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You’ve Cleaned Your House, Your Yard and Your Garage. Up Next? Your Computer

6 minute read

If you’re one of the millions of people largely stuck at home during the COVID-19 outbreak, you may be trying to pass the time by cleaning up your house or your yard. But it’s also a good time to get your digital life in order, too.

Now’s the perfect time to crack open your computer, organize your files, digitize your old family photos, and more. Here are five ways to clean up your computer.

Use a Document Scanner App to Digitize Important Papers

Yes, you’ve got a ton of papers in your filing cabinet — old tax returns, receipts, birth certificates, what have you — but if it all goes up in smoke, that’s the end of that. Luckily, you don’t need a bulky scanner to get these documents digitized properly. Your smartphone’s camera is more than good enough for capturing your documents, depending on the app. It helps to have them digitally available, if only to have them handy during an emergency.

If you’re a businessperson through and through, or know you’ll be digitizing lots of work-related material, you can use Microsoft’s Office Lens app for iOS or Android. It supports OCR, making for searchable PDFs and Word files. If you want to import contacts, you can scan business cards and easily import them into OneNote.

If you want versatility no matter the cost, you can also check out Scanbot, available on iOS and Android. A subscription to (or pricey one-time purchase of) Scanbot Pro unlocks a host of genuinely useful and time-saving features, like higher quality scans, auto-uploading, folder creation, encryption, and the ability to search within documents.

Use Password Managers to Organize Your Passwords and Personal Effects

After you digitize your documents, you’ll want to store them in a secure place. Sure, you can stick most of them in a folder on your computer, or in your cloud storage service of choice, but those especially personal documents should be stored somewhere safer. Instead of sticking them in a password-protected .ZIP file you keep in a flash drive inside your safe (just me?), why not store them in a more secure and civilized manner: using your password manager, where you keep the rest of your sensitive personal information (right?).

In addition to storing important user names and passwords, apps like 1Password or LastPass can store other types of data, like bank account numbers, social security cards, driver’s licenses, medical paperwork, report cards (I guess), and more. They can all be stored and encrypted securely within your password manager, associated with logins for easy access to related documents, and tagged for easy reference when you need a bunch of seemingly unrelated files for a project or incident.

Use an Actual Scanner to Digitize Photos

If you’re trying to digitize actual photographs and not just your income tax documents, using the camera on your smartphone might not be the best idea. While fantastic for documents, using it to capture your childhood memories means you’re essentially creating a photo of a photo, degrading the original image along the way. Your options? Either a flatbed scanner (or purpose-built photo scanner) or a photo scanning service like DigMyPics are effective ways to go (though if you’re looking to stay inside as much as possible, you’re better off doing it at home).

When looking for a document scanner, you’re bound to see references to scan resolution, and numbers like 300, 600, and even 1200 DPI (dots per inch). You can think of dots as pixels — the higher the DPI, the easier it is to recreate or enlarge your photos. That also means scans with a high DPI will result in larger files than their lower-DPI counterparts. Keep in mind, when looking at maximum resolution capabilities of your scanner, there’s a difference between optical and digital resolution. Like optical and digital zoom on your camera, some scanners fake the funk, advertising higher digital resolution scans that can make enlarging images easier, but at the cost of detail.

Use Tags to Organize Your Files and Ditch the Dead Documents

On a Mac, you can use tags to categorize your files based on whatever names you think works best for your organizing style. Add client names to wedding photos, or add your children’s names to their personal documents or photos you’ve scanned. If you’re doing research, you can use the tagging system to categorize and classify the files you’re using on your project. Organize them by color or use actual words to keep things readable.

Tagging in Windows is less intuitive, but still possible. You can view a file’s tags by right-clicking and selecting Properties, then the Details pane. There you can add as many tags as you’d like, making searching for your important documents dead simple.

Rename Your Photos in Bulk for Simple Searching

But what about those photos from your digital camera, named in a way that makes them impossible to find or sort in any real way? You need a batch renamer, friend. For the Mac, A Better Finder Rename is an awkwardly-named yet powerful file renaming app that will make short work of your vacation photos. The app lets you rename multiple files at once based on a variety of criteria, like file creation date, file type, photo EXIF data, and more. That means you can change those weirdly named files (like IMG_3023034.JPG) into something more legible, like 2018-02-03-vacation.jpg, which lets you know when the photo was taken and for what occasion.

On Windows, similar apps (like Advanced Renamer) can solve the same problem. Combined with software like Hazel, which automatically organizes files based on preset or custom factors, you can keep your documents in the right folders, images in the right places, and funny GIFs in your meme folder where they belong.

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Write to Patrick Lucas Austin at patrick.austin@time.com