Clean up your (digital) act

Deleting unwanted photos, apps and files is easy and will free up precious storage space

We are all creating more data than we did before, building our digital lives and documenting it all in detail to have at our fingertips when we need it.

But that data has to go somewhere, and we can be a messy bunch, scattering data everywhere without giving it much thought.

There are many reasons to clean up our digital space. First, it’s that we only have a limited amount of storage space before we need to put our hand in our pocket. Then there’s the carbon emissions created by storing all that data. It needs to be kept somewhere, and data centres require resources to run. If you believe the figures, an email generates about 10g of CO2 every year. Multiply that by your groaning inbox and you can see where the problems can become a more serious.

To get started, take a look at your smartphone’s storage to see where the real problem lies. For iOS go to Settings, General, iPhone Storage; for Android, go to Settings.


Then you can start to tackle the worst offenders.


Digital photography has been a game changer for people. In the past, you had to pay to find out that the precious family memories you thought you were capturing were actually more like three usable images, some out of focus action shots and a few overexposed images of your children.

Cutting down on the number of photos on your smartphone is not only a good idea for the sake of your device storage and cloud back-ups, but also looking (hopefully far ahead) to the future – when someone else may be sorting through your digital legacy – and figure out why you took 24 blurry photos of your feet and the pavement.

If your smartphone is groaning under the weight of your photos, there are a couple of things you can do without having to set aside several hours to sift through each and every photo you have taken in the past seven years. For a quick win, head straight for the videos section of your gallery and get rid of anything you no longer need. They take up a huge amount of space, and binning a few unwanted files will give you breathing space.

The second thing you can do is stop WhatsApp automatically saving photos to your gallery. That setting can be found in WhatsApp, under your chat settings. It means you’ll need to remember to save any photos you want to keep, but on the plus side you won’t find your photo gallery stuffed with memes, forwarded TikTok videos and screenshots of other people’s phones.

Apple offers an easy way to trim your photos back, by helpfully organising your pictures into memories based on a common theme. So if you like to take photos of your breakfast, Apple can organise all your food theme photos into a "memory" photo album. You can then choose to delete the photos en masse within that album.

Google does something similar in its photos app, organising its back-up of your images and videos by place, person, theme and so on.

There are other tools available to help you. Apps such as Gemini will analyse your photo gallery to pick out duplicate images, blurry photos, screenshots and notes, organising them into albums that you can quickly scan through and delete images in bulk. Some features are free – screenshots, notes and images for example – but others will require a subscription to access. The good news is you can subscribe for a month, and then keep on top of it yourself (in theory). If you want to pay for the full year, Gemini has an "image radar" function that will analyse and flag new images as they hit your photo gallery, so you can delete or sort them into albums as you go.

Another option is Slidebox, which will allow you to sort photos into albums or delete them with a few swipes. There’s also a hidden photos function, so you can password protect some parts of your gallery.

For Android users, replacing your standard gallery with F-Stop Gallery will provide a clean interface to work with, allowing you to sort images with drag and drop, save tags with your images so they can be read by other programmes, sort and find photos based on metadata and hide selected images with a password protect feature.


Email was supposed to make our lives easier, but managing your inbox has become almost a full-time job.

That point was rammed home the last time I took a glance at my inbox: there they were, thousands of unread emails. On Google, an account I never thought would even approach its storage limit, there was a small red warning that I had used 99 per cent of my allocated space.

There’s a good chance that the bulk of my emails were marketing emails I’d signed up for and now rarely opened. But I don’t have the time or the inclination to start sorting through thousands of email newsletters. If you are using Gmail, you can easily delete promotional emails by selecting the promotions tab in your inbox, and deleting all messages. Ditto for messages from social networks.

But what if you don’t use the web interface for Gmail? Or what if you don’t have a Gmail account?

There are other options. On mobile, the Cleanfox app will go through your account, identify the marketing emails in your inbox, calculate how often you open them and then present you with that information in a format we can all get on board with: swiping.

Not only will it bulk delete emails for you at the tap of an icon, but it will also allow you to permanently send any future emails from that address to the bin, so it never hits your inbox. No longer have a need for baby-related emails? Auto delete with a tap on an icon or a swipe across the screen. Just want to get rid of the past emails you’ve opened? Swipe up. It’s that easy. I dealt with more than 1,000 email newsletter senders in a matter of half an hour or so.

Then all you need to do is to go back to Cleanfox once a week or so to deal with the newsletters that have landed since your last clean-up. And occasionally remember to take out the trash.

One caveat: when using automatic sorting services like this, be careful about what you agree to. Be sure to read what you are signing up before you give services unfettered access to your inbox, and you can always revoke access if you change your mind. In the case of Cleanfox, there is one setting you might want to disable. Under Settings, you’ll see an option for each of the mailboxes you have set up to clean. Click through to each mailbox and you’ll see the Foxintelligence Panel, which is an AI-powered data platform that compiles ecommerce data. You can exclude yourself – and your data – from this at the swipe of a button.

Unneeded files

We all start off with great intentions. Once we no longer need a document or file, delete it to free up space for something else. But over time, even the best intentions can slip and before you know it, your cloud storage is full of unneeded files, hogging space and potentially costing more money to upgrade storage.

If you have Google One, this is a fairly simple process. The Storage Manager will show you exactly what is taking up your space, from deleted emails to large attachments, and also large files in your Google Drive. They could be anything from backed up videos to files uploaded from your phone; if they’re large or unsupported files, Google will flag them.

Trim the back-ups

Regular back-ups are the best way to make sure you don’t lose vital data should your device break beyond repair, get lost or be stolen.

However, if you have changed devices more than once, there’s a good chance that you have some old, unnecessary back-ups taking up space on your cloud storage. To check what you have lurking on your account, go to Settings, select your Apple ID, and then iCloud and Manage Storage, and choose Back-ups. It will show you the date of the back-up, the name of it – iPad, iPhone and so on – and the size of it.

If you are sure there are some of those you can live without, select the unwanted one and hit delete.

Google back-ups work slightly differently; your device back-ups will expire if they aren’t updated regularly. If you go to your storage manager, you’ll see a list of the current back-ups and how much space they are taking up.

Unused apps

How many apps are on your phone? And how many do you actually use? Probably a fraction of what is actually taking up space on your phone. Do your phone a favour and get rid of the apps you no longer need, and their accompanying data.

iOS gives you a few options. You can offload the app, which will remove it from your phone but keep the documents and data it has created, so if you need to reinstall it, the app will work just as if it had never left your phone. That’s as long as it is in the App store, of course.

The second option is to delete the app, which is a permanent move and will also take the related data too. That frees up a surprising amount of data on your phone – and from your back ups.

While you’re there, you can also clear out old podcasts by clearing the cached or downloaded data in your favoured podcast app. That frees up a surprising amount of space by itself.