When spring-like weather appears, our thoughts turn to spring cleaning. We are suddenly propelled to clean up the house and the yard and to get rid of all the cobwebs and old stuff so we can enjoy the spring and summer weather. This year, why don't you take your spring-cleaning fever one step further? Clean up your computer!

computer/harddrive.jpgOver months and years of use, your computer's hard drive becomes just as messy as the junk drawer that you have in the kitchen or that cluttered hall closet.

It is, however, even more important to keep your hard disk clean than your drawers or closets. You see, your computer uses your hard disk like a scratch pad where it keeps vital information as it processes data. If your hard disk becomes too full, your computer will not have any room to work and will slow to a crawl. You can prevent this type of slowdown by doing a little cleaning up and clearing out.

The first step in your spring computer cleaning is to empty the trash. This is not only the first thing you should do, it is the easiest. If you are using a Mac, you can empty the Trash. Windows users will find that they don't have a bin marked Trash, but instead have one that is called the Recycle Bin. This is a temporary storage place for deleted files. Every time you delete a file rather than being deleted from the hard disk, it is moved to the Recycle Bin, where it remains, just in case you need it again. This protects those of us who sometimes get trigger-happy when deleting files and target the wrong file.

You can often gain quite a bit of extra space simply by right-clicking the Recycle Bin and choosing the Empty Recycle Bin option. Remember that once you empty the recycle bin, you will not be able to retrieve any of the files because they are now permanently deleted. In Windows you can also empty the Recycle Bin from the Disk Cleanup utility that we will talk about next. It is, however, a good habit to occasionally empty the Recycle Bin even when you don't do a full disk cleanup.

If you are using a newer version of Windows the cleanup job is fairly easy. Microsoft has included a disk cleanup utility that works quite well. Open My Computer, then right-click a hard drive icon, which is usually the drive that is marked C. This will bring up a pop-up menu from which you will select Properties. Then click the Disk Cleanup button. Follow the screen prompts. Don't be afraid to delete temporary files - you don't need them. In fact, it is okay to delete most of the files that are listed in the Disk Cleanup utility. The only files that you may need in the future are the Downloaded Program Files. If you have downloaded programs that you want to keep, you should copy these files to a folder which you will keep and backup for future use. When looking at the hard disk and the clean up utility, you will also see a place where you can compress little-used files. Feel free to let Windows compress files, you can still use them just has you always have and the compression will save space on the drive.

When you select the Properties for your hard drive, be sure to take a good look at the graph that is presented. It will tell you how much space you have on your drive and how much is free or unused space. For best hard drive performance, it is recommended that you have at least 10% of your hard drive free.
Cleaning up your computer regularly will keep your hard drive from getting too full. If you don't keep it clean, you will eventually get a Low Disk Space error. This is a pop-up window that says you are running out of disk space. This doesn't happen much on newer computers with large disk drives, but is very common on older computers that have smaller capacity disks. If you get one of these errors, you should take it very seriously and perform the disk cleanup that we just talked about.

Mac users have it a lot easier. Mac OS X has automatic scripts that do a lot of the cleanup. These scripts run in the middle of the night, so all you have to do is leave your computer on occasionally. There are also third party cleanup programs for the Mac, but most average users don't have to worry about that.

However, even Mac users need to join their Windows buddies in the next step which is to clean up their old files. You should occasionally go through your files and get rid those that you don't need. This is easier than cleaning a closet. When you throw out your old clothes, they are gone forever. It doesn't have to be that way with your computer files. You can move everything you think that you will not need any more into a folder. Then copy that folder to an external hard drive or a CD or DVD. Make sure the files are on your backup disk, then delete the folder and empty the Recycle Bin. That way, you can keep you computer clean and still access the files later if you need them.

The next step in cleaning your hard disk is to remove unwanted programs. Click here for instructions on how to do that.