How to de-clutter your iPhone

Many people consider the iPhones to be computers that just happen to make phone calls, including me. As such, I treat my iPhone as a computer, loading it up with software. Combine that mindset with Apple’s almost supernatural perfection of the impulse purchase and you’ve got a terribly cluttered iPhone.

Fortunately, there are several simple things you can do to stop the insanity, as Susan Powter used to say. Here’s how to get started.

Keep the home screen icon-free

Most of us only use a few apps consistently. For me, Mail, Apple’s Camera, Twitterrific for Twitter, Calendar, the iPod app and Safari ar the big six. Yet, I’ve got twenty icons on my home screen. Why? In fact, it’s possible to have up to 48 apps immediately accessible from the home screen without creating a cluttered mess. Instead, you’ll be able to look at your favorite photo unhindered. Here’s how.

First, identify your most frequently-used apps. Don’t worry if it’s more than six. Like I said, you can keep up to 48. Next, follow these steps:

  1. Enter “Jiggle Mode” and gather the apps into a folder(s). You can store up to 12 apps in a folder, and the dock will hold four folders.
  2. Give each folder a descriptive name, like “Work,” “Reading” or “Games.”
  3. Drag the folders into the Dock, displacing apps you use less frequently.
  4. Clear the rest off of your home screen by dragging them to other pages.

Your’e done! Now you can access your favorite apps easily while enjoying a clutter-free home screen. Of course, you aren’t restricted to the iPhone. Below is a screenshot of this setup on my iPad.

Re-arrange icons based on need

There are times when you won’t need to use a given app for days or even weeks at a time. For example, you probably won’t need to check email while on vacation [1. Unless you’re one of those manic types for whom “vacation” means “work in a different setting.”]. Likewise, you might want to access reference apps like Evernote or Maps while traveling.

If you’ve got one of these events coming up, adjust your home screen accordingly. Get rid of apps you don’t need and move the ones you will need – those that typically live four pages in waiting for that magical “someday” – to the front. Now you won’t be flipping like a crazy person in the airport, at the hotel and so on.

Here’s a hint for removing the built-in apps that can’t be dismissed with “Jiggle Mode” like Mail, Stocks and YouTube. If you restrict access to those apps in the iPhone’s Settings application, their icons will disappear from view. Here’s how.

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Tap General and then tap Restrictions.
  3. You’ll be prompted to enter a restrictions passcode [2. Note that this is not the same as your iPhone’s general passcode if you’re using one.].
  4. You’ll find four sections: Apps to allow or disable, Location/email account options, Content options and Game Center.
  5. The individual apps that can be enabled or disabled are Safari, YouTube, Camera, FaceTime, iTunes and Ping. Move each app’s slider to the Off position to prevent the iPhone from launching them.

That’s it. Each time you disable an app, its icon disappears from your iPhone’s screen entirely. For example, if you move YouTube’s slider to the Off position, the YouTube icon will not appear on the iPhone’s screen.

Keep the bottom row icon-free

I like to keep the bottom row icon-free. This habit developed when I bought the original iPhone years ago, and there was a dearth of apps for it. Since then, I’ve always keep that bottom row empty. It looks nice and provides an obvious lane for swiping back and forth.

Use Smart Albums for photos

Most people don’t need to sync all of their photos to the iPhone. Still, many of us do, and finding that one photo of Jr. to show the gang at work becomes an exercise in patience. Avoid this trouble and clutter by creating a smart album in iPhoto.

Smart Albums populate themselves with photos based on criteria that you set up. For example, I have one that finds photos taken within the last 60 days. Only those shots are synced to my iPhone. Here’s how to set it up in iPhoto:

  1. From the File menu, select New and then Smart Album.
  2. A slip appears Give your album a name and set the criteria of your choosing.
  3. Click OK and you’re done.

Easy, right? Now for the iPhone. Connect it to your Mac, launch iTunes and then do the following:

  1. Click your iPhone on the left, then click the Photos tab on the right.
  2. Click the “Sync photos from” option and then choose iPhoto from the drop-down menu.
  3. Click “Selected albums…” and then choose the Smart Album you made from the drop-down menu.
  4. Click Apply.

Get hard on yourself about the apps you really need

This is the most obvious step but also the most difficult. I know, I know. You might need that one app. Someday. Maybe.

That’s true, but until then, it’s clutter. Here’s why you should let go.

  • Re-downloading is free. Once you’ve paid for an app, you can grab it again at no charge. The forthcoming iCloud will make this process even easier, as you’ll be able to browse your App Store purchase history – and restore – right from your phone.
  • Your connection is constant. Most of us hold on to apps because we might need them at any given moment. Well, your iPhone has a near-constant connection, so should that moment arrive, you’re quite likely to be able to get it within a minute or two.
  • iOS 5 will sync your app data. Afraid to lose your Angry Birds stats? Don’t worry, iOS 5 will keep that data intact, too.
  • Visual clutter is mental clutter. That sea of icons is difficult on your eyes as well as your psyche. Reduce it.

Use Spotlight Search

Swipe all the way to the right on your iPhone to bring up the search screen. Spotlight Search is actually quite powerful, and can save much time, swiping and rooting around. For example, I can type “Erin” into the search field and instantly see my sister Erin’s record in Contacts, relevant emails and so on.

This list is not exhaustive, of course. You might have strategies of your own. Consider this a jumping point, and get started de-cluttering your iPhone.