Computers are fantastic tools. We have these five pound slabs that can entertain us with almost any form of media, communicate over long distances, and assist us in creating our own works of art. It's no wonder our digital lives can become more complex than our own. Here's my methods on keeping the digital space clean.
1) Dump it all and start over again.
Back up everything on your computer. Put it all onto an external hard drive. Then grab your operating system disc, wipe the whole thing, and start from square one. If you don't know how to do this, it's not a difficult task, but it is a very useful one so you might as well learn now.
Now here's the key: don't immediately dump everything from your external hard drive onto your new installation. Instead, copy things over as you require them. Only transfer music you're actively listening to, or try not transferring any at all. Only move over wallpaper you want to apply to your desktop. Keep out documents until you need them for reference or want to add to them. You'll be surprised how little you actually need to transfer over, especially if you do this a few times.
2) Avoid new programs.
Programs are complicated. Keep them at bay by installing as few as your habits dictate.
On my Mac, I only install a dozen new programs on top of the default, and sometimes even less. This lowers the amount of updates I have to juggle (especially if I can get them through the app store, or through the package manager on Linux) and keeps the system's internals running smoothly without cruft and temp files.
3) Block everything and learn to say no.
My Internet presence is fueled by a Firefox install with three add-ons: Adblock Plus, Ghostery, and HTTPS everywhere. With a few exceptions for sites I want to support, these add-ons are blocking at full capacity. In addition, I rarely install Flash or Silverlight.
The trick is knowing that you can say "no" when this shuts you out of something. Ghostery stops an article for loading? I'll read a different website. Of course, this doesn't work for necessary applications, which is why I usually keep Safari available so I have a browser to use for my online banking needs. However, I distrust advertisers and as such if your website breaks when I remove them, I will usually refuse to stay any longer.
4) Reduce the streams.
Lower your Facebook friend count. Delete your Twitter feeds. Stop following Tumblr blogs. Don't check so many blogs every day. Delete RSS feeds that you always skip. Don't download podcasts you never listen to.
Instead, try to focus on things that are a positive influence. Things that you create yourself, like a blog, or writing that you know inspires or interests you. Too much of the Internet is a null transaction - you insert time but nothing actually happens. Aim for the few things you visit each day to be the most positive, powerful sites to your mind.
5) Beware of the cloud (for now).
No service will ever have 100% uptime except your own files, stored on your own computer. Cloud services are new and budding, and largely filled with doublespeak and tech industry hype. Wait until it is more stable before throwing your files into the hands of an unknown server provider.