Hello, I Am A Digital Hoarder.


At the moment, I have 112,775 emails in the inbox of my work account, 91,488 of which are unread. There are 20,241 messages in the inbox of my personal email account — 6,316 of which are unread. My iPhone has 2,498 photos and 178 videos on it, with 48 never-listened-to voicemails. There’s a folder on my desktop called “Jezebel Pix,” and it holds 3,514 jpegs. These are separate from my personal image folders, and my music (9,519 mp3 files). Going through my phone the other day, looking for someone’s number, I saw the contact information for a friend who died in 2006. Am I doing something wrong?

If acknowledging that you have a problem is key to arriving at a solution, then I admit it: I am a digital hoarder.

I mean, when someone says, “Do you have that email where the guy wrote that the only remaining piece of Americana in the NEW WORLD ORDER is Spuds McKenzie?” I am the one who can say, “Yes, I’ll forward it to you.” I still have work jpegs from 2008 (LOLVogue!). I use email drafts to save links, documents and pictures in the cloud, and as far as the inbox goes, I only open the emails I absolutely need to open. When I’m looking at my inbox, I just scan the newest ones, above the last one I opened — most of the time, I don’t need to open it to know what’s inside — so I usually don’t miss important stuff. (Usually.)

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. So I blame society! And my pack-rat DNA: My dad was the type who couldn’t imagine why you’d buy a Halloween costume if you had a closet to rifle through and an imagination. Our Barbie beds were shoeboxes. But instead of instilling some kind of frugality, I grew to develop in a very dangerous mindset: Anytime I consider throwing something out, I stop and think to myself, You never know when you might need that.

Though I am working on the accumulation issue when it comes to household stuff (moving helps with that), I do not have a grip on the digital hoarding. I just find it so hard to delete. And with oodles of megabytes in my email accounts, I don’t really have to. But sometimes I look at the number of unread emails (right now it’s jumped to 91,509) and I feel vaguely ill. The number certainly looks intimidating, and when I told my editor that I had around ninety thousand unread emails, she looked at me with the kind of genuine alarm and disbelief you might expect from someone being attacked by pack of feral hamsters.

So what am I supposed to do? Start deleting huge chunks of messages from my inbox? Delete-as-I-go from now on? Doesn’t that suck up a lot of time? And! More important: With all the free storage my email account is offering, wouldn’t it be a waste not to use it? Is digital hoarding actually a problem? Or is saving everything a pretty smart way to deal with today’s information overload? (Please say it’s the latter.)

Image by Ulrich Mueller/Shutterstock.

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