You've got the fast and annoying way, and the slow and annoying way.
The fast and annoying way is to just bite the bullet, format the system, and rebuild it from the ground up. Guaranteed to rid your system of any and all crap clogging it up now, but rebuilding a system takes time if you don't have a lot of experience with such things.
The slow and annoying way, is to try and clean up the mess as best you can. Trouble is, there's no guarantee that you'll be able to get things back to "normal" or that it will even work. Chances are, you'll only be able to get rid of most of the garbage, and will have to learn to live with the rest.
Personally, I'd recommend the fast and annoying method. And when you're done, the first thing you should do, after visiting the Windows Update site to make sure you're fully patched, is download a copy of Mozilla Firefox and stop using IE. If you don't have an antivirus program, get a copy of AVG Free or Avast. Do that, and the problems you're currently experiencing shouldn't ever be able to reach the same level of magnitude they have currently. You should also run through the list of programs you use, make sure none of them contain spyware (use Google to help figure out which ones do and don't). Get rid of the ones with spyware, keep the rest.
Also, if you use Outlook or Outlook Express... Stop! Get a copy of Mozilla Thunderbird instead. And then the usual sorts of safe Internet habits also apply... Don't go to dodgy websites, don't open email attachments unless you're expecting them, and even then, only after scanning them with an anti-virus program... Avoid using any Microsoft program for any sort of Internet use as much as possible, and a firewall might help. Just remember that if you manage to tick off an actual hacker, that firewall won't protect you, but it should help fend off automated probes which are the major threat for most people.
Hello...i am new to this forum, but the first time i asked for help you guys were so knowledgable and really helped me out....i have windows ME...it seems there is so much garbage on my computer...i get tons and tons of popups and sometimes it just freezes everything up....i run cable modem, but it even seems that under the add/remove program everything is not listed on there...for instance...i downloaded earthlink because we were having trouble with our cable and now i cannot remove the earthlink because when i bring up the add/remove it is not listed on there....when i hit the control/alt/delete to close down some of the programs that are running and seem to be freezing things up, there are sometimes 20-30 things in there that seem useless...i went to msconfig and am under the selective startup so not everything will open up, but that only lasts for a shorttime....
how do i get rid of the garbage??...i do have an older computer, but it still runs good some of the time....