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How to Clean Up Your Computer

Abbi Perets
Find Under: Prevention

We all know how frustrating it is to wait for a slow computer to open documents and digital images. Even worse, it’s heartbreaking when a computer crashes and your family loses valuable data that probably can’t be recovered.

If this sounds like your computer, there is something you can do to improve its performance: Tidy up and reorganize. With a few clicks of your mouse -- and a lot less effort than it takes to spring clean your house -- you can restore your computer to its former speedy glory.

Mary E. Tyler, a technology journalist, says she straightens up her computer to keep it from getting bogged down with unnecessary clutter. "I clean out my documents, downloads and email attachment folders a few times a year," she says.

You don't need technical know-how to clean out your computer, but you do need a plan. Here's how to get started:

1. Delete the digital dust bunnies We all have clutter-catching spots in our homes -- the coffee table where magazines pile up, for example. Same goes for your computer. Here are some tricks for digital dusting.

  • Organize documents In your Documents or My Documents folder, delete outdated documents. Next, create folders to store files you need to keep. You might make a homework folder for each of your kids, and separate folders for taxes, bills, travel and household maintenance.

  • Toss temporary files Most people don't realize that computers sometimes create temporary files as you're working or surfing the Internet. Temp files are usually created by programs on your computer that need to store big chunks of information temporarily in order to function. These temp files are saved on your computer.

    To get rid of these files, you first have to locate your Temporary folder. For most computers you just have to open My Computer on the desktop, select Properties, and click the Disk Cleanup button. In Disk Cleanup, check the boxes for Temporary Files and Recycle Bin. Then Click OK. Before you know it, your computer will be starting up faster and launching programs more quickly.

  • Clear the cache The cache is where your computer stores copies of the web sites you've visited in the past. It's a good idea to clear the cache every three or four months. Otherwise, when you try to access a web site, your computer first checks the cache to compare the stored version of the web page to the current page. Meanwhile, you have to sit and wait for the site to load.

    To clear the cache and history files in most browsers, such as Internet Explorer, go to the Start menu and choose Settings. Then select the Control Panel and choose Internet Options. Under Temporary Internet Files, click Delete Files and Clear History. Or, when your browser is open, select Preferences under the browser's name in the main menu, such as "Firefox." Click the Privacy tab. Then click the Cache tab to clean it out.

  • Sort through old email Your email program is like a giant file cabinet on your computer. To get rid of the messages, try sorting by sender or subject and just delete your way down the list. Delete emails from unknown senders, especially those with attachments that could be viruses.

2. Tidy up your workspace If you have dozens of files and documents scattered all over your desktop, it's time to get them organized.

  • File file file Take fifteen minutes or so to go through the files on your desktop. You know, all those icons of digital photos, music files your kids downloaded or the letters you wrote to family? File them in their rightful homes in My Documents or create new folders to hold them.

    When your desktop is cleared off, create two new folders, To File and To Print. Now when you download files from the Internet, or need to print an email attachment, you can store them neatly in one of these folders until you're ready to deal with them. Don't forget to delete To Print files after you've printed them.

  • Delete unwanted programs You probably wouldn't keep a closet full of clothes that didn't fit, or a refrigerator full of expired food. Along the same lines, you don't want to keep computer programs your family no longer uses because they take up valuable space. To prune your programs, try this: Go to the Windows Start menu, choose Settings and select the Control Panel. Choose Add/Remove to delete old programs you no longer use -- or games your kids are tired of playing. On a Mac, simply delete the program from your Application folder on your hard drive.

  • Rethink your favorites Review your Favorites or Bookmarks folder in your web browsers. Delete the sites you no longer visit, and organize what's leftover in folders. Try designating a folder for each family member, or go with broad categories like health, news and food.

3. Check in hidden nooks and crannies Once a year or so, spend a little bit of time doing a deep cleaning on your computer. Here are the basics.

  • Clean your hard drive Your computer stores information in little bits and pieces all over the place. You can help your computer clean itself up by running a defrag program which helps your computer reorganize itself properly. Start by going to the Windows Start menu. Select All Programs, then choose Accessories. Click System Tools, Defragmenter. With one click, your computer will put "its stuff" away properly.

  • Sift through the spyware If you and your kids go online a lot, chances are, you've picked up some spyware and adware along the way. These programs track your actions and inundate you with those annoying pop-up windows, so you want to get rid of them. To do this, download a reputable spyware removal program and run it regularly.

  • Update software and system Once you've cleaned your computer, go ahead and update your most-used software programs or operating system. To update programs, you can use the Tools menu in Internet Explorer to launch Windows Update. Or select Software Update from the Apple menu on a Mac. It will find and install updates -- including security updates -- automatically for you.

Finally, when you have completed your clean up, the last step is to take out the trash. Under the Finder or Properties menu, empty the trash in one click. You'll see that with regular maintenance, your computer will work more efficiently -- and so will you.

Copyright (c) Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

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