“Digital hoarding is a huge problem. There is so much available storage, we don’t have to make decisions anymore,” says David D. Nowell, a neuropsychologist specializing in attention issues in Worcester, Mass. “The problem isn’t that it slows down your computer—it slows down your brain,” he warns, since each of those photos, links and folders demands some mental energy.
There isn’t a set number of emails in an inbox or photos saved that defines a hoarder. Accumulating crosses the line into hoarding, experts say, when it is disorganized and dysfunctional and gets in the way of other relationships and responsibilities.
When a Busy Inbox Signals a Problem
There are no official criteria for ‘digital hoarding’ but there are some tell-tale signs:
• You’ve exceeded your 7 gigabytes of free space in Gmail and have to buy more.
• Deleting anything makes you anxious—even things you can’t remember why you saved.
• You spend more time searching for a file than it would take to download it again.
• You have dozens of icons on your desktop and don’t know what they’re for.
• You can’t remember all your email or social-media accounts or how to access them.
• You have flash drives scattered in drawers, pockets and purses and no idea what’s on them.
• Of your thousands of digital photos, the vast majority are duds.
• You have entire seasons of bad TV shows you have no intention of watching.
Professional organizers who specialize in technology issues offer these tips for conquering digital hoarding:
•Practice ‘zero email.’ Discipline yourself to clean out your inbox completely every day, answering, filing or deleting each item.
• Declare ‘email bankruptcy.’ Delete every unread email in your inbox and alert your 10 best friends and colleagues that if they have sent something crucial, they should send it again.
• Unsubscribe to every newsletter and mailing list you don’t need or want immediately.
• Set your spam filter to block any regular emails you don’t want to receive.
• Don’t check your inbox continuously, and disable the ‘dinger’ alerts. Set specified times to read and answer email each day.
• Don’t copy and save documents; save Internet addresses where you can find them later, if necessary.
• Remember, people typically use only about 20% of what they save.