If you’ve never bothered to organize the apps on your phone, clean out old files or wrangle your notifications into a sensible order, that disorder can make your phone an overwhelming, slow and buggy device. You can fix this and give your phone new life. Decluttering takes just a few minutes.
Delete apps you don’t use
Ever downloaded an app for a single purpose, such as a conference, work meeting or vacation, and then left that app on your phone to digitally rot away on the home screen? Be honest.
The fastest, easiest way to declutter your phone is to get rid of apps you don’t need, and both Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android provide simple ways to figure out which apps you don’t use.
The easiest way to find those neglected apps is to look at all of your apps in a list, organized by the ones you use least often. On an iPhone, head to Settings, General, iPhone Storage. On Android, open the Play Store, tap the hamburger menu in the top-left corner, tap My Apps & Games, Installed, Alphabetical and change it to Last Used. Delete apps that are listed as Never Used or that you haven’t opened in months. I also prefer to delete rarely used apps for services where I can just use the website instead.
Once you’ve cleared out apps you don’t need, it’s time to organize the home screen. Everyone’s sense of order is different, but having a system — any system — in place is useful to prevent clutter in the future.
Melanie Pinola, managing editor for Zapier, has a simple method for organizing folders: “One thing I learned is to group apps into folders by verb or action. So, ‘Write,’ ‘Contact,’ ‘Read,’ etc. This makes it easier to get directly to what you want to do on your phone and is also gratifying in a way to tie an app you’re opening with a purpose and action item.”
Sometimes organization is fruitless, and if your phone takes too much time to organize, there’s one easy solution: Don’t bother.
Instead, get in the practice of launching apps from the search menu. On an iPhone, pull down on the home screen to open search, type the first few letters of an app name, and then tap the app when it pops up. On Android, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to pull up the app drawer and then start typing. Once you get the hang of launching apps like this, I recommend limiting your home screen to four or five rows of apps you use the most and hiding everything else on another page.
Free up storage
Sometimes I miss 16 gigabyte phones — the studio apartments of phones — which required a certain mindfulness and decision-making to prevent them from overflowing. In this age of nearly infinite storage, it’s easy to collect more junk, and as you run out of space your phone begins to feel sluggish. To clear this out and speed up your phone, you need to peek into some menus you may have never visited.
First up are your messages. Threads filled with GIFs, memes, videos and photos can take up a ton of space. In iOS, you can change how long your phone stores messages so it clears out those old threads automatically, without you having to do it.
Head to Settings, Messages, and Keep Messages. Once there, set how long you want to keep messages before they self-destruct. If you want to keep the text but delete attachments, head instead to Settings, General, then iPhone Storage, scroll down to Messages and then tap Review large Attachments. This screen will show you all the big files.
Android’s Messages app doesn’t have a setting like this, but you can swipe left or right on a message thread in Messages to archive old threads. Most third-party apps, including WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, have some means to clear out old messages.
The biggest storage hogs on your phone are likely photos and videos. Back them up to an online cloud backup service like Apple iCloud, Google Photos or Amazon’s Prime Photos. Once you back up the photos, you can delete them from your phone and access them remotely through the backup service.
If you’re still short on space even after taking those steps, the culprit might be an app that’s hoarding data. Podcasts, music services and video apps are usually the biggest offenders. To see what’s taking up space in iOS, head to Settings, General, then iPhone Storage. On Android, pull down the notification shade, tap the cog and then select Storage. This screen displays a list of all the apps on your phone.
For example, the Amazon Prime Video app on my phone takes up two gigabytes of space, even though I’ve never downloaded a video. To clear out app data on an iPhone, tap the app from the Storage screen and then tap Offload. Once the phone is done deleting everything, tap Reinstall. On Android, tap the app name and then the Clear Cache button.
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A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.