How clean is your digital life? Do you clean your phone inbox as regularly as you clean your house? Well, if your browser is filled with saved bookmarks, your phone filled with text messages, or your computer filled with file folders, then you could be having a bigger clutter problem than you think. We are living in a digital space that is as relevant in our lives as our physical living spaces. That is why no matter how clean or organized your attic, basement, kitchen cabinet, or closets are, you need to start thinking about digital hoarding and the impact it has on your life.
What is Digital Hoarding?
Also known as cyber hoarding, digital hoarding is the reluctance to discard digital information. This information includes images, videos, emails, gifs, and any info that can be gathered and stored in a phone, computer, or any other tech device, either online or offline. Psychiatrists argue that although it is unclear as to how big an impact this hoarding has on our lives, there is significant proof that it affects our mental health to an undetermined extent. Tons of research is needed for psychologists to understand the exact extent of the problem and to determine its most appropriate diagnosis.
Preliminary surveys show that an average American digital consumer has at least 13 unused mobile apps on their phone and over 500 saved cellphone pictures. On personal computers, the average American has saved over 20 unnecessary desktop icons, bookmarked over 80 unused websites, and saved thousands of reading emails. In fact, about 2% of Americans have over 20,000 unread emails, information that they are unwilling to delete yet they clearly have no use for it.
There is also another 645 gigabytes of material, on average, which people keep in external storage, yet they don’t consume most of it after saving it. All this clutter filling up your cyberspace will definitely take up some sizeable space in your mind, even as much as it doesn’t take up physical space in your home.
How Does Digital Hoarding Affect Mental Health?
Psychology experts see digital hoarding as an online replica of the hoarding disorder, a mental health problem that is associated with the reluctance to offload unnecessary baggage in life. People who suffer from hoarding disorder are skeptical about getting rid of things as they are convinced that something unpleasant will stem out from the mere act of throwing that thing away. Some will argue that by disposing of a contaminated product, they are primarily putting it out there to harm other people, so they opt to hold onto it. Others will argue that after disposing of an item because it is no longer useful to them, that something will come up in the future and the disposal of the item will prove to have been necessary.
In a nutshell, cyber hoarding can be seen as a disorder that makes its victims both paranoid and skeptical in regards to decluttering their digital lives. As a result of this disorder, people may:
- Become anxious
Digital hoarders place too much emotional value on what is ordinarily seen as trash. They keep the unwanted digital files as a cushioning for an unspecified future problem, or as a future source of comfort. These people keep songs, video clips, and images with the expectation that one day- one unspecified day, they would revisit them and find comfort in looking through them. But this cushioning breeds more anxiety than comfort. It entertains the idea that something terribly stressful will happen in the future. Digital hoarders live in fear that their digital content (digital comfort) will be stolen from them or be accidentally deleted. That kind of stress isn’t healthy for the human brain.
- Clutter their mind
At what point do you stop keeping new content and start consuming the already stored information? Most digital hoarders keep piling new information until they are drowning in information and even then, they hoard some more. If you aren’t careful, you will be finding something that “means a lot to you” online all the time and keeping it. You will be keeping thousands of “memorabilia” images every month. You will be taking pictures from thousands of angles and saving them all because, weirdly, they all mean something to you. All this information you keep is trash because, after all, you are likely to never go back to use it. It only ends up cluttering your mind and disturbing your peace of mind.
- Get entangled in a self-perpetuating cycle
Uncontrolled emotional attachment to digital content results in a toxic self-perpetuating cycle whereby the hoarder hangs onto things they will never need in the future, then when the future comes, they save and get attached to new things. The future just never comes. The problem with this cycle is that it leads to a productivity decline in the workplace. If you have reached this stage, it will help if you consult with a life coach who can guide you out of the cycle. The best way to choose the right and adequate life coach, particularly for your needs is to initially understand what is life coaching and then select the best coach out there.
What Is the Way Forward?
Are you struggling to shake off chronic digital hoarding? If you are, you need to start keeping records of your hoarding triggers. This record will help you discover your hoarding patterns and early warning signs. Once you understand which digital content you can’t seem to get rid of, you can make a commitment never to record it on your phone leave alone saving it. You can also ask a friend to be deleting a few of your old files every day in order to reduce the clutter.