How To

9 signs that you're a digital hoarder

We may roll our eyes at TV shows about hoarders who fill their houses with rotting newspapers or old toys but way too many of us are just as guilty of digital hoarding.

Hoarding can be loosely defined as finding it hard to discard objects regardless of their actual value or use. Sound like anything you have tucked away on your computer or device?

Still got a folder full of photos of you and your ex or those ten boxsets you just can’t find time to watch? And what about that folder dedicated to your college files…from five years ago?

Huge amounts of storage come packaged with most devices and additional storage is relatively inexpensive. The vast amount of storage at our disposal means that we can simply avoid confronting the important questions about which digital assets we actually need. 

Just because your digital clutter isn’t attracting mice, it doesn’t mean it isn’t damaging. You may even have developed an unhealthy emotional attachment to your digital stockpile. Do you really still need the entire six seasons of that TV show from 10 years ago?

So what are some of the warning signs that you may be a digital hoarder?

You have a computer graveyard in your house

Do you have a wardrobe or an attic full of old laptops or phones or CDs and thumb drives that you no longer use? If so, you need to strip whatever files you need from them and dispose of them properly.

Drying that old iPod out for another two years isn’t going to magically fix it.

While your old tech might come back into fashion, it still won’t be much use to you if it only half works. You could always use your last laptop as a novelty door-stop, we suppose.

Your inbox is full of unread mails

If you log on to your email and are greeted with the news that you have 2000 unchecked emails in your inbox, you’re guilty of digital hoarding. It’s not like you’ve received 2,000 mails in the last two days.

If you’ve exceeded your free limit on Gmail, you might have an issue that needs sorting.

The chances are that you’re receiving newsletters or other subscription mails that you never check and leave unopened every week. If so, it’s time to unsubscribe from mailing lists and to take a machete to that backlog of emails in your inbox. It may not be the most enjoyable thing to do but remember that the “Delete All” option is your friend. 

Your desktop is a mess

The old saying about the tidiness of your desk reflecting your state of mind can also be applied to your desktop. If your desktop is full of shortcuts, images, random documents and other files, it is indicative of a greater problem with organisation.

Take 15 minutes to tidy up this space and delete any standalone files that were only intended to be on the desktop on a temporary basis. Delete any shortcuts that you don’t use on a regular basis and make a conscious effort not to add any more icons and folders. 

Not only will this make your computer run faster but it is also the equivalent of clearing a pathway through a room full of newspapers. It might not seem like much but it’s the first step to initiating a wider purge.  

You keep duplicates on the same storage device

Keeping duplicates of important files is a sensible approach and one that could prove vital in the event of anything happening to your originals. However, saving duplicates on the same computer or hard drive is pretty much textbook digital hoarding. Not to mention pointless.

If a hard drive fails or you leave your laptop on the train, losing two copies will be no better than losing one. Keep duplicates on separate storage devices if you need to ensure that you have a copy.

Making a duplicate copy may make sense but it’s easy to get a bit overzealous if you are worried about certain items. If you start finding file titles that begin with “Third copy of…” or “Precious photos v3” then it’s probably time to think about your approach to making copies.

You save every photo you ever took

The rise of digital photography has allowed everyone to take fantastic pictures and share them with the minimum of effort or expense. We can now see how our photos look before printing them but this doesn’t stop us from saving the 10 similar versions of the same photo to our computer or device.

If you’ve got 600 photos and only actually want to keep ten, delete the other 590 blurry ones. If you really want to keep them, organise them. Organising your photos may be time-consuming but it will help you to find pics when you want them and encourage you to bin all those unwanted images.

It’s probably better than making your kids think that you were a terrible photographer as they trawl through hours of skewed horizons, terribly-framed shots or blurred close-ups of your forefinger.

You bookmark more than you can ever read

The bookmark feature is a great way to mark a page that you want to revisit but digital hoarders can develop a trigger finger when it comes to bookmarking or pinning a page. One of the symptoms of digital hoarding is FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This can lead to excessive bookmarking if you can’t get time to read something but are anxious that you’ll forget it.

Serial bookmarkers rarely get around to reading all the stuff they bookmark but that doesn’t stop them from putting aside more and more pages for later viewing.

If you have enough bookmarked pages to keep you in reading material for an entire six month stretch, it’s probably time to get selective about how you use that little star icon.

Yes, there may be a wealth of fascinating material out there but you can’t read the entire internet no matter how much you want to. 


Your phone is full of things you never use

Back when mobile phones came with a tiny amount of memory, it was compulsory to delete your text messages on a regular basis. These days, we’re more likely to have perfectly intact threads of conversations that go back months or even years.

You should really delete most of your texts. Maybe you secretly suspect that you’re going to become a renowned genius or a world leader and don’t want to deprive prospective biographers of your thoughts on everything from The Only Way is Essex to your musings on last week’s football.

It’s unlikely that you’ll need to document and preserve entire text conversations for future generations—or future use. In fact, a quick read through your texts will probably convince you that your legacy would be better served if they were deleted.
Other phone-related examples include hanging on to apps even if you never use them. They become the dusty little icons that get in your way when you’re looking for an app that you actually use—and they also hog up space, which is a precious commodity on most phones.

Your social media friends are all strangers

Have you acquired a vast collection of social media “friends” that includes people you don’t really know or have very little interest in?

Maybe you met them at a festival or they had a brief relationship with a friend. Then there’s that one random person who accepted the friend request that you sent by mistake. Now they keep popping up on your Facebook timeline but you’re too embarrassed to unfriend them.

A clear out of your “friends” may seem a bit mean to old friends you intended to stay in touch with, but it’s been six years and you haven’t made contact yet. It’s time to hit ‘unfriend’. Who knows? You might even find the process relaxing.

Your cloud becomes a junk room

The emergence of the cloud has provided us with an invaluable resource that lets us store information in a seemingly magical place.

Bearing that in mind, it’s not clear why so many of us treat it like the equivalent of the “spare room” in the house that can’t be used because it’s full of junk. All those digital files you don’t really need but can’t bear to delete end up being shunted into the cloud in the same way that one corner of your spare room is now dominated by obsolete tech—whether it’s CDs or tapes will depend on your age.

It’s time to bin the old files and get organised. You’ll feel better about it in the long run!
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