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Digital Hoarding and Where It's Likely Impacting You

Updated: Jun 19

A pile of photos, SD cards, CDs, iPhones and hard drives.

There is a reason businesses rely heavily on IT departments to streamline efficiency and maximize profits.

Technology is designed to make our lives easier, but in the absence of data management, online security measures, and troubleshooting, it can quickly become a nightmare of breaches, data loss, and more.

Although your household is not a for-profit endeavor, many of us still struggle to maintain control of our digital lives. Even tech-savvy people will find that work and familial obligations take precedence, rightly so, often leaving little time to stem the tide of digital clutter.

While digital hoarding has quietly crept up on many in our tech-centric age, rest assured there are some things you can do to tackle it and create a more streamlined, worry-free digital life.

Digital Hoarding and Its Impacts

The concept of hoarding is nothing new. Extreme hoarding has inspired numerous reality TV series and is recognized as contributing to poor mental health.

However, when we think about what it means to be a hoarder, we almost always think about physical messes and piles limiting movement around our space presenting as a visible representation of disorder.

While you may be safe from any risk of becoming a traditional hoarder, recent studies have shown that a growing number of us are fast becoming digital hoarders due to the invisible nature of our digital property.

A laptop filled with disorganized files on its desktop and finder window.

From snapping bursts of images to downloading files without discretion across multiple devices, these e-messes can quickly pile up. And since they leave no immediate reminder of their existence in our physical environment, we are less likely to be aware of their nuisance, much less take action to eliminate them.

Digital messes may seem relatively benign, but there are myriad reasons to be concerned about cleaning them up and preventing them in the future.

As mentioned, digital hoarding takes a toll on your mental health, just like other types of clutter. Studies have shown much higher levels of stress and anxiety amongst digital hoarders, with these numbers increasing along with the amount of data accumulated.

To make matters worse, excess data makes it difficult for you to find what you are looking for and hinders the performance of your technology. As a digital organizing company, we see this especially problematic, as digitally is now the main way we store, access, and archive our family's photos and memories, important documents, passwords, legacy information, etc.

There is also an environmental price to storing unneeded data since cloud storage is housed in server farms, which burn through precious energy and resources.

And perhaps the most immediate risk to this accumulation is your security. Phishers and spammers absolutely love digital hoarders. The more you have stored in your inbox, and on your devices, the greater the opportunity for someone to access your private information.

Where to Look For Digital Hoarding In Your Own Life

The first step in achieving freedom from digital hoarding is an awareness that the problem even exists. It’s easy to ignore the issue until you’re pulling your hair out searching for a lost file, once again locked out of an account, or dealing with a frozen computer because you’ve bogged down your hard drive with too much data.

A stack of external hard drives.

Once you accept that your digital mess has become out of control, you may find that you're ready to attack the problem head-on, reduce stress and unlock the potential of technology in your life. We've included a few basic places to look to help you get started.

First, you'll need to take an assessment of your digital life as a whole and categorize what areas are in need of the most attention. Ask yourself...

Is my camera roll or photo app filled with duplicates?

Is my inbox overflowing with unread and junk emails?

Am I constantly getting the 'out of storage space' warning message?

Do I have several unused apps sitting on my phone? Have I recently taken time to delete any unwanted files and empty my trash folders?

These are often some of the first places we look at (photos, emails, or storage space limitations), as they each tend to be pretty impactful in addressing the problem and making a noticeable difference in one's collection of digital clutter.

A preview for a free download for organizing your desktop.

Another common place digital hoarding can present itself is on your desktop. If you're anything like the average person, it's really easy to let old files, photos, and documents pile up here without ever taking time to sort through or get rid of them.

This can be a great starting place because many of us have to face the reality of our messy desktops almost daily and the unwanted clutter can greatly impact our productivity and feelings of overwhelm.

To help you tackle this dilemma in particular, we've included a Clutter-Free Desktop Organizer Freebie to help ward off digital hoarding or clutter anxiety moving forward. (Click here for the editable Photoshop version!)

While these are just a few of the basic places we recommend you begin your tidying-up journey, we can't stress enough the importance of starting with small, manageable, achievable tasks. Too often, we see our clients attempt to take on their entire digital life, all in one bite. This can become really overwhelming fast, and will likely cause one to throw in the towel, too defeated to proceed (or even really start). Thus, digital hoarding tendencies ensue.

So, start with addressing the recommended places from above and get a few victories under your belt. Then, once you've built some confidence and are feeling the effects of a lighter digital load, continue to dive deeper and tackle your digital clutter promptly as it appears. As with most things, practice and consistency will make maintaining your digital life easier with time.

Final Thoughts

With a little patience and perseverance, it is possible to address digital hoarding DIY-style, and we have some more helpful tips for organizing your digital life to help you get going.

But if you've found you continue putting this project off, it may be a sign that you need help. Sometimes, it's simply a lack of the right resources or not having enough hours in the day.

If you find yourself unable to gain much traction in managing your digital clutter, consider enlisting the help of a professional digital organizer. They can help you take inventory of your biggest digital pain points, address them accordingly, and then set up a system to keep any digital hoarding at bay moving forward.

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