A Guide To Simplifying Your Digital Life

We clean our rooms; we clean our drawers and we throw away stuff we don’t need, but digitally we don’t seem to bother.

If our digital life was a room, the room would be filled with 10000+ unread emails, old social media accounts we don’t use anymore and apps that we haven’t used in months but we keep it “just in case”.

So, here’s a little guide I put together to help you clean this mess up! 🤓


Your Apps

Scroll through your phone and find apps that you don’t use and delete them, then find apps that you don’t feel like give you any value or wastes your time and delete them.

On Android, there are apps that can help you do this (arguably, you could say this is a “Just In Case” app). My preferred one is Unused App Remover, I like this app because it has no-thrills and it just gets the job done.

Any apps that you can’t delete, try and disable or hide them from your phone.


Your Photos

For this, I’d recommend you’d upload all your photos onto cloud storage so you’d be able to access them anywhere.

If you’re not a huge privacy geek like me and you really like the Google Eco-system, then I’d recommend Google Photos. It has unlimited photo storage (albeit, kinda compressed but you really can’t see the difference) and it has useful features such as facial recognition which will automatically group photos according to who is in the photo.

(Not my image)

Other alternatives are uploading all your photos to a traditional cloud storage platform such as Dropbox or just using Apple iCloud, which is already quite integrated with iOS.

Now, scroll through your photos and delete duplicate images, weird screenshots you don’t need or random accidental selfies you’ve taken.


Your Notifications

I never really paid attention to notifications before. I used to just let them build up, but what I’ve found out is that, not only unnecessary notifications look really untidy, but they make you become less productive. Let’s fix that!

On Android

This may vary between devices due to Android versions and Android skins.

  1. Go into Settings
  2. Click Apps and Notifications
  3. Click “Notifications”
  4. Click “See all from last 7 days”
  5. Disable the ones you don’t click on or need

ON ios (iphones)

This may vary between each iOS

  1. Go into Settings
  2. Click “Notifications”
  3. Click on the apps you get unnecessary notifications from
  4. Hide them into the notification center or disable them completely

Your Computer Files

My computer files are the most messiest dump of ’digital waste‘ you will probably ever see. Full of images, .exe files and a lot of After Effects project files. You’ll probably be able to relate to an extent.

One step would be to put all your computer files on Cloud Storage, and using a sync client to integrate it with your File Explorer/Finder. The most popular Cloud Storage providers, such as Google Drive, Dropbox and iCloud (integrated into MacOS) should already have a sync client that you can use.

After doing this, you should re-evaluate all the files you have on your computer and think about whether or not you should move them onto cloud storage or delete them.

I’d then sort it all into folders that would act as little categories for all your files.

To do this I used MEGA, a privacy-first and encrypted Cloud Storage provider based in New Zealand that has plans that don’t break the bank and can be used on all devices.

This should remove all the clutter from your computer and should make it easier to navigate, not just on your computer but also on your mobile device.


Social Media

This is probably by far the most embarrassing one, I’m saying that from experience. 😂

TWITTER

Take a trip back into memory lane and scroll through your Twitter feed and delete the tweets you don’t want anyone to see.

If you don’t wanna go through all of that, there are tools like TweetDelete that are able to delete all tweets or certain tweets from a time period.

FACEBOOK & INSTAGRAM

On Facebook, there’s a tool called ‘Limit Past Posts’ which will hide your current and past timeline posts. To find this, it’s in Settings > Privacy > Limit Past Posts. There are also Chrome extensions you can get like Social Book Post Manager, which can delete years worth of posts and images.

On Instagram, there are apps like Cleaner for Instagram which let you select how many photos you want deleted. If you want to keep your images, there is an archive button in the Instagram app.


Your Emails

This is the worst one.

My emails are mostly full of old email subscriptions I have never opened and loads of spam emails from companies that wanna give me ‘FREE SAMPLES’. Let’s solve that!

Do anyone still believe these?

The most manual way of doing this is to just scroll through your emails and then delete/unsubscribe the emails that you don’t really open or bring value to you.

To do that, it would be really labor intensive and it would take a long time as I have so many unread emails. Fortunately, there are apps like Cleanfox that can let you do that!

The app allows you to unsubscribe to mailing lists quickly. Swipe left to delete these emails or swipe right to unsubscribe from them, There is a keep button in the center in case you want to keep that mailing list and that email.

It also shows information on the amount of CO2 you have saved by unsubscribing to these emails and the amount of times you’ve opened emails from an individual mailing list.


Congratulations! You’ve successfully ‘cleaned your room’. You should receive less spam emails, less notifications and less burden to your online footprint, vital in a time where technology is becoming a bigger bigger part of our lives.

