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Unclutter your computer with a clean install

“Don't own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.” - Wendell Berry

Lately, I wanted to install the latest beta version of Mojave on my Mac, but I didn't. For one reason: I had too many messes on my computer, my disk was almost full, and so was my backup drive.

Sounds familiar ?

In the real life, my mum wanted to move for years, but she didn't. The cluttering she accumulated in her house overwhelms her.

Things you possess, possess you.

Digital and real-life clutters are alike

Oddly enough, our digital mess seems to follow the same patterns as in our home:

  1. We accumulate things over time
  2. It gets in our way

A fresh install is like moving house: intimidating.

Before to format the disk and install from scratch, we need to backup.
And so we need to handpick stuff in our old house that will eventually go to our new house.

We're afraid of:

  • Getting rid of something we might need, one day, as if our lives depend on it
  • Not being able to set up our machine right again (so many built-in preferences, bookmarks, setup files, dependencies hidden everywhere)
  • Wasting time in this scary process

Sometimes, all we need is a big wipeout

Let's face it:

  • We don't use 90 % of our things
  • Hence, we waste time in searching what we actually need
  • It's hard to focus in a messy environment
  • We get overwhelmed
  • It stops us from performing actions

Starving for simplicity

“Out of clutter, find simplicity.” ― Albert Einstein

Have you ever dreamed of living in an Airbnb picture ?
They usually feature bright, clutter-free interior space.

My Airbnb

To go extreme, Steve Jobs's house was empty.

What a relief to have an empty desktop, an empty document folder, a 90% space available disk !

Have you ever got this feeling after buying a new computer / buying a new disk, or formatting your old one (which magically becomes new again) ?

How exciting to start from a blank page, to be in a neat space, it boosts creativity, as if nothing existed but what we're focused on.

Isn't formatting too extreme ?

Other options:

  • Uninstall applications by hand, empty the trash as you go along.
  • Experiment into a disposable virtual machine to avoid messing up your main OS.
  • Have different partitions and OS instances (one for development, one for non-experimenting tasks)

All those options are actually compatible and can help to stay as clean as possible between two disk formatting operations.

Pros of disk formatting:

  • It removes all hidden/invisible/junk files you couldn't remove by hands.
  • It removes all background process that launches at your back and that slows your computer down.
  • It removes all messed up installations, or configuration setup
  • It forces you to sort out your data before wiping it out.
  • It boosts performance
  • You break free from being "machine dependent"

To sum it up

When you format your disk regularly, it's like moving house often.
Or getting through a typhoon, wiping everything out.
You become an agile digital wanderer. You travel lightly, with only what matters.

From emptiness, you can build again.
Download the latest version of your favorite software, experiment with new ones more easily.
Recover your sensitive data from backups, and from the clouds.
Be prepared for the unexpected (machine failure, machine robbery), be used to work from any computer, and be trained to set back your favorite environment in no time (every developer should maintain a manual to that end).

Work fearlessly, be destruction-free, try out new things, embrace digital freedom.

PS: If anyone interested, I'll write down my "save/format/restore" procedure as soon as I go through it.

Top comments (4)

fgiraldi profile image

Nice to read post.
I am a programmer, but also I am a consolided technician. I give technical support for many of my customers. I often find myself diagnosing, repairing, upgrading or even building a computer. I enjoy that feeling of 'new PC' when you perform a fresh install of your operating system. Things go fast again and, as you described, you end up with a much more nice, clean and fast environment.
Time is a great teacher, and I've learned to make a full disk image before proceed. That warantees me that I can go back to zero at any time.
Backups are important and people seem to not realize how important they are... until disaster occurs.
Thanks for sharing.

yoric profile image

Being skillful from hardware to software is a great asset !
I never do a disk image of my whole computer before formatting it (because I like to filter manually what I want to save) but it's a good reflex to have, and it's most useful when working for clients.

Yes, backups are definitely important. I prefer to spend 50$ or 80$ on a USB drive and have peace of mind, rather than risking to lose everything.

ptrck_pfffr profile image

Great article!
I do a clean install of my MacBook once a year after the new macOS release.
The system just feels cleaner, snappier and faster. 🤓👍🏼

yoric profile image

That's a great habit, and once a year is a good pace.
Your next time might be in September/October, with the public release of Mojave (10.14)