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Digital Hoarding

Um, this post on digital hoarding resonated with me in the sense that it made me examine my own digital tendencies.  Reading about how many unread messages were in the author’s inbox made me queasy.  Reading about how many messages were being kept in her inbox at all made my heart start pounding with anxiety.  Reading about how many pictures and videos she had brought my pulse back to a normal level.  But then she talked about email again and my breath started coming out in short gasps while I involuntarily barked, drooled, and then fell on the floor twitching.

I may be exaggerating slightly.

But only slightly.

I run both ends of the spectrum.  My inbox needs to be semi-empty.  It almost never goes under 12 messages because I have 12 emails that I keep in my inbox at all times for quick access.  But it seems that my threshold for emails in the inbox is 30.  Once it goes over 30, it starts making me anxious.  When it goes over 40, I start dropping work I need to do in order to carve out time to address the 40 emails that need answering.  The only messages in my inbox are messages that need to be dealt with in some way.  Once I have emailed someone back, the email is filed under one of my 250+ labels (I am considering consolidating some of those labels).

On the other end of the spectrum is my digital hoarding of pictures and video.  My mantra seems to be: “you never know when you might want to see this again.”  Things I KNOW I will never want to see again still get filed.  I have an incredible amount of images as well as video that I carry with me daily via mobile devices.  I like having it with me, even on days when I do not turn on said mobile device.  I refer to my iPod as my security blanket — it makes me feel better just to have these pictures and videos with me, even if I don’t use it.

That said, I am terrible at checking voice messages.  On my home phone, I’ll listen at the end of the day, though I’ve also been known to suddenly remember that I need to check the machine only to discover that the messages on it are three days old.  I never check my cell phone voice mail.  When I say “never,” I don’t mean that I check it once a week or so.  I mean that I never check it, therefore, it is currently full and people apparently cannot leave any more messages.  I was kindly told this in an email by my husband.

See, emails I deal with immediately.  Voice mails, not so much.

I don’t have text on the phone, I don’t listen to voice mails, and I make this perfectly clear to people.  Can I truly be held responsible for other people’s frustrations that I won’t use their favoured form of communication?  I clean out my freakin’ email inbox like I’m Bree Van de Kamp with a bottle of Lysol.  So what if the rest of my digital world is a mess?

Stewart writes in the post:

The thing is, we live in a consumer culture. It’s all about accumulating things: Clothes, shoes, snapshots, friends, followers, likes. We’ve created a world of have and have-nots, and convinced ourselves that it’s always better to have.

Is that it?  Is that why it’s so difficult to hit delete on an email we think we might want to read again one day?  So difficult to cull our friend list on Facebook, so difficult to drop people from our Twitter feed once they’re added?

Plus, the digital world isn’t the same as physical objects in your house.  You can digitally hoard and no one knows it unless they look at your phone or email account.  My iPod feels like the junk drawer in the house — it’s full to bursting, but no one knows simply by looking at the kitchen.

For me, my digital life mirrors my offline life: I have a tendency to hold onto physical objects (you do not want to see our storage room) both for sentimental and “what if we ever need it” reasons.  But I also am hyper-organized, with folders and colour-coded filing systems and to-lists galore.  I like to be organized.  I like to have the only things in front of me things I need to deal with.  Junk mail is trashed immediately.  Other mail is dealt with as soon as possible so it doesn’t pile up.  Permission slips are signed and returned on the first day.

And yet there are a crapload of DVDs and photographs around this house.

Are you a digital hoarder?  And does your online life mirror your offline life?


1 KnottedFingers { 09.21.11 at 8:13 am }

I am a digital hoarder. But that’s because I’ve lost some of my greatest online friends to death and the only things I have of them personally is last im or email sessions.

5 years ago I was following this very long well written fanfiction online and one night the author (who I admired greatly) and I got talking. I saved the emails and 3 months later she was dead.

The only things irl that I collect are mementos for my lost child. I like things clean and unorganized lol

2 St. Elsewhere { 09.21.11 at 8:33 am }

I am a bit paradoxical.

I am a digital hoarder. But I like to clean up stuff. I always archive my read mails, I don’t like to watch mails crammed into my inbox demanding attention.

But I began cleaning up old mails on another account, because I am turning it completely into an id for official use.

As a person, I hoard stuff, but lately have found it easy to do away with clothes rather than then previous tendency to save clothes thinking I may want them.

My work-desk is always clutter-free.

ICLW #39

3 HereWeGoAJen { 09.21.11 at 8:54 am }

I keep all my emails and pictures. I have systems for keeping them, but I don’t delete. My house is pretty much clutter free though.

