If you’re a busy person, I’m willing to bet your iPhone has become a virtual junk drawer filled with dozens of photos of lattes you really don’t need and one-time-use apps you forgot you downloaded. Even if that’s not the case and you’re pretty judicious about keeping it organized, it could likely still use a once-over every once in a while.
Your Digital Significant Other, AKA your smartphone, is ready to go on a cleanse. Here’s how I clean up my iPhone so that I can find things when I need them and don’t end up with “storage full” for photos at the most inopportune moments.
1. Declutter your Apps
Let’s start with apps, because they tend to take up a lot of space. The easiest first step is to do a quick scan and delete ones you seldom use. With apps, you don’t need to do that thing where you hang onto a shirt you haven’t worn in five years because “maybe there will be an occasion for it!” If you haven’t used it in a couple of months, ditch it. You can re-download it if you need it again, so there’s no reason to cling.
You can also prioritize which to delete by their size. Start here: Settings > General > iPhone Storage
At the top of this page you’ll see two big ideas: Offload Unused Apps and Review Large Attachments. Offloading apps means that you can save space by deleting the app but the data and preferences will stay saved on your phone, so if you need to download it again you won’t have to go through an exhaustive set-up. My phone is telling me I could save 3.9GB of space if I “Enable” Offload Unused Apps, or I could choose to manually offload particular apps one at a time.
Reviewing (and deleting) large attachments like Photos and Videos in Messages could save me almost 700MB, and if you click in there, you’ll be able to see the biggest attachments and delete them, without deleting the Messages conversation.
Underneath those are apps listed one by one, ranked in order of most bloated, with the time you last used them listed below. You can see that my Podcasts app is the biggest offender, but that I last used it today… whereas the Headspace app is quite large and I haven’t logged into it since last year. (Busted: Need to jump start my meditation practice again.)
2. Organize Apps
Once you’ve done your app purge, time to organize what’s left by creating a more streamlined organization system. This process is as personal to you as your fingerprint, so I can share some ideas but really it’s best to organize your apps the way your brain likes to see them: Some people like folders, some resent having to tap into them. Some people organize their apps by color, and some group them by “action”. I personally subscribe to the latter: I have my most-used apps on page 1, my “work” apps on page 2, my “read and watch” apps on page 3, and spillover on 4.
Once again, it’s a good time to evaluate things: How many shopping apps do you need installed on your phone (I recently deleted a bunch, since I found they just helped me part with money)? How many news apps do you need to stay informed? I deleted my CNN app on the “Read and Watch” page you see below in my commitment to be a little less glued to the news.
To move an app: press and hold to make it wiggle, then drag it around.
To create a folder: press and hold an app to make it wiggle, then drag it on top of another app and you’ll create a folder and be prompted to name it. Then you can keep dragging other apps into that folder, and just tap the home button (or swipe up, if you don’t have a home button) when you’re done.
3. Declutter your control center
The control center is revealed when you swipe down from the right side of your screen. It’s a really useful place to have one-tap access to things you use frequently, and there’s no reason to reason to have it jammed up stuff you don’t use.
To modify your control center: Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls, and choose a couple of the things you use most often. I have a shortcut for my calculator and alarm clock there. It took me a couple weeks to retrain myself to remember to use them, but now I find them there automatically.
4. Declutter your Photos
Okay, now to the 800 photos of your dog and snaps of your avocado toast from 25 different angles, AKA your photos. iPhones make taking photos so easy, they pile up quickly. Imagine how much space they’d take up in your house if they were physical photos?!
If you really want to ditch the photos you don’t want for good, there isn’t really a better way other than scrolling through and selecting big batches and then hitting “Delete.”
But if you’d rather just get them off of your phone, you can back them up to the cloud, your laptop, or an external drive (depending on what the storage space looks like in those places), and then clear them off completely.
I used to use iCloud to back up my photos, but it required a lot of editing on my part to make sure I didn’t bump up against storage limitations. I got tired of seeing that “your iCloud is full. Upgrade to more storage” alert, so I now use Google Photos.
Google Photos is free storage for an unlimited amount of photos and videos, up to 16MP and 1080p HD (which is enough resolution for most uses, unless you’re planning on printing VERY large posters of your family vacation). Best of all it happens automatically— I can set it to automatically back up my photos to the cloud, so my phone never hits its limit. Then I can access my pictures from any phone, tablet, or computer. Google Photos also does neat little tricks like find all the pictures of “dogs” without you having to tag them… it just recognizes dogs through AI.
5. Declutter your Music
If you’re still storing music on your phone, I say it’s time to move on. This from someone who used to spend hours each weekend pruning, cultivating and otherwise tending to her music library. If you don’t want to lose the albums you downloaded a decade ago, back them up to your laptop or the cloud and then switch to a streaming music platform. Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and others all allow you access to vast libraries of music without taking up much space. Is the monthly subscription fee annoying? Yes. Is the convenience of having access to any song ever too good to pass up, if you’re a real music lover? Also yes.
6. Declutter your Caches
This is one interesting clean-out tactic you may not have heard of: Just like the browser on your computer, your phone’s browser and some apps save data on your behavior, and that can take up space.
To clear your Safari cache: Open Safari and tap the icon that looks like an open book at the bottom of the screen. On the next screen, tap the icon at the top that looks like a clock, and then the word “Clear” will pop up in the bottom right corner of the screen. Tap that!
Apps like Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram also save data. For each, go into your settings and look for options to “clear the cache” or “clear data.”
We spend TONS of time in our digital spaces, so if you’re like me and work hard to make your physical space beautiful and clutter-free, I think you should consider investing some time in making your digitalspace feel the same way.
Now you’re ready to rock your super streamlined, organized iPhone (and take even more latte and cute dog photos).