Spring cleaning your cyberspace: Digital hoarders not as happy
By Zoey Sky // Jun 10, 2019

Take a look at your text messages or your email inbox. Does it make you anxious to see all those unread messages? If you also have the same problem with your digital photo library, it may be time to reorganize your digital clutter, especially if your mental health is suffering.


Just like a perpetually messy closet can affect quality of life, digital hoarding can negatively impact your psychological health.

Declutter your digital drawer for your own good

Contrary to popular belief, hoarding isn't just confined to your basement or attic.

You can also suffer from a case of digital hoarding. A survey by Summit Hosting, a provider of managed cloud solutions, revealed that the average American has "582 saved cellphone pictures, nearly 83 bookmarked websites, 21 desktop icons, and 13 unused phone apps" along with 645 gigabytes of material on external storage.

Digital clutter doesn't make a mess in your home, but it still takes up valuable space in your head. The Summit Hosting survey also found that 6.6 percent of Americans have at least 1,001 to 3,000 unread emails. Alarmingly enough, 1.9 percent have more than a whopping 20,000.

Robby Macdonell, CEO of RescueTime, a company that helps people manage and eliminate digital clutter, warned that although digital data takes up less space, it can also make it harder to get rid of information you may no longer need.

Ironically, the more data you hoard, the lower the chance that you'll even use it. Being organized is useless if you're overwhelmed by data.

Dr. Jo Ann Oravec, a professor of information technology and business education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (UWW), advised that people should check their photo library more often. Deleting old photos that are no longer meaningful to you can help limit your digital clutter.

Sort your photos and archive memorable ones in an external storage to free up more space in your phone or computer. Organize them by date to make specific photos easier to find and store.

Why do people hoard digital clutter?

Oravec turned her attention to digital hoarding after talking to students who expressed feeling overwhelmed by the volume of technological detritus within their reach, from lecture notes to PowerPoint slides. Students were also stressed over personal and family items such as Facebook friends they didn’t personally know but didn't want to unfriend.

Even though educational and social technologies were meant to help students engage in critical thinking and analysis as well as in interpersonal interaction, her students were stuck in the mindset that more is better.

Researchers are only starting to discover the complex link between physical and digital hoarding.

Dr. Nick Neave, associate professor of psychology and director of the Hoarding Research Group at Northumbria University in the U.K., explained that individuals who score higher on physical hoarding behaviors have a tendency to score higher on digital hoarding. Neave posited that the two issues may be very similar and that they may involve the same kind of psychological mechanisms: Both are associated with a person's reluctance to get rid of things because they may be needed in the future or due to an emotional attachment.

Additionally, both kinds of hoarding may affect how you function in your daily life and aggravate an already present sense of anxiety.

Different generations could also have different reasons for hoarding. Younger students may be unaware of various methods that can help them archive the info they hoard. Meanwhile, older users may be hoarding digital clutter due to anxiety.

Oravec noted that it's crucial to organize and archive data you really need to ensure that it doesn't all get wiped out due to a cybersecurity breach or physical damage to your devices.

Tips for decluttering your digital drawer

If you're worried about your tendency to hoard data, don't delete everything just yet. Be mindful of how you use and store information and learn how to use technology properly to enrich your life.

Here are some tips to get you started on decluttering your hard drives and phone storage.

  • Go on a social media detox. You don't need to keep posting photos "to stay current." This will drain you out, and going on a social media detox can help you find inner peace. (Related: Constantly checking your phone actually makes you more stressed…to the point that you get anxious when you’re not “connected.”)
  • Sort the data on your desktop. Organize work files into folders, like "In progress," "Planning," and "Done." This makes it easier to keep track of your various tasks.
  • Go through your files monthly. Set aside some time every month to review your files and photos, then archive files you may need in the future. Delete everything that will just clutter your storage space.

Decluttering your digital drawer may be an emotional experience, especially since removing things from your life can leave a void in its place. This may seem scary, but remember that deleting or archiving files means you're also creating more space for new memories and giving your mind more breathing room.

Assess your inbox and folders, delete files you no longer need, and enjoy moments with your loved ones instead of hoarding digital clutter.



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