Our devices allow us to save all the important stuff – from family photos to work documents and everything in between. But what about the not-so-important stuff we accumulate on our phones, tablets and computers “just in case”?

Do you really need 21 photos of that stranger’s dog on the beach? Or thousands of emails from the past decade sitting in your inbox? We think not.

Just because it doesn’t take up physical space doesn’t mean it’s not clutter.

If you think there’s no way a few old PDFs and Pinterest screenshots could have a negative effect on your life, think again. Digital clutter can cause the same feelings of stress as traditional hoarding.


What is digital hoarding?

Woman using smartphone

Digital hoarding is the over-accumulation of electronic materials like photos, emails, files, and software that is no longer useful to the owner.

In a world where digital space is cheap and bountiful, there’s no longer a need to delete files because we require the space for something else. So we hold onto the endless stream of selfies that didn’t make it to Instagram, and we keep those old hotel booking confirmation emails from years past.

Maybe it’s because we’re lazy. Maybe it’s because we think we might need them some day. Or maybe it’s because we put such a high importance on social media, we’re overvaluing our digital assets. But eventually our memory chips and hard drives are drowning in stuff we don’t need, and we never really think of how this could be affecting us.


Negative Consequences of Digital Hoarding

Digital hoarding concept - businessman using devices

While digital hoarding is yet to be established by the medical world as a condition like traditional hoarding disorder, it’s been linked to similar negative effects.

In his research paper, associate professor at Monash University Australia, Darshanda Sedera, explains:

“The impact of digital hoarding (as opposed to traditional hoarding disorder) seems to have a similar negative effect on one’s level of stress.”

In her article Digital (or Virtual) Hoarding: Emerging Implications of Digital Hoarding for Computing, Psychology, and Organization Science (2018), Jo Ann Oravec, professor of information technology and business education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, shares a similar opinion. She argues that it’s not so much about how much information we’re holding onto, but whether we feel like we have control over this data. She states:

“My students tell me it’s nausea, it’s a sense of disequilibrium when they begin to look through the masses of photos that they have.”

So if our endlessly accumulating files are causing us to feel stress and a lack of control, why aren’t we doing anything about it? Again, perhaps it’s because we can’t see the clutter. Perhaps it’s because we don’t need to free up the gigabytes for something else.

But if your digital clutter is making you feel a bit antsy or out of control, it might be time to press ‘delete’.


Tips to Declutter Your Phone and Devices

Deleting Files Concept

If you’re going to take control and declutter your phone and other devices, you’ll want to set aside a bit of time so you can do a thorough cull of the stuff you don’t need anymore.

Make yourself a snack, get comfortable, and put on your most inspirational soundtrack.

Decluttering Photos

  • Delete photos you don’t want or need (don’t forget to delete from the trash folder, too).
  • Move any special photos on your phone to your computer or external hard drive, then delete from your phone (because they don’t need to live there forever, y’know).

Decluttering Apps

  • Delete apps you haven’t used in the past 3 months.
  • Organise remaining apps by category into clearly labelled folders.

Decluttering Emails

  • Delete emails you don’t need – try filtering them by date to delete old emails in bulk.
  • Organise remaining emails into clearly labelled folders.

The same goes for any documents, music, and movies. If you don’t need it, give it the boot. And if you do need it, make sure it’s in a place you can easily find it. This will help you take control of your data and avoid digital clutter.

Now, why not continue your cathartic culling with our room-by-room guide to decluttering your home?