Digital waste is accumulating too quickly. Look no further than your phone and all those blurry photos and old screenshots in your gallery. What you don’t see are the invasive tracking cookies stored in your smartphone.
The clutter on your computer can be even harder to manage. Start with your Trash on a PC or your Trash on a Mac. You have to empty it manually from time to time. Tap or click for files and folders that you should also throw away for good right now.
Cleaning your computer does not take much time. But you have to do it right and smart. I can help.
1. Delete sensitive files from your desktop
How many documents are stored on your computer that you really wouldn’t want anyone else to get their hands on? I know people who have an Excel spreadsheet loaded with their passwords stored out in the open on the desktop.
Maybe you keep well-organized financial records or have a folder with all your essential medical documents. Beyond the privacy risk, think about the pain it would be if your computer finally bit the dust. You don’t want to find yourself in a difficult situation because you never saved those files somewhere safer.
My recommendation: save everything you don’t want to lose in the cloud. Whichever option you choose, stick to what tech professionals call the 3-2-1 rule. Keep three copies of your important files: two on different storage media and one kept in an offsite location. (Yes, the cloud matters.)
If you insist on saving private documents locally, at least give a snooper a harder push by naming the folder something fake like “Vacation Pictures”. Make sure your computer automatically locks when you’re away and also requires a password on startup.
Speaking of photos, I can also help you clean them up. Tap or click for a smart guide on sorting through your massive photo collection.
2. Remove programs you no longer need or use
Programs take up a decent amount of space, so regularly clean up anything you don’t use.
Beyond that, outdated apps could put you at risk. By keeping old programs on your computer, you potentially leave the door wide open to cybercriminals.
Here’s how to find space-hogging apps and uninstall them:
On a Windows computer:
• Click the Start button and search for the app or program. Long-press (or right-click) the app and select Uninstall.
• At the top left of your screen, click on the Apple icon, then click About This Mac.
• Select the Storage room option in the middle of the pop-up window.
• On the right side, select Manage. You will see that everything takes up space – and how much space it consumes. You can also check out Apple’s recommendation to make space.
• On the right, click Apps. Click on a program you no longer want and select Delete at the bottom right, then validate.
RELATED: Upgrading to a New Computer Soon? Here are three options for deleting files and completely erasing your hard drive.
3. Stay up to date
The latest version of the operating system you are using is the safest. Even minor updates fix major security issues and vulnerabilities.
One caveat: When a brand new version of an operating system is rolled out, like Windows 11, it can take some time to resolve issues. Unless you’re comfortable fixing new issues and rolling back to a previous version if needed, wait a little longer to update.
If you want to update to Windows 11 or if you have already done so, tap or click for five tips, tricks, and features to try right now.
To update Windows:
• Click the Start button > Settings (the gear icon).
• Select Update and security > Windows Update.
• If an update is available, select Download and install.
To update a Mac:
• Click the Apple icon > System Preferences.
• Select Software update to see if there are any updates available.
• Next, click on the Restart now button.
4. Watch what’s running in the background
Checking your task manager or activity monitor is a great way to see if there’s anything strange going on in the background. Sudden spikes are a bad sign. If you see that your activity has increased while you haven’t been doing anything intensive, it could be a sign that your computer is infected with malware.
If you see anything strange, run an antivirus or anti-malware scan.
Check your activity on a PC:
• Hurry Ctrl + Alt + Del.
• To choose Task Manager. Here you can see the amount of CPU and memory used. Look for any processes you don’t recognize, especially those that are using a large percentage of your CPU or memory.
Check your Mac’s activity:
• Open a Finder windowthen choose the Apps folder > Utilities.
• Select the Activity Monitor.
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5. Don’t forget the outdoors
Cleaning the inside of your computer is important, but don’t forget the outside. Dust, dirt and grime can get into every nook and cranny.
Apple now sells a polishing cloth for $19, but a good old microfiber cloth is fine for cleaning your screen. Do not use scratchy paper towels. A dry cloth can wipe off most dirt and debris. For stubborn smudges and fingerprints, lightly dampen the cloth with distilled water. Never pour or spray water directly on a screen and also stay away from glass cleaner.
I prefer pre-moistened electronic wipes. They are so easy. I buy a great value pack of Care Touch. They are great on small screens like phones, tablets, and laptops. For larger TVs and monitors, these wipes from Weiman work like a charm.
Your keyboard, mouse, and ports need some love, too. Tap or click here for my full guide to cleaning your tech the right way. Choose the wrong products or methods and you can cause serious damage.
Pro tip: Identify the signs that you’ve been hacked
A cluttered computer is one thing. A person infected with malware is another. There are a few warning signs, like the temperature of your machine. If you put a hand on the screen or keyboard and it’s warmer than you remember, don’t ignore it.
Malware can consume storage space, overloading your processors and sending your fan into overload. Tap or click here to learn more ways to find out if your computer or phone has been hacked.
Discover all the latest technologies on the Kim Komando show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For his daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit his website at Komando.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.