Going Paperless: 5 Paperless Spring Cleaning Tips

I am currently away on an Internet Vacation. I’ll be back online on March 31. I have written one new post for each day of my Vacation so that folks don’t miss me too much while I am gone. But keep in mind, these posts have been scheduled ahead of time. Feel free to comment, as always, but note that since I am not checking email, I will likely not be replying to comments until I am back from my Vacation on March 31. With that said, enjoy!

Spring has arrived, although you wouldn’t know it looking out my home office window. We had snow yesterday1 and it was probably the most we’ve had so far this season. I grabbed this photo yesterday morning when the snow was still falling steadily:

spring snow

So while it doesn’t quite feel like spring yet, it is spring, and spring is a time of birth and renewal and, of course, spring-cleaning. The dilemma to the paperless lifestyle, of course, is figuring out what to “clean” when you have no piles of paper to organize. So in today’s post, I have a few spring cleaning tips for the person who doesn’t really have an old box of paper to rummage through, or an old filing cabinet to clean out.

Tip #1: Clean out your bookmarks

I find that I am not a big users of bookmarks any more. I work almost entirely in Google Chrome and I do make use of the Bookmark Bar for the most-frequently used sites. Otherwise, it has been a while since I’ve used my bookmarks. But lots of people still do and when I’ve had the occasion to see someone else’s bookmark list, I’ve been astonished with how long it is. Bookmarks, I take it, are things that are collected and never purged.

Well, the beginning of spring is a perfect time to clean out your bookmarks. Different browsers function differently, but in most cases, it’s pretty easy to view a list of all of your bookmarks. The procedure is pretty easy. Once you have the list up:

  1. Review each item on the list
  2. If you don’t use it, get rid of it.

As far as “reviewing” goes, if you are not sure, you can probably err on the side of getting rid of it. Still, one test you can make is to actually click on the bookmark. You may discover that the site you’ve linked to no longer exists and that would be clue enough that the bookmark is no longer needed.

Some browsers allow you to sort your bookmarks by the last time they were used. In this case, start at the bottom of the list (the ones you haven’t touched in a long time) and work your way up.

Tip #2: Purge your RSS feed

Google announced the retirement of Google Reader this coming July, and so you are going to have to migrate your RSS feeds elsewhere if you are using Google Reader. So why not take advantage of spring to include a purging of your RSS feed as part of your spring cleaning. I went through this exercise recently and I eliminated dozens of feeds that I don’t really read.

If you do this before Google Reader goes away (assuming you use Google Reader) you can make use of their stats to determine which feeds you read and which you don’t. Here is a glance at my RSS reading stats provided by Google Reader:

RSS Stats

Using a tool like this can make it easy to identify which RSS feeds you can purge from your list, but the truth is, you don’t need a tool like this. You probably know it in your gut and just need to do it.

Tip #3: Simplify your Evernote tags

I try to limit my use of tags in Evernote for very specific functions, but methods of tagging are as varied as users of the tool. I imagine that newer users to Evernote tend to go tag-crazy. If you feel like you’ve gone tag crazy, take advantage of spring-cleaning to review and simplify your tag structure in Evernote. Evernote on the Mac makes it easy to see all of your tags at a glance with their powerful “Tags” view. I recommend 3 simple steps for reviewing and simplifying your tags:

  1. Make use of the Tag view (in Windows, without such a view, it is a little tricker, obviously)
  2. Look for any tags that are not associated with any notes. If you’ve got tags without notes (“dangling tags?”), you can probably get rid of them. They are not performing any function2.
  3. Sort the Tag view by note count and then look at those tags with only a handful of notes associated with them. The number will vary based on how many notes you have. My own rule of thumb: if I have a tag with less than 5 notes, I can probably get rid of the tag.

Here is what my Tag view looks like, sorted by tag count. The stuff circled in red is stuff that I’d keep, based on my own criteria. The stuff x-ed out in yellow are tags that I would consider purging.

Tag cleaning


Tip #4: Clean out your paperless “inbox” or “clippings” folder

When I scan documents into Evernote, they go into my Inbox notebook by default. When I clip stuff from the web with either the Evernote Web Clipper or Evernote Clearly, those notes go into a Clippings notebook.

In either case, I try to keep up with the contents of those notebooks, refiling the scans in my inbox regularly or reading and either deleting or refiling the contents of my Clippings notebook. Sometimes I fall behind, especially with the latter. Spring cleaning provides the perfect opportunity for reviewing both of these notebooks and getting rid of–or refiling–the stuff that doesn’t belong there.

If you have similar notebooks, you might consider doing the same.

And, just so you know, I’ve been particularly bad at purging my Clippings notebook lately, which at present contains 136 notes that still need to be reviewed. So don’t feel bad if you are in the same boat.

Tip #5: Clean up your virtual desktops (including mobile!)

Another place the paperless person can look to for spring cleaning opportunities is your virtual desktop. Because, being paperless, your actual desktop is perfectly neat, right3?

I keep my iMac desktop pretty neat. It’s just the way that I work. And there really isn’t a “desktop” on my Google Chromebook. Where I find myself getting into the most trouble is on my iPhone and iPad. Those desktops tend to grow apps the way a spring lawn tends to grow weeds. I try to get that under control by getting rid of apps that I don’t use, and organizing my mobile desktops in a way that gives me fastest access to the apps I use most frequently. I did this just the other day and here is the result on my iPhone:


The Evernote Blog has some additional tips for spring cleaning and I’d encourage you to check it out. Good luck!

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

  1. Yes, I snuck in and edited this post so that I could complain about the late snow.
  2. I realize that folks using tagging to managing GTD might very well have tags with no notes. You know who you are.
  3. At the moment, mine is far from it.


  1. Jamie,

    What new RSS feed reader are you planning on switching to now that Google Reader is going away? Just looking for a good replacement.


  2. Thank you, Jamie, I love your Going Paperless series, and these spring cleaning tips came in just handy. However, tip #3 “Simplify your Evernote tags” is a little more difficult as it seems on first glance, because the notes that contain a tag which gets deleted will get a new date assigned – and this might not be what you want. Unfortunately I don’t see how I copuld avoid this. Any idea?

    1. Reinhard,

      I just tried creating a test note w/ a test tag and set the create date to 1/1/2001. Deleting the tag changes the update date/time, not the created date/date. Personally I find the created field to be more valuable but I can see how one could have preference for the updated field.


      1. Daniel, thank you for getting back. Yes, I referred to the update date, sorry for not making that clear. I use both dates – that’s what Jamie recommends here, too, I guess – and for me it’s not so ideal if the removal of a tag changes one of them. However I see that this is certainly a totally logical behavior for what one would expect from an update date stamp. So I guess I’ll have to live with changing it back afterwards, or abandon the deletion of outdates tags. 🙂


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