Digital spring cleaning: Take time for this satisfying, money-saving ritual

March 19, 2024

By Bill Jacky

Digital spring cleaning: Take time for this satisfying, money-saving ritual

Young, bearded smiling man sits outside in his garden with his smartphone, laptop and tablet for his annual digital spring cleaning.

Think about how satisfying – and rewarding – a top-to-bottom clean, uncluttered home can be! Bringing that kind of energy to organizing and tidying up your digital spaces can be similarly fulfilling but can also increase your privacy, improve device performance, better protect you from hackers and ID thieves, and best of all, save you money. So take a moment to let some fresh air into those digital nooks and crannies by taking the steps below. If you like the results, make it a ritual on Earth Day, during the NCAA’s March basketball tournament or around the memory-triggering annual event of your choice (it doesn’t have to be springtime).

Flush out forgotten accounts.

Start your digital spring cleaning by identifying the accounts you no longer need and deleting the ones you don’t use. McAfee’s Jasdev Dhaliwal recommends you, “Look through your bookmarks, your password manager, or the other places where you store your passwords and usernames. Review the sites and services associated with them critically. If you haven’t used an account in some time, log in one last time, remove all personal info, and deactivate it.” Deleting these accounts will help keep your email address, usernames and passwords out of the hands of hackers and thieves.

Then, take an inventory of automatic payments through your financial institution, especially subscriptions and memberships such as Netflix, Spotify or other recurring costs. You may discover instant ways to save money by uncovering an app you downloaded a year ago that you forgot about or a streaming service you hardly use. While going through your list of automatic payments, cancel the ones that no longer meet your needs or aren’t worth the costs.

Mop up old apps.

The next step in your digital spring cleaning is identifying and removing outdated and unused apps on your phone. A quick perusal of your smartphone should be enough to identify the apps you no longer use. There is no need to overthink; you can always easily reinstall any app later. After deleting unused apps, delete any accounts associated with those apps.

Fewer on-screen apps will save you time finding the apps you use the most (think about that the next time you quickly need to pull up a digital plane ticket). More importantly, extracting apps could enhance digital performance and protect your info. As Popular Science’s David Nield reports, “Unused applications take up precious storage space on your computer and make its operating system work harder than it needs to. In addition, each app on your system can become a target for hackers or data-mining companies, so the fewer you have, the better.”

You can proactively stay a step ahead of screen clutter by leveraging the feature on your device that automatically deletes apps you aren’t using regularly but saves your old documents or data within the app if needed later.

  • On the iPhone, go to Settings > App Store. Then scroll down to “Offload Unused Apps” and flip the toggle.
  • On an Android, go to Settings > Battery and device care > Background usage limits. Then flip the toggle on "Put unused apps to sleep."

If freeing up space on your phone is a priority, you can investigate which of your apps are taking up extra memory space. Your device can show you a running tally of how much space each app takes up (games, photo editing apps and social networks being the bigger storage hogs). Clicking on an individual app will give you insights into how much space the app takes up versus how much data the app accumulates.

  • On the iPhone, go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage. Then scroll down to see apps in order of storage size.
  • On an Android, go to Settings > Apps. Then scroll down to see which are using the most space.

Tidy up your photos, email and other digital clutter.

Use your digital cleaning time to print and organize the photos you love on your smartphone and remove the near-duplicates and “meh” ones. You’ll be a step ahead of most people: A September 2023 OnePoll for a photo book company revealed that 70% of respondents intend to print their photos, but only 19% do so regularly. If you need a benchmark for how many photos to keep on your phone, the same poll revealed the average smartphone has 2,795 photos.

After decluttering your photo albums, tackle your email. Enjoy the satisfaction of deleting emails you don’t need to hang onto. Move “keepers” into folders by topic or sender’s name. Older emails can also help you flush out forgotten or older accounts that include your personal information. On your PC, hunt down and delete records from years ago and other aging files.

Cleanse your other devices – inside and out.

If you also own a PC, you should regularly take steps to maintain its speed and performance. Deleting unneeded or outdated programs, apps, and software will increase your hard drive space and decrease your vulnerability to hackers or ID thieves. Also, make it a habit to scan for malware and digital threats regularly.

Once you improve your devices’ performance, improve their appearance. The Federal Communications Commission provides the guidelines below. Note: For smartphones and devices that go with you into the “outside world,” clean regularly as a preventative step against spreading germs and contagions.

  • Unplug the device before cleaning.
  • Use a lint-free cloth slightly dampened with soap and water. While it’s safe to use disinfectant wipes on many devices, those containing alcohol, bleach or vinegar may wear down the protective coating on a smartphone’s screen.
  • Don’t spray cleaners directly onto the device.
  • Avoid aerosol sprays and cleaning solutions that contain bleach or abrasives.
  • Keep liquids and moisture away from any openings on the device.
  • Check with the manufacturer for guidance on how to clean your device.

Recycle old and unused devices.

Make recycling your used electronics – laptops, computers, smartphones and tablets – part of your digital spring cleaning. There are resources across the nation, like PCs for People, where you can donate devices, whether new or old. These devices are then securely wiped of all information and restored to factory settings before being given to community members who need them most.

In fact, around Earth Day, Alliant teams up with PCs for People to provide a hassle-free opportunity for our members and anyone from the surrounding communities to drop off their old devices. Save the date: This year's event will take place Wednesday, May 8, from 9 AM to 1 PM CT at Alliant headquarters. Donated devices are wiped clean of all data and delivered to digitally-challenged or under-served populations or recycled. If you wish to wipe your old devices before donating, the FTC has advice on wiping a personal computer before disposing or recycling it.

Make a clean break from a bad bank.

Are you hanging onto a low-performing financial account because you dread the hassle of changing all your accounts, direct deposits and subscriptions you have linked? If that’s you, use the momentum you’ve generated from deleting forgotten accounts and finding savings opportunities to embrace change and push through to switch from one financial institution to another.

A pro/con list can convince you a new account outweighs any annoyance. Compare different aspects of the banks and credit unions you are interested in, such as interest rates, certificate offerings and credit card benefits, to see if another institution better aligns with your financial goals.

Saving time with a better digital experience is important, too. A February 2024 GoBankingRates survey revealed 78% of Americans prefer mobile and online banking. Even 67% of seniors said they would rather bank online or on an app than in-person. If your current bank’s app frustrates you or doesn’t meet your expectations, it might be a sign that it is time to move your money elsewhere.

Before you close your old account, open a new account in the bank or credit union you prefer. While some financial institutions allow you to open your account online, like Alliant Credit Union, others require you to go in person to open. Once you open the new account, make your first deposit and switch over all your automatic deposits and payments. Then, you can close your old account and put it behind you.

At Alliant, you can clean-up with higher savings rates and our award-winning app.

Alliant Credit Union is 100% digital and not-for-profit, so we can reward our members by offering high savings and checking rates, low loan rates, rich credit card rewards and fewer fees. The industry’s noticed: Alliant was named “best credit union 2024” by CNBC and NerdWallet and won “best overall fintech mobile app” in the 2024 FinTech Breakthrough Awards. If you feel lost on your bank’s mobile app, switch to a winning digital experience.

Spring into action with these other financial to-do lists:

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