start screen by flicking the screen left to the App list. Otherwise, select and hold an app, then tap on Uninstall. It'll prompt you to confirm the step, so click Yes. To delete a game, select Games from the Start screen. Then under Collection, click and hold a game, and select Uninstall when prompted.

—Kaitlyn Wells

Expert tip

Once you've cleared the clutter from your mobile device, be selective about the new apps you download, says Peter Walsh, the face of the iOS app Get Organized. Ask yourself, "What am I hoping this app will do, and how will it help me get the life I want?" If the app doesn’t satisfy the question, then you probably shouldn't download it.


   

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