And I hate checking voice mail on my phone. For years I didn’t even set it up, so that people didn’t have an option to leave me a voice mail. I just checked missed calls and called those people back. I mean, when is the last time you got a voice mail that said something other than “this is so and so, call me back”?

4 mash { 09.21.11 at 9:03 am }

Oh dear. Yes. I have 200 emails in my inbox. Some unread. Some unanswered. I have set myself some tasks of getting rid of 50 or so a day, but I never win at that because I get around 50 emails a day. And there are little corners of my house that mirror my inbox. Things I can’t throw away or decide about… I know it will make me SO happy when I do it… and yet I don’t do it. I am a huge digital hoarder, but since I am in IT and data is my livelihood, I don’t see it as a problem unless it’s messy. Things that are well organised digitally are awesome, but oh my nerves, those little odd folders that are polluting the rest of the perfect organisation…

5 Gail { 09.21.11 at 9:15 am }

I am a digital hoarder. I keep my inbox for my personal account to less than 20 and my work account to less than 100 with folders for everything else. My photos are all stored (whether they were good or not) in folders and I back them up every few months.

In my real life, I am not nearly as organized. I have a spot where the paid bills go that are waiting to be filed and I keep a stack of receipts next to the shredder for shredding (when it would likely be easier just to shred them as they come in). The cupboards and frig in the kitchen are fairly organized as are my closets and drawers of clothes, but they could always be much more organized. However, I can find things and nothing falls out when I open the doors. My desk at work is a whole other story. I have piles and post-it notes and papers everywhere. The only time it looks organized and neat is on Friday afternoon before I finish working for the week. Then, I clean everything and usually stack all my piles into one larger pile for the weekend.

On another topic, I found it interesting that you don’t listen to voicemails and that you went so far to say, “Can I truly be held responsible for other people’s frustrations that I won’t use their favoured form of communication?” I often feel the same way about Facebook and email. Although I understand that everyone prefers different things, it drives me insane that some of my friends and relatives won’t use email. This is my preferred method of communication with Facebook a close second. I literally use both to keep in touch with everything and everyone, except for a select few individuals. Some of them are older (like my parents) and I’ve just had to accept that they may never “get with the program” but others are friends that are my age (30ish) and I don’t understand what their excuse is for not jumping on the bandwagon. So, I inevitably forget to tell these friends things and/or invite them to events because they miss things. Or, they miss pictures of my trips and then complain that they didn’t see something when a bunch of us are talking about some picture that I posted on Facebook. I feel bad, but it is getting to the point that I can’t be bothered to send them secondary updates or make tons of phone calls because there just isn’t enough time.

6 Kyria { 09.21.11 at 9:46 am }

I am totally a hoarder, digital and IRL. However, like you, I am an “organized” hoarder. Everything is in a folder, color coded, labeled and put exactly in it’s place. I can find it in a second. But I do have a lot of things!

7 Shelli { 09.21.11 at 9:59 am }

I am exactly like you. I manage my inbox as if my life depended upon it, yet I can almost completely ignore voicemail.

My computer is very organized, my life outside of it, eh, it varies from semi-organized to cluttered.

My pain point is magazines. I hoard magazines, yet I never get around to reading them. Then they pile up to the point that I just trash them all. Then I get so angry with myself, yet the cycle repeats, over and over.

Must be some sort of name for my disorder. 🙂

8 a { 09.21.11 at 10:06 am }

Gail’s comment really crystallized my reaction to your voice mail issue – is there a compromise to be found on how you receive communications? If you hate getting voice mails, but your friend only feels comfortable communicating by phone, where does that leave you both? Or from a different perspective – if you only respond to email, and your friend hates to email, who gets to win? Which reminds me – I should probably start texting my best friend. Neither of us is much for the phone, she doesn’t email, but will respond – gotta try texting for more frequent communication.

Anyway, I hoard emails, but I do not ever leave them unread (unless there is a specific reason). I have over 5400 in one email account. I don’t even know why I bother on half of them…but many are notes back and forth to my husband. Trivialities, but our history, I suppose. I must organize my email, because I get about 100,000/day from my husband’s eBay addiction (OK, slight exaggeration, but it feels like that many). Then, every now and again, I go through the lot and delete a whole bunch of stuff because it’s getting on my nerves when I’m looking for something in particular.

Pictures – I save them all. Even the bad ones. And the duplicates of reduced size that I email. I am ridiculous. But then I got an external hard drive, so I can do that as much as I want! Videos too…

9 Mel { 09.21.11 at 10:25 am }

I think if both of us want the communication, it has to be a compromise (and if we can’t compromise, that is sort of a message unto itself about the relationship.) But if they want to communicate with me, they should probably choose a form of communication I clearly use. If I want to communicate with them, I choose a form of communication they use. For instance, if someone only likes to text, I’ll ask Josh to send a text message for me. I personally can’t do it because I don’t have text on my phone, but if that’s what they want, that’s what they get. I have someone who won’t email pics of their kids — they just put it up on Facebook and if I want to see them, that’s where I have to go. And I’m cool with that — if I want to see them, I know what I have to do. What I don’t think is cool is when people tell me that I need to get text on my phone because that’s how they like to communicate or I need to put up pics of my kids on Facebook because that’s where they like to see them.

