Show Your Computer a Little Love This Valentine’s Day
Ok, it’s Valentine’s Day!
But did you also know it’s “Clean Out Your Computer Day”? I’ll bet you didn’t. Yes, the second Monday of February is a day to celebrate our computers and give them a good old cleaning. After all, our computers probably know more about us than our partners or best friends. Don’t they deserve our loving attention?
Not surprisingly, it was the Institute of Business Technology that founded “Clean Out Your Computer Day” back in 2000. This day shouldn’t be confused with “National Clean Your Virtual Desktop Day” which is held on the second Monday in October and was founded by the folk at the Personal Computer Museum in Brantford, Ontario Canada.
It is estimated that the average computer is 5 ½ years old, old enough to have gathered a lot of dust, coffee stains, and finger grime, not to mention unused apps, bloated inboxes, and who knows what sort of malware infections. So today is the day to show your computer, your laptop, and even your trusty smartphone some love.
Before cleaning the exterior of the computer and the keyboard and monitor, I recommend turning the computer off. Some recommend touching a piece of metal to discharge any residual static charge that we humans carry before touching the sensitive parts of the computer.
Start by taking a good look at your keyboard. The keyboard is where we get most intimate with our digital partner. Look at those fingerprints! Look at the dust, cat hair, and grime in between the keys. Best to shut the computer down and take a soft lint-free cloth (like you use to clean your glasses or monitor screen) to wipe the keyboard gently. I’ve been known to use wipes specially made for this task. A can of compressed air is recommended for blowing out the detritus that gets in under the keys. You can even buy soft brushes for cleaning between the keys. I use a sable hair watercolour brush for this purpose.
You can also use that soft cloth and screen cleaner on your monitor but did you know that cleaning monitor screens differ depending on whether you’re using a Mac or a PC? I didn’t either so that’s why I went to Good Housekeeping for advice. They’ll even tell you how to sanitize your screen too.
This is where the real meaning of “Clean Out Your Computer Day” comes into being. Open your Applications folder and review your apps. Are you still using them all? Delete the software, programs, or apps you no longer require. Remember, if you really need to, you can always download it again. Check first to see if the app comes with a delete process. I have a Mac and use a “Delete Apps” app to remove unwanted software and apps and it works well. Check your computer manual for instructions on removing unwanted software. PC users might find this link useful while Mac owners might try this one.
While you’re reviewing your programs, this is a good time to update the programs you plan to keep. I know many people who ignore update notifications from program developers. But these updates are usually meant to enhance your program and remedy security weaknesses. Finally, back up your work, ideally to an external hard drive as well as to a cloud storage service like the iCloud (Apple), Google storage, Dropbox, or something similar.
Reduce the Load
With hard drive storage increasing, our computers are quickly becoming bloated and heavy. I know folk who have thousands of emails in their inbox, dozens of files scattered across their desktop, and countless folders, files, photos, music etc in their Documents and other folders. Get in the habit of reducing the load. Learn to archive your emails or delete the ones you really no longer need. Here’s a how-to article that might help you get back your lean, mean, email machine. Same with documents. Set aside some time to downsize a document or photo folder. Move your photos to an online photo storage site like Google Photos, Flickr, or Amazon Photos. Use cloud storage for documents as well as your own external hard drive. If you’re not sure how to do these things, Google for help. There are lots of articles and videos that can help you reclaim your computer’s vitality.
And once you’ve tidied up your files and folders, back them up regularly.
The Inner Works — Defragging (Windows) and Disk Utility (Mac)
Unless you’re a computer or tech wizard, I don’t recommend opening up your computer. However, there’s one thing you can do that will help your computer run more smoothly. If you’re a Windows user, you can defrag your computer. To understand “defragging” you have to understand that every time you save, delete, change, and re-save your data on your hard drive (the storage device in your computer), that data gets fragmented. In other words, bits of the document you’re working on get fragmented and stored in different places on your hard drive. That means your computer has to work harder to find and assemble it for you when you want it. De-fragging brings all that data back together again. Your computer will thank you for it or you will thank your computer for doing it. Some people defrag every month but try to remember to do it at least twice a year.
Mac users have a program called “Disk Utility” that features a “First Aid” function. Using this will check your hard disk for errors and fix them or at least tell you what’s wrong. Most of the time it will fix them too. There are 3rd party programs for Macs and PCs you can download but personally, I don’t recommend them unless you really know what you’re doing.
Keep in mind that it’s likely that everything from access to your computer to online accounts is password protected. Do you know where your passwords are? Do you write them down in a little book? Where’s that book? Do you use an online password manager like Dashlane or LastPass? If so, where do you keep the master password to access those managers? Imagine if something happened to you and you were unable to tell anyone where your passwords were. How would they take care of your online banking and social media accounts? How would they even open your computer or smartphone if it's password-protected? Make sure that someone you trust knows how to access your passwords.
And finally, check that you have an anti-virus and/or anti-malware program installed. Windows computers have one installed by default but you want to make sure it’s turned on. For years, Apple has boasted that its computers aren’t subject to virus attacks and for a long time their security was good. But Macs are not invincible so investing in an anti-virus program is worth the peace of mind. There are too many to mention but popular ones are AVG, Malwarebytes, Symantec Norton, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and Panda are just some of the offerings out there.
There you go. A short primer on showing your computer a little love on this “Clean Out Your Computer Day”.
Michael Williams, Ph.D., Storyteller, StoryCoach, End-of-Life Planning Facilitator & Educator