4 tips to help deal with the digital hoarding in your life

Here and Now

We know what physical clutter looks like — stacks of newspapers, dusty knick-knacks, piles of clothes. Psychiatrists now agree that hoarding, when clutters is taken to the Nth degree, is actually a psychological disorder.

But digital hoarding is also becoming increasingly common. Wired magazine wrote that it might be the first psychiatric disorder born of the digital age.

Joshua Zerkel, owner of Custom Living Solutions in San Francisco, said his clients’ computers can be as messy as their offices.

“All of them have some paper. Many of them are moving increasingly toward more digital information, which is, frankly, where I spent a lot of my time with them these days,” Zerkel said.

Tens of thousands of emails, old photos, even e-books take up hard drive space and often make it difficult to quickly find needed information.

Zerkel said his clients are often turning to habits developed in the paper era, and keep everything.

“In truth, they’ll probably make use of” any of them, he said.

Of those photos people keep, Zerkel has often found there’s absolutely no reason to have them. Sometimes they’re unflattering, other times they include people they don’t even like. And oftentimes, they don’t even remember when the photos were from.

“I had one person who was really into movies and he digitized all of his DVDs onto his hard-drive. And he’s keeping movies he doesn’t even like,” Zerkel said. “These things just don’t make sense. Get rid of the things that you don’t want. They’re just getting in the way.”

Zerkel says it goes beyond just lack of organization — it turns into a disorder. For instance, many of his clients don’t delete emails because they’re afraid of parting with them.

Zerkel said the problem has gotten worse since storage on hard drives has become less and less costly.

“You can buy a terabyte hard drive for under $100 now,” he said.

Additionally, Zerkel said, a lot of times the stored information can be gotten again, and more up-to-date, when the need arises, rather than after sorting through mounds of digital data.

“When you need information, you want the relevant version. Oftentimes, especially if you’re keeping old copies of things, they may not actually be useful to you when you actually go and retrieve them because they’re out-dated.”

Also, most of Zerkel’s clients tell him they’re overwhelmed by the sheer amount of digital information available to them.

Zerkel offered these tips for how to simplify your digital life:

  1. Make Choices: “You are not obligated to be on every social network or receive every email newsletter… the people that are best able to manage these things are the ones who decide which things make the most sense for them,” he said. When it comes to what you’re saving on your hard drive, think about what is driving you nuts and start deleting there, Zerkel said.
  2. Sift through emails: Delete those you won’t need, archive others, and develop a strategy for moving forward.
  3. For computer files, use the same category names on your computer as you do on paper. “The more you use the same structures and folder styles, the easier it will be to find and put things away in both places,” Zerkel writes.
  4. Label your file methodically. Even though each individual paper in your filing system doesn’t need a name, each computer file does. A file name should contain a description, the version number, the date it was created, and who created it. You should be able to find what file you’re looking for without having to open it.
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