Photo by wokka

I’m pretty good at organising my work, and do most of the things that can be done to make sense of the deluge of information that we have to deal with these days.

My email inbox is empty at least twice a day, and I have over 400 smart filters in place to make sure I almost never receive unwanted or irrelevant messages. My computer desktop is completely free of icons, other than the one that opens up the hard drive. My files are all pretty well sorted, and I can easily locate something if I want to find it.

And yet… my hard drive is nearly full. And to a large extent, I don’t exactly know what it’s full of. To make matters worse, this is a machine with a 1TB internal hard drive. I have a lot of files – photos, music, video, and lots and lots of documents… but I’m pretty sure I don’t need them all.

I need to do a complete Spring clean and de-clutter – but it’s such a daunting task. It would be great if there was a piece of software that would help me go through my documents, and choose what to keep on hand, what to throw out, and what to archive.

So that’s what I’m going to suggest today.

Couldn’t resist the web 2.0 dropping of the ‘e’ in the title. I Googled it, and the name doesn’t exist.

So here’s what it does:

SpringCleanr allows you to look at your documents and files individually or in groups of files, and make simple decisions about what to do with them. But it does it in a way that’s meaningful, quick and helpful.

And then you have a decision to make:

1) Keep it;
2) Chuck it;
3) Archive it;
4) Action it.

Keep it
If you keep it, you have the option to rename it, re-file it in a more meaningful way, and add tags so it can be found again more easily.

Chuck it
Self-explanatory, really. If you’re never going to use it, throw it away.

Archive it
This is the clever bit. SpringCleanr will create a zip file into which you can store your ‘don’t want to keep, but too good to throw out’ files. These can easily be shifted to an external hard drive, burned to a DVD-R or uploaded to an online storage service. The digital equivalent of boxes in the attic.

The zip file ‘boxes’ could be, say 100MB in size, and you can keep adding to them until they’re full – after which a new one is automatically started. The boxes are labelled with the date, and the type of files it contains – as well as any extra information you may wish to add so that you can easily recall what’s in the box.

Action it
Sometimes when we clean up and look at things we haven’t looked at for a while, we are reminded of projects we wanted to do, and things we wanted to finish and never got around to – or we’re inspired to start new things.

Clicking on the Action It button creates an item on a To-Do list, and then you can Keep/Chuck/Archive the file. If you keep it, the file is linked to the to-do list item so that you can easily find it again when you come to actually do the task.

Putting things away
The recommended method in SpringCleanr is to put all documents into a single document folder – but tagged according to projects or keywords that will help you locate it – rather than in a system of folders-within-folders.

SpringCleanr can make that process very simple for you by collecting up all of your documents right up front, and placing them in a single Documents folder of your choice (if you choose to select that option).

Next, it shows you lists of files you haven’t opened in a long time. Word documents that haven’t been looked at in two years. Albums that haven’t been played in that long. Software you never use.

Then it shows you all your largest files – the ones taking up most of the space.

And then the ones that look like drafts, the ones that have duplicate – or even only very similar content. Where there’s more than one document, you can make a decision about which to keep.

Because we can’t usually rely on document names, files made using Word and Excel, as well as PDF and other documents will display in a Preview window. Videos play short excerpts. Music can either be displayed on a song-by-song basis or as albums, and can be auditioned at the press of a button. Applications for which you may have long forgotten the purpose are explained in a couple of sentences.

Information is then shown about the file: When it was last played / viewed. Whether you have duplicates. How much space it takes up. Whether you’ve attached it to an email in the past… and so on.

And then you make the decision.

Other settings
Of course, with something like this, there are always other options you can add. For instance, I’d automatically archive (that is, store in a zip file, move to an external hard drive and delete from the computer) any email message older than one year. That wouldn’t work for everyone.

You could also set it to strip attachments from email messages to trim the storage there.

You could automate certain processes to run in the background – such as automatically archive (or prompt for a decision about) any document that reached a certain age without being looked at.

The To-Do list option could be integrated in whatever current To-Do list software or service you already use. I use Things, for instance, and I wouldn’t want to change – so integration would be important for that feature to be useful.

You could store your archive boxes off-site in a remote storage online secure backup system. This could be added as a service – or you could offer the choice of offsite lockers such as Rapidshare (assuming they’re not made illegal in the near future…).

It’s only a big job once
SpringCleanr would be a major undertaking, but one that could be done in small bites until a full run is complete. Then, you could schedule it every month, and it might take you 5 minutes.

The point is to make sure that everything on your computer is both worth hanging onto and accessible, that the machine runs at its best rather than groaning under the weight of a full hard drive – and that on the rare occasion that you might need to go back further and drag an old file out of the attic… you can do so simply without keeping thousands of files in your documents folder or email inbox ‘just in case’.

I don’t know about you – but I reckon I’d find it useful.

It may exist in some form already (though I haven’t found it). There are, of course, pieces of software that remove unnecessary files and save space – but they don’t involve any nuanced decision-making from you.

SpringCleanr, on the other hand, would allow me to choose to hang on to an old recipe for oatcakes, but delete a letter I wrote 3 years ago to a bank I’m no longer with.

Perhaps not a massive saving in space by itself… but the cumulative effect is substantial. I reckon I could easily retrieve a good 30% of my hard drive without pain. And, as I mentioned – this is a 1TB drive.

And, as usual – if you want the idea – whether to put into production or develop in some other way… it’s all yours.

Table of contents for 30 Days of Ideas

  1. The other way of following first
  2. Now we’re up and dancing
  3. 30 days of ideas – 01: Keymash
  4. 30 days of ideas – 02: Radio Alerts
  5. 30 days of ideas – 03: Only Famous (a romantic comedy)
  6. 30 days of ideas – 04: Modcasts
  7. 30 days of ideas – 05: Numberless Calendar
  8. 30 days of ideas – 06: SpringCleanr
  9. 30 days of ideas – 07: Street Gallery
  10. 30 days of ideas – 08: Smart Business Cards
  11. 30 days of ideas – 09: Recordings in Concert
  12. 30 days of ideas – 10: Vinyl scanner
  13. 30 days of ideas – 11: Photo Stack-and-Scan
  14. 30 days of ideas – 12: A Box of Cool
  15. 30 days of ideas – 13: Karaoke-Tube Celebstar Idol
  16. 30 days of ideas – 14: I Made You A Tape
  17. 30 days of ideas – 15: Newspaper download codes
  18. 30 days of ideas – 16: Pebble Splash
  19. 30 days of ideas – 17: Digital radio, somewhere useful
  20. 30 days of ideas – 18: Public domain music collection
  21. 30 days of ideas – 19: Blog cast-list automator
  22. 30 days of ideas – 20: The Retirement Pile
  23. 30 days of ideas – 21: Nationalise EMI
  24. 30 days of ideas – 22: The Stainless Steel Rat (the movie)
  25. 30 days of ideas – 23: WordPress Bandcampify template
  26. 30 days of ideas – 24: Rollercoasters as public transport
  27. 30 days of ideas – 25: Next-gen personalised music radio
  28. 30 days of ideas – 26: New Music Trust
  29. 30 days of ideas – 27: Tamagotchi Gardening
  30. 30 days of ideas – 28: Charity shop clothing subscription
  31. 30 days of ideas – 29: ‘Now Playing’ social music app
  32. 30 days of ideas – 30: House of Spare Ideas
  33. Mixtape for You by Ray Kuyvenhoven
  34. What can you do in 30 days?