Appitude: Decluttering your mobile phone is a good way to start the New Year

Virginia Heffernan is the national correspondent for Yahoo! News, covering culture and politics from a digital perspective. She wrote extensively on Internet culture during her eight years as a staff writer for The New York Times, and she has also worked at Harper’s, the New Yorker and Slate. Her book, “Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet,” is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.
By Virginia Heffernan

The New Year is not the time to get a new app. Your iPhone is bloated; it can barely load the apps you already have. It is groaning under the weight of all those "productivity" gimcracks you stuffed onto it in 2012. Nothing can update. The battery is a sieve. The phone is in a stupor. You don't need apps. You need a svelte, swift and actually smart smartphone--the kind that only an elimination diet can achieve.

First: turn off push notifications and location services. These give the battery migraines by constantly recruiting juice for their chronic silliness. Some child put an app called Dragon Story on my phone. Now I get pressing bulletins telling me my loyal subjects miss me and need my attention. A dram of actual guilt in me is activated by this appeal to my sense of lordly responsibility. But more than that the battery has had to bestir itself to serve me this non-news. No wonder I'm down to 85 percent before the sun's up.

Location services work the same way. When that tracker's on, your phone is always trying to find you, like the mother of a teen. It also wants to let your friends find you, lest someone on Snapchat or Twitter lose track of, say, your trip to Chipotle or the eyebrow-waxing salon. Noble as this surveillance minutia may be, and as vital to the preservation of the digital republic, it's OK to go off the grid.

Then it's time to declutter. Interesting that my iPad doesn't recognize the word "declutter" and prefers "deck utter." Is that because our Cupertino overlords don't want their loyal subjects to know about app clutter and how to purge it?

Well, here's the truth: ditch all "productivity" apps -- the insidious ones with checklists like "Things" that graciously allow you to, um, make lists of all the things you have to do. These apps slow your iPhone down, drive you batty with their fussy interfaces and keep your from doing anything on your list. All you can do is make lists. And slowly. These apps are to slow-phone people what heaps of organizing files and hangers and boxes are to hoarders. They are part of the problem. The most depressing part.

Now ditch all vanity apps. I oohed over The Elements and Alice when they first appeared. I've downloaded every pretty, praised astronomy app in the history of the firmament, hoping somehow I'd become one those dreamy science girls who knows what the Pleides is. I did not. I never looked at The Elements again either except to show it off. Goodbye, form and reference. I need function and sharing.

Finally with ecommerce apps like the ones from FreshDirect and Amazon, delete them when you're done with them and reinstall them when you need them. The reinstall is quick and free but there's no use having apps you use weekly or less sitting around jamming up the works. Sign in and all your data is right there; you're not going to lose old orders and saved credit cards when you delete the app; that's all in the cloud.

Clear out one corner, one drawer, one room at a time, as they do on "Hoarders." and be gentle with yourself. For many there's fear attached to riddance. But you know what to do. Declutter, enjoy your refreshed phone, and then download some new cool game featuring field mice and mangoes and start all over again.

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