5 steps to declutter your computer, phone, or tablet

By Amanda WalkerConsumer Reports

Any time is a good time to rid your computer, phone, or tablet of useless and unwanted programs. Post-tax season, you're likely to have loaded them up with files you need to organize or delete. Decluttering them will also make them run faster and make their batteries last longer.

They can sap your hard drive and make it take longer to boot up. Pay attention when you install the programs and utilities you do need. Even reputable software makers try to make extra money by attaching toolbars and resource-hogging functions. Instead of quickly clicking through the install process, pay attention to preselected check boxes. That’s often where the extra stuff you might not need gets added on.

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Or organize them into folders with labels such as “movies,” “music,” and “travel.” Consider downloading new apps to help you declutter. Springpad (for Android and iOS), for example, lets you save and organize tasks, recipes, notes, movies and more.

Is your screen so cluttered that you can no longer see your wallpaper? Look at the icons and try to remember when you last clicked on them. You need quick access to the things you need most often, so if you haven’t clicked on one recently, it’s probably time to delete it or store it in a folder.

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

Ruthlessly delete photos and videos that aren’t “album worthy.” And don’t forget to do this periodically. If you have an extensive collection, consider organizing them by year, with subfolders for each month.

Whether you’re a Mac or Windows user, it’s important to promptly install all operating-system updates. It frees up RAM, which can be gobbled up over time by poorly coded programs. Many of them patch newly discovered security holes. And it’s a good idea to reboot at least every few days to install more complex updates.

If you take these steps and still think your devices could have more zip, read our additional ways you can streamline your smart phone and tablet, and speed up your computer.

Planning to take your devices on vacation this year? The video below will show you how to protect them from sand and surf (and the pool).

––Mandy Walker

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the April 2014 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser.

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