Most people are familiar with hoarding and the psychological issues associated with it. Hoarding leads to messy, cluttered homes and difficulty parting with items that you don’t use and don’t even need. But collecting items and developing a reluctance to get rid of them can also occur in the digital realm.
Digital hoarding is a relatively new term that refers to a person’s excessive acquisition and unwillingness to delete electronic material. A digital hoarder may amass thousands of files and maintain storage of digital artifacts that are essentially unnecessary and irrelevant to their life. The term is now being used more often in pop culture especially among people that are self-proclaimed “data hoarders” who trade tips on how to manage all of their files.
People who have habits of digital hoarding may have a very different experience of people involved in real life hoarding but it can lead to purchasing expensive equipment and obsessive behavior. Digital hoarding can be healthy in some cases but it can also lead to obsession and unhealthy attachment. Depending on the individual’s personal experience they may use data hoarding as a hobby or it may be a problem they want to address.
Digital Hoarding vs Real Life Hoarding
One of the reasons digital hoarding can be viewed very differently from normal hoarding is that it may not have as many real life consequences. A person who hoards actual physical items often lives a disorganized and stressful existence because of their problem. It can cause problems with their family, their relationships and lead to them becoming more isolated.
Hoarding itself is considered a compulsive behavior and it often associated with other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Hoarding leads to obsessive thoughts and fear at the idea of getting rid of some items. It can cause a lot of distress and even functional impairment including health hazards, loss of living space and financial difficulties.
Digital hoarding is not a problem that leads to the type of hazards caused by collecting physical items but it can have other repercussions. If it causes anxiety at the thought of getting rid of items or obsessive thoughts and actions then it can be harmful. Many data hoarders spend thousands of dollars on expensive hard drives to store their digital collections.
Overall though, digital hoarding is considered healthier than actual hoarding because it doesn’t always lead to conflict and issues in real life. Most data hoarders now simply consider themselves hobbyists that enjoy organizing and finding new ways to archive their files. Collectors of digital files like to hold onto more obscure texts, photos or other types of media that are quick to disappear from the internet.
Understanding Digital Hoarding
Many people who identify themselves as “data hoarders” are approaching it from a collector’s mentality because they want to maintain esoteric data. They might collect files such as manuals for old technologies, episodes of old tv shows that aren’t available to stream, vintage posters, obscure video games from the 80s and other things that might otherwise never be found again. Digital hoarders want to preserve the files that they feel have value and they want to maintain as a type of archive.
Those who don’t approach digital hoarding from a “hobbyist” or collector’s perspective may simply have issues with letting go of their files. They may not develop skills or interest in organizing or archiving their data in a way that is useful to them or anyone else. A digital hoarder who compulsively keeps useless items simply amasses their own “digital clutter” that may cause confusion and anxiety for them.
Digital hoarding is not necessarily classified as a hoarding disorder because it does not show itself through any physical clutter. However it occurs in certain electronic spaces such as browser tabs, excessive desktop icons, electronic file folders, email inboxes, old software programs and other types of data. When clutter collects in these areas it can make it more difficult to get work done and they may experience anxiety as a result.
As is the case with hoarding disorder, most digital hoarders feel anxious about the prospect of deleting any of their digital items. They may not know how to organize their files or feel that keeping all of them is easier than trying to sort through and manage them. Instead of deleting any of their files they might choose to purchase a large data storage device so they won’t have to be selective about the data they keep.
Digital hoarding can show itself in many ways but when it causes anxiety or issues with organization and productivity then it needs to be addressed. Digital clutter can be draining and stressful for some people and may be an indication of media addiction. By organizing and getting rid of useless files, people with this problem can ease some of their distress and declutter their own mind as well.