10 sharah { 09.21.11 at 10:27 am }

I despise voicemail. If I could turn off that feature on my calling plans, I would.

11 marilyn { 09.21.11 at 11:21 am }

yes! yes I am! Why do I keep every email from good friends..because it is like letters, or cards. I just keep them. I have my 13 year old bat mitva cards. If anything to collect, this is one, and the other are pictures.

12 JustHeather { 09.21.11 at 11:36 am }

Oh, boy..I’m a hoarder all around and it’s an organized mess. My personal email is mostly organized, work isn’t so much. (I really should be better at it, but I just don’t have time to play with older emails. ) At home, I have crap everywhere, but I mostly know where things are, hubby doesn’t and it frustrates him. I have also been consciously doing much better at not buying things (craft stuff especially) just because. I’m also blaming this apathy for doing anything on this TTC journey, it’s quite bad. I hope and plan to change it when we move next year and move into our OWN place.

13 Rachel { 09.21.11 at 11:58 am }

Why did I get an iPhone? (Seriously?) Because I could delete my voice mails without listening to them. Sad, right? I am a digital hoarder on my iPod, as well. I have this crazy problem that I have to make sure certain songs are on it at all times. What if I am on a plane and I need to hear the entire, ginormous “Greatest Hits of Elton John”? I can’t ever take them off, even if they take up a huge amount of space. So weird. I also send myself quotes and articles to my gmail almost daily with things in the subject line like “for when mom turns 65” so that when the event comes, I can look it up and see what I saw 4 years in advance that seemed to be the perfect gift. Issues. I’ve got digital issues. 😉

Happy ICLW!

14 JustHeather { 09.21.11 at 12:09 pm }

Rachel: I gmail myself stuff ALL the time! It’s so easy, which is why I totally love gmail!

15 loribeth { 09.21.11 at 2:35 pm }

There was an article in the NYT not too long ago about trying to keep up with all the ways you can stay in touch with your friends now. I sent it to my mother; she loves to complain that nobody answers their phone anymore.


I am a hoarder, both digital & real life. The advantage (?) of digital hoarding is it takes up less space. I’m thinking Shelli must be my long-lost twin, because I have the exact same issue with magazines. It drives my dh batty & is a particular sore spot between us. (I’m the same way with books, but he’s also a bookphile, so I don’t hear about it as much from him, lol.)

I lost about three years worth of e-mails awhile back. Broke my heart. 🙁 Since then, I make sure to back it all up every few months. I do go through & try to file & delete some now & then, but it’s tough keeping up. I do read them all, though, except the ads/spam type stuff. By the time I get to some of the sale offers, they’re two weeks over anyway. :p I have years worth of e-mails at work. The last time I upgraded my computer & the tech support guys transferred over my stuff, one of them suggested I might want to do some weeding. Those e-mail archives have saved many people’s butts over the years, though!

And I most certainly keep all of my photos. I rotate my memory cards & don’t clear them until I’m ready to put them back into the camera. I download the photos from my camera to my hard drive as soon as I can & back up to an external hard drive every few months. I take in my card when it’s full & get a complete set of prints & a backup disc made. And I also make a backup disc that I take to my mom’s — so that (a) there’s a backup copy in a separate location & (b) she can see my pictures too. Call me obsessive. ; )

16 Kathy { 09.21.11 at 2:54 pm }

I won’t tell you how many emails I have in my inbox, as I imagine you would find it very disturbing. I use to try to keep it under control and then one day I just gave up. I think it is past the point of ever reigning in again, so most of the time now I just leave them there after I reply or don’t.

I too am a hybrid hoarder/very organized person. I am all about filing systems and color coding, but I have a tendency to be inconsistent with it all. There are certain areas of my life and places in our home that are super organized, alphabetized, etc. and others that are not.

You can add me to Shelli and Loribeth for being one to have way too many unread magazines on hand, “just in case” I want to/find the time to read them. Back in the day I even use to rip out interesting articles and file them by category, you know to be able to refer back to someday! This was pre-internet and Google searches, but I have still been known to do it now and then.

I also have lots of saved pics and videos too! That’s why buying a digital camera was the best thing ever, as before that I had all the hard copies in albums and filled an entire 5 shelf bookcase. It took awhile, but my DH finally convinced me to stop ordering prints of most of the digital pics I take, as it was silly and we can look at them just as easily on our computers and now phones. I still order prints for frames sometimes, but that’s about it.

Anyway, interesting post! 🙂


17 April { 09.21.11 at 5:57 pm }

I’m a digital hoarder, and my inbox absolutely HAS to be empty. I have a zillion folders and subfolders, and hubby always has a giggle at that. He never empties his trash. He has thousands upon thousands of spam because he doesn’t empty those either. But hey, it’s all invisible, so it only bothers me if I have to check his for the new insurance card.

We are, however, still in the process of decluttering and organizing our entire home. I would estimate that in the past year we’ve gotten rid of half of our stuff, and the difference is amazing. I was able to catalog and alphabetized our movie collection, and now I’m getting started on my books.

Since we started the decluttering mission, I’ve also begun to do the same in my email folders, so in my case, it’s more my virtual life trying to mimic my real life, than vice versa.

18 Kelly { 09.21.11 at 7:08 pm }

O. M. G. You and I share a brain! I’m an email whiz, but despise voicemail! I’m also a hoarder – but more in a binge and purge kind of way… I hoard for a while and then go a little crazy and throw everything out!

Happy ICLW Week!


19 Donor Diva { 09.21.11 at 7:51 pm }

OMG…My email box is exactly like my mail all over my house. It just keeps piling up until I get sick of it and trash it all. I am trying to get better.

20 coffeegrljp { 09.21.11 at 10:06 pm }

I’ve got about 17000 emails in my personal email account right now, but almost none of them are unread. I periodically cull the junk (I’ve gotten much better about doing it real-time and even unsubscribing from lists that are simply never going to get read). But I like keeping many of the personal emails from 2001 as it is a sort of chronicle of my life, a scrapbook of sorts from the time that I actively started using email and moved across country. It’s hard to think about purging those communications much as I still hold onto physical letters from my college days. I’m so glad I have all those letters. I particularly treasure those letters from my grandfather. 🙂 I suspect one day I’ll treasure equally the emails from my mom.

21 Justine { 09.21.11 at 10:58 pm }

I’m the same way about my inbox. It has to be clean … those are the things I’m responsible for acting upon, and I hate to feel like I haven’t “fulfilled” my responsibilities! I usually don’t have more than 10 messages in there. When I was working, I had folders for things that were really important to archive, but I deleted most of the email both sent and received once it was resolved. It’s sort of like a to-do list for me, I guess.

And I have a cell phone that does text messages, but I don’t read my texts or check my messages very often … I just don’t seem to communicate that way (and it drives me a little nuts when I’ve told people that and they STILL insist on sending me messages that way).

But I don’t really hoard anything in real life, either … my mother is a hoarder of all sorts of things, and my lack of hoarding is reactionary, I suspect. Even my fridge is completely empty by Friday night!

22 It Is What It Is { 09.22.11 at 12:37 am }

I was just talking in therapy today about how unsettled I feel not being completely unpacked from our move with everything in its place. I simply can’t relax with things in a state of disarray. I am a purger by nature, both digitally (except pictures) and irl. My husband is not so over the years I’ve allowed his ‘ways’ to rub off on me enough that things (paperwork mostly) got seriously out of whack. It stresses me out to no end that we have “piles” of things in different spots. So, tonight we went through a ton of paperwork and once we get filing cabinets we will create and maintain files.

Beyond that, I lead an orderly, organized life and LOVE it that way.

23 Katie { 09.22.11 at 12:31 pm }

People tease me at work relentlessly because I am the queen of organization. My inbox only contains messages that need responding or some kind of action. My sent box only contains messages that I’m waiting for a response on. I go insane any other way.

24 mic @ IF Crossroads { 09.25.11 at 11:06 am }

I just checked, for purposes of this comment, and I have 3,498 unread emails in my Gmail box right now. I have over 21,000 total unsorted emails. I think I might be in love with Google since it doesn’t require me to pay attention to my in box. On the flip side, I have become incredibly unorganized and have started forgetting to respond to emails. I am just overwhelmed by the sheer amount of digital garbage that I have accumliated. You should teach a seminar on how to become organized in email management. Also, I too hate voicemaul.I really despise it when someone leaves me a oicemail telling me to call them. I know you called, I will call you back!

25 Natalie { 09.27.11 at 12:48 am }

Oh yes, I am a digital hoarder. I have so many photos – even the blurry or half off frame ones are kept. I just get nervous deleting them.
I almost never check my voicemail either. I’m sure it seriously pisses people off. But for some reason checking voicemail gives me a lot of anxiety. I have been known to delete messages after hearing only a few words, because I’m panicking. It’s very weird.

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