African American Man on Laptop at Work

We are all guilty of holding on to things for way too long, trying to convince ourselves that we will use the item again. For example, that gadget that you received as a Sneaky Santa gift 20 years ago that, even today, you still have no clue how it works; or a sweatshirt that you wore as a teen that you believe one day you may fit into again. Just as we hoard physical “stuff,” we can also hoard digital “stuff” as well.

Our lives are consumed with our digital devices, whether it be for work or pleasure. On average, adults spend 34-44 years of their lives looking at screens on mobile devices and computers. During those years we have stored up hundreds, if not thousands of emails, pictures, and other data digital content. This is called digital or data hoarding. It is a reluctance to get rid of data that no longer is needed. Some data is unusable or no longer holds value and yet is still saved and stored. How many times have you tried to send an email, realize said email was not sent because your inbox reached its maximum storage limit? The only way for the email to successfully go through is to clear some old emails out to allow more space. With digital storage capacities increasing we sometimes believe that we have infinite storage space. People have many reasons as to why they want to save data and some of those reasons are valid. For example, holding on to certain emails because it may need to be referenced at a later date could be a good reason to save that email. However, not all emails hold the same importance.

Digital data does not accumulate overnight. Over months and years, we gather all types of digital content. In 2017 Summit Hosting did a survey about digital hoarders, and what they found is the average American has at least seven open tabs in their browser, 13 unused phone apps, at least 15 unread emails, 20 desktop icons, over 500 saved cell phone pictures and about 87 bookmarks. Let’s also not forget text messages, video clips, social media friends and folders are also forms of digital clutter.

While in the moment we justify saving certain data, there is a downside. The more data your hard drive has to manage, the harder it has to work. This could lead to device slow down. A slow device can make you less productive. There is also the security factor. Cyber criminals are always on the prowl looking for new ways to access a network. The more data we have, the more at risk we are to a cyber-attack. We also should think about effects on the environment. The cloud is often viewed as the arbitrary element of the digital world. Although we can’t technically see it, that data we put in the cloud is physically stored somewhere on actual servers. It takes a lot of energy to power those servers and to keep them running.

One of the best things we can all do is to declutter our data… kind of like spring digital cleaning! Here are some tips that can help you jump start the process.

  • Unsubscribe to any newsletters or other digital notifications you don’t use. Also, when visiting websites, verify they do not automatically subscribe you to content or their mailing list.
  • Delete any duplicate files. If it is very important, back it up.
  • Once a month scroll through your devices and look at your cameral roll. Pictures that are blurry or any screen shots that are not needed should be deleted.
  • Check your text messages. Keeping text messages from five years ago may not be the best thing. Think about enabling your phones features that automatically delete messages after 30 days.
  • Go through your apps. Only apps that are used on a regular basis should be on your device. Delete apps that are no longer needed.
  • Do social media inventory. Delete or unfollow who ever you do not interact with.
  • Empty the trash. Each week take time to empty your digital trash.
  • Organize your email. Set up filters to ensure important emails are never missed.