Android without Google Play Services: The No Google Experiment

I’ve previously wrote about scrapping reliance on Google services by changing my app store, overhauling core services and using alternatives to apps. These all lowered the amount of data I send to Google and the chances of robots ever recognizing me during the next robotic invasion 🤖.

However, like I said at the end of that article, I never really ditched Google; I still used Android Messages, Google Pay and Google Photos. That is still a lot of services that are sending my data to their servers.

I decided to take the opportunity of the end of my phone contract and the start of a new year not just to completely scrap those, but to also ditch Google Play Services completely.

What could go wrong?

The technical jargon

The first hurdle was probably the one where I had the most anxiety passing through. Before this, I never really had much knowledge into installing ROM’s, custom recoveries and rooting. I had enough customization and power from my phone, why would I ever need to!

Unfortunately, The only way I could completely remove Google Services was to tweak my phone, so I took a breather, went on YouTube found a tutorial on how to root my phone.

Everything was going well; I unlocked my bootloader, I flashed TWRP and started the process of rooting, that’s when everything started going downhill.

The startup symbol looped and looped for 20 minutes straight – I anxiously started going onto as many articles and resources as I could find to try and fix my boot-looping mess of a phone. None of them helped, so I went for my last case scenario: Discord.

I was lucky, In one of my nerdy chat servers, there was someone who knew how to root. It was a simple fix, I just wiped everything off my phone.

Instead of re-flashing Oxygen OS, the OnePlus skin on top of Android, I decided to use my bets on an unofficial flavor of Android… Lineage OS.

Lineage OS + MicroG

Okay, so can I just mention how much I love Lineage OS?

It’s open source and made by contributors from around the world and has some useful privacy features, as well as customization. This either could be because of the ROM or the lack of Google Services but my phone feels so much faster now.

The ROM I installed wasn’t an official build though, I installed a fork called LineageOS for MicroG; MicroG is really just Google Play Services without the ‘Google’ in, it allows me to run apps that use Google Services with ways to limit the amount of data that gets sent through.

Most of the implementation works flawlessly, however I’ve had some trouble with Google SafetyNet which has blocked me from using some apps – I tried using Magisk Hide to fix this, but I had no luck.

Most apps also use Google Cloud Messages to send their notifications through instead of going directly to the phone, so I didn’t get as many frequent notifications.

I wish apps didn’t use so many proprietary Google API’s, MicroG wouldn’t of been needed and this project would probably be less of a pain.

My Replacements

I’m gonna clarify that my phone isn’t completely a open source, independent phone as my difficulties with Google SafetyNet and Cloud Messages has shown. I still use some proprietary software as it’s completely impossible to replace all apps, but for those I replaced, as follows:

YouTube is replaced with NewPipe, a version of the YouTube app that has no ads, tracking, uses less battery and has the ability to download videos.

Google Play Store is replaced with F-Droid mainly, however when I have to get Google Play apps I use Aurora Store to download them.

Google Chrome is replaced with Fennec F-Droid, a more open source version of Firefox for Android.

Google Keyboard is replaced with Flesky. While you might say it’s not open source, it processes everything you type on device and not through servers. If you really want an open source keyboard then use AnySoftKeyboard from F-Droid

Google Contacts/Calendar replaced with DAVx5 which connects with my locally hosted NextCloud server. If you wanna know more about it then please read my last article.

Google Maps was replaced with Magic Earth. It’s not an Open Source alternative, but it uses OpenStreetMaps data.

Everything else like the Mail app have been replaced with its Lineage OS counterparts.

Should you do it?

Are you an Android user that’s experienced and knows your custom recoveries to your custom ROM’s? Yes.

But if you’re not, This experiment isn’t for you. You could be risking bricking your entire phone and I have found the entire experience quite stressful.

When the European Commission released a report on Google’s influence on the entire operating system, which is supposed to be open source, and how it was anti-competitive, I didn’t buy it.

Now that I’ve actually done this experiment, it’s really shocking on how much Google has a grip on Android. Essential services are reliant on Google Play Services such as Emergency Location Services and Google SafetyNet has stopped me from using certain apps.

Why should we be forced into giving data to big tech companies that mine our data? We shouldn’t have to go through so many steps to do this, especially in times where we’re increasingly reliant on phones and technology in our every day lives to the point you could call them surveillance devices.

You can agree with me or disagree with me, but no one would ever give their address, their location, their phone number, their sexuality, their nudes and their bank information with a heavy-suited business man in the street for the sake of ‘personalisation’ of services, so why should we let big advertising companies have this information?

We paid for these devices. We should have the control.

A little shout out to my friend who's been doing some of my Snapchat Streaks for me (I can't access it because of Google SafetyNet, so I have to use my iPad to do it). Thanks 😊