6 Things You Must Know About Tech Cleanup

While you're spring cleaning, don't forget to spruce up current devices and discard outmoded electronics.

1. Do a thorough sweep.

If you’re giving your home a top-to-bottom scrubbing, tackle that drawer of dead cell phones, too. When it comes to your electronics, spring is the perfect time to dispose of unused and unneeded tech. Plus, take time to give some TLC to the devices you use regularly by updating software, backing up photos and data, and beefing up security.

2. Better safe than sorry.

The first step: Back up all your photographs, documents and music. That way, if your hard drive conks out or you hit the wrong button when updating your device, you won’t lose important files. There are a number of ways to do this. You can store your data on an external hard drive (the Seagate Backup Plus Slim, with one terabyte of storage space, sells for about $70 on Amazon.com). Or head to the “cloud,” where you can find lots of free storage. One option is OneDrive, from Microsoft, which offers seven gigabytes of free space. That’s enough to hold thousands of photos or files. Dropbox offers 2GB free; both OneDrive and Dropbox offer more space via paid upgrades. Apple offers 5GB of storage on its iCloud service. Make backing up your data a habit throughout the year.

3. Delete and update.

Your computer is likely stuffed with software that you no longer use or never opened. Those unused programs are an entry point for attackers, who can target security flaws to gain access to your computer. Uninstall any applications or software you know you won’t miss. And to make sure hackers can’t exploit vulnerabilities in outdated programs, look for updates on the vendor’s Web site or in your app store. Be sure your security software is up-to-date, and have it perform the most complete scan of your device. On a PC, that may take a few hours or all night, so block out the time for it.

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4. Declutter your laptop or PC.

Deleting programs should free up disk space and make your machine more efficient. Make it work even more smoothly by transferring old financial files, such as tax returns and bank statements, to your external hard drive or cloud storage system. Consider digitizing old tax returns, which you should keep forever. (See Tax Records You Can Toss.)

5. Rotate your passwords.

New passwords for important accounts, such as e-mail, bank and investment accounts, are another layer of protection. “Having varied passwords and changing them every so often is really smart,” says John Sileo, an expert on protecting your digital privacy and reputation. Or consider a password manager, such as Dashlane, LastPass or RoboForm. All have free versions that manage and encrypt passwords, leaving you with a single, master log-in to remember.

6. Get physical.

Tossing electronics into the trash is bad for the planet—and possibly bad for your pocketbook. You can sell or trade old cell phones, tablets and computers at sites such as Gazelle.com or Best Buy. In exchange for usable electronics, Best Buy offers gift cards and will recycle unusable devices free. You can give devices that are a few years old to a charity such as Dell Reconnect, which partners with Goodwill. Before recycling or donating a device, erase data with a free download, such as Active@KillDisk or Softpedia DP Wiper.

Former Staff Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance