How to declutter your iOS devices

If you have iPhone or iPad chances are you have files, photos, apps, and other digital clutter that have been taking up more space than you need for a long time. Maybe you’ve even gotten to the point where you get a warning about how little free space is left on your device. Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to clean up your iPhone or iPad, free up some space, and otherwise make your gear feel a little more like new. This guide will tell you how to get back your notifications and your device’s storage.

Delete your unused apps

A screenshot showing how to access the iPhone Storage utility.A screenshot showing how to access the iPhone Storage utility.

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

I don’t need to tell you to delete apps you don’t use to free up space on your iPhone, but you may not know that iOS has a special tool to help you do that. You can access it by opening the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad, then tapping General, then iPhone Storage or iPad Storage. The interface may take a few minutes to load, but once it does, you’ll see a handy visual representation of how much of your device’s memory you’re giving up to apps, photos, and other file types. You’ll also see a list of every app installed on your device, along with how much space it’s taking up and when you last used it – all useful information you can use to decide what to uninstall.

Depending on the app, iOS will present you with at least two options when you tap on it. You can delete or “uninstall” the program and all data associated with it. In the latter case, iOS will remove the app from your iPhone or iPad, but your data will remain intact. So when you reinstall the app, you can pick up where you left off. It will also stay in your App Library for easy access. From the iPhone Storage menu, you can also set your device to automatically dump unused apps when you run out of storage, which is useful for everyone, especially those with older, low-memory devices.

Screenshots of the Apple Music and Messages sections in the iPhone Storage utility. Screenshots of the Apple Music and Messages sections in the iPhone Storage utility.

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

If you use Apple Music and Messages frequently, tap on them, as they offer a few extra options for managing your tracks. Apple Music’s interface includes a list of every download on your iPhone or iPad, sorted by artist and album, which offers a better way to clean up your library than the app itself.

Meanwhile, Messages has a few handy options for serial texts. At the bottom of the interface, you’ll see a breakdown of all the different attachments you can get while messaging friends and family. It’s eye-opening to see how much memory these old photos, videos, and GIFs take up; in fact, iOS will prompt you to browse large attachments. This is a good place to start, as the interface does a good job of highlighting the biggest space hogs above. You can also set iOS to automatically delete messages and attachments older than a year. If you don’t have enough space on your device, I recommend not enabling this option as it may delete a photo or video that has sentimental value to you.

Cut your contact list

If you’ve had your iPhone for a while, chances are your contacts list could use an edit. Unless you plan a day call everyone on the list, why not delete contacts you no longer talk to? Your iPhone will give you a head start by identifying suspicious duplicate contacts. Other than that, there isn’t much to the process other than reviewing each contact and ensuring that the information you receive is up to date.

Review your notification settings

Screenshots showing how to access the Scheduled Summary feature.Screenshots showing how to access the Scheduled Summary feature.

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

One thing everyone should do every so often is review their notification settings, as notifications can drain your device’s battery (not to mention distracting you from more important things too often). To get started, open your device’s Settings app and tap on Notifications. I would recommend using it if you haven’t already iOS 15 scheduled summary feature. To be fair, most notifications don’t require your immediate attention, and it’s better if you don’t go through them all at once. The schedule feature will help you do this by letting you schedule your device to show some notifications at once several times a day.

For most people, this should make their notifications more manageable, but if you want to go a step further, you can adjust individual settings for each app. For some of the worst offenders (Instagram and Twitter come to mind), it’s worth going into their in-app settings to limit or turn off the notifications they send you.

Focus modes

Screenshots showing how to access iOS's Focus mode functionality.Screenshots showing how to access iOS's Focus mode functionality.

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

Another tool you can use to manage your notification is Apple Focus feature, allows you to configure specific Do Not Disturb settings for different activities. By default, your device will come with several pre-configured devices, and it’s worth reviewing the settings of each to optimize for your needs.

To create a new custom Focus mode, open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad and tap “Focus” in the same subcategory as notifications. You can also create a new Focus mode directly from your device’s Control Center by long-pressing the Do Not Disturb icon and tapping New Focus.

Once you’ve created a new Focus, it’s easy to customize. You can specify which contacts you want to mute or allow notifications from iOS. You can do the same for apps. Once you’ve customized these lists to your liking, tap Options below your contacts and apps lists to view a few additional settings. In particular, there is an option to allow muted notifications to appear on your lock screen, which you may find useful.

The last thing I want to draw your attention to is the options for customizing your Home Screen for different Focus modes. By limiting the apps I can easily access, I find that I’m less likely to get distracted. For example, I set Reading Focus to limit my Home Screen to apps like LibbyPocket and Apple Music.

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