Clear out mobile phone apps

I think at some point I might retroactively add a category for “life laundry”. There are so many things in our modern lives that pile up and add distraction or mental baggage. There’s a place for passions and hobbies, of course, but most of us now exist surrounded by reams and reams of stuff we don’t really need or have time to make use of. Everything piles up: email, regular mail, tasks, clothes, social media, software, half finished projects, boxes of junk in the garage or attic. Just as it’s healthy to clear all the unused clothes out of your closet once in a while, it’s healthy to reduce things down elsewhere as well.  It gives you a bit more space to focus.  Reduces that mental baggage I mentioned earlier.

One of the smallest and yet most prolific areas of clutter in my life is mobile apps. Hundreds of the little buggers have somehow marched onto my iPhone and taken up residence (and the same would be true for Android, if I were using that… this post is brand and device agnostic).  The why is obvious; apps are generally very cheap, if not free, there’s a vast array of wildly diverse little curios, and they’re really easy to install with a couple of taps and the time it takes them to download and unpack.

Unlike most of the other things I mentioned apps don’t take up any physical space, but they make up in other ways. They occupy your screen, put distractions permanently in your peripheral vision, clutter your phone when you actually need something, eat up the capacity you might otherwise have wasted on thousands of pointless photos and, in some cases, drain your phone battery.

cluttered iphone appsThat picture, up there, that’s my iPhone. I make it 142 apps, quite a few of which are buried in ugly iOS folders. I’m not holding this up as a particularly extreme example, in fact am sure I’m merely average; no doubt there are people out there with thousands. I think iOS limits you to 9 screens, with many folders on each. I bet someone has hit the upper limit without trying. But still, it’s a lot of clutter.

I hold on to them for several reasons. If it’s an app I regularly use, fine. Sometimes there are apps I rarely use, but do want for those occasional occasions. Also fine. The rest though? There are a lot of other apps that I keep because they’re great, even though I will never use them again. Plants vs Zombies is a brilliant game I completed years ago, for example, and which now has a sequel, but which I keep around just in case I want to break out the melonpults and smash some coneheads. I never will. There are those apps I think maybe one day I will actually need, like Hotel Tonight or Color Cap, and would regret deleting. There are apps that are pointless but flashy gimmicks I hold on to purely to show other people how cool I am.  Then there are games I got bored of, but hadn’t quiet finished, so can’t bring myself to remove for lack of resolution.  Those that I paid for, and didn’t like, but kept around because I paid for them. And finally those I should have deleted months or even years ago, but cling onto for … well, for some unknown reason.

I also have a whole folder called “unused”, full of those mandatory Apple apps that can’t be removed (the immortal Stocks app makes me want to switch to Android), but also quite a few more that I just put there as a halfway house rather than evicting them for good. Appurgatory.

Actually, excuse me for a moment

…right thanks for waiting. I just needed to change the name of that folder from “unused” to “appurgatory”.

Seeing as most apps can back up settings and saves to the cloud, and can be re-downloaded at any time for free, there’s really no excuse. Time to do some uninstalling.

I would would use iTunes to go through them, if iTunes wasn’t bizarrely, inexcusably dreadful. How the company that designed the iPhone and iMac also designed that dreadful, unintuitive mess of an interface I will never know. It’s got incrementally better over the years, but I’m still dismayed anew whenever I boot it up. So the manual route then: delete them one by one.

I came up with a rough system, partly to force decisions but also to drag this out so that I would have enough to justify a week’s worth of blog post. I put everything in folders on late pages and then, over the week, moved any app I used back to the front. By the end of the week I could see what remained: all the unused apps I probably don’t actually need. One by one I picked through them and uninstalled whenever I could.

All in all, I managed to remove 57, reducing the clutter by more than a third. It’s a nice feeling, actually. I know they’re only little curved-edged icons, occupying only virtual space, but en masse they manage to produce mental clutter. I like my phone stripped down to what I actually need. OK, “need” is relative. But stripped down to the things that I actually use, at least.

I thought I’d find myself re-installing a few, in the week that followed, with a little uninstallers remorse, but no. They have stayed uninstalled. turns out I really didn’t need them.

I really recommend having a clean-out like this, though my process was unnecessary faffery. Better just to work your way through, one by one, and be rigorous in deleting anything you can find an excuse to. Would probably only take 20 minutes. The battery on your phone will thank you.

  • Difficulty: Easy. Just take 15mins and be strict about what you need.
  • Worthwhiliness: Medium. It’s a good feeling to clear out what you don’t need.

Header image is by Blake Patterson.