Are You a Digital Hoarder?
This far into the digital era, it’s fair to say that many of us struggle to stay on top on the seemingly endless number of emails, notifications, new contact requests, and social media accounts we may have. Responding to emails in a timely manner can be challenging enough, but when your work, personal life, and side business require you to have, say, four email accounts and three different devices, it can become truly unmanageable.
Behold the digital hoarder: a person who, under the sheer weight of digital content to sift and sort through, decides to keep all of it. Mashable recently published a first person account of writer Karissa Bell, who is a self-proclaimed digital hoarder. She describes the setup thus: “I have 48,183 emails in my work inbox and 32,060 in my personal Gmail. 56,991 of those are unread, according to my Mail app. I have thousands more in a separate, throwaway, Gmail account I use for app signups and spam, and more than 14,000 unread in (and this, I am slightly embarrassed about) an old Yahoo account I haven’t actively used since at least 2009. Now, I know it’s impossible to ever read that many emails but I still can’t bring myself to delete anything other than the obvious spam that slips through my spam filter.”
It’s worth asking why a person who knows it is completely unfeasible that they will ever get through all their digital content to hold onto it anyway? Is digital hoarding a mental condition similar to physical hoarding, which is recognized by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual? Or is it simply a benign yet strange quirk of our overloaded digital era? At present, mental health experts don’t agree on whether or not digital hoarding is a kind of mental disorder. Doctors in the Netherlands, however, published research in the British Medical Journal depicting the case of a man who takes thousands of digital photos per day but struggles to categorize or save them in any orderly way.
“He enjoyed taking the photos. However, the processing and saving of the digital pictures caused suffering and distress,” said the report’s author Dr. Martine van Bennekom, a psychiatry resident at the Academic Medical Center, speaking to LiveScience .
The case of this man points to the truth about digital hoarding: whether or not it has serious mental health implications, it can certainly be an impediment to effective workflow and task management.
If you suspect you may be holding onto digital content you have no hope of ever getting to, here are some practical steps to take:
Get rid of redundancies: If you feel better having copies of your files stored in two places, that’s reasonable, but having them stored in multiple places on a single device makes no sense. Stick to having one device version (like on your computer or a hard drive) and one cloud-based version. That way you’re covered if something goes wrong, but you’re not clogging your device with thrice backed up files.
Don’t auto save to desktop: The desktop can often be the place where digital hoarding rears its ugliest head. When the default setting of your computer is to save files to your desktop, virtually everything ends up there, making it impossible to find what you’re looking for at any given time. When you’re saving files, force yourself to save them in a file on your desktop (i.e. “Photos” “Screenshots” “drafts”) or, better yet, a filing system on the cloud. That way your desktop won’t become an endpoint for files never to be found again.
Use email filters: If you must save every Groupon email and special offer that comes through your inbox, at least auto-file them in a separate folder. This way, you can take peace of mind knowing you’ll be able to find what you want later, but your primary inbox won’t be cluttered by things you don’t need immediately. Setting up email rules for promotional emails can greatly reduce the unread emails building up in your inbox.
So, after reading this blog post, would you say you are a digital hoarder?