Tips to Avoid Digital Hoarding

You’ve probably seen at least a preview of the TV show Hoarders and thought to yourself, “What could lead a person to live like that?”  Piles of boxes, papers, clothes, food and junk cluttering up a house can become a breeding ground for germs and bugs alike.  But many of us have our own, more subtle, hoarding issue.  Digital hoarding has become a major problem in the cyber-age as many people refuse to get rid of files and e-mails which then clog up their hard drive space.  But what causes digital hoarding, and how can you break the cycle of hoarding and rid yourself (and your computer) of unneeded files.

Simply put, digital hoarding is the accumulation of files and emails on a computer or other storage device.  Many people hold on to thousands of documents, music files, videos and digital photos for two reasons.  First, they do not understand that their hard drives and email storage is finite and that they have a limit to what they can hold onto.  These people simply aren’t cognizant of how these unnecessary files clog up their hard drive and slow down their computer’s speed.  The second group holds onto this material out of fear—a sense that they will need this again someday and they can’t delete it “just in case.”  Some people go so far as to buy portable hard drives which they fill up with terabytes worth of information rather than part with anything.

If you do think that you have a problem, here are some suggestions that may help with “thinning your stockpile”:

  • Do not save every email.  You should only keep those that are current and pertain to jobs or events that are still outstanding.  Once an assignment has been completed, delete the email.  If you receive an email from your boss saying that he or she will be out of the office on a certain day, make a note of it on your calendar and then delete the email.  There is no point in having this in your inbox three years later!
  • Set aside a day to delete.  Go to your documents and take each folder on a case-by-case basis.  If you have not needed the file in the past year, chances are you will never need it again, so it is probably safe to delete it.  Also, ask yourself, “If I do need this again, will I be able to download it from another source?”  If you answer “yes” it is probably safe to get rid of it and then download it again if you ever find yourself needing it.
  • Go through your music files and look for duplicates.  Many of us have multiple copies of music and video files (and everything else) clogging up on files.  If this is the case, delete all the extraneous files and just keep one copy.
  • Go through your pictures and delete the ones that are blurry.  Many of us just copy all of pictures off a camera and then never look at them again.  There is nothing wrong with holding on to these memories, but do you really need an out of focus picture of your Aunt Judith that is so blurry that it could be anyone?  Or do you need those test shots of your wall or carpet that you took accidentally when you were trying to figure out the camera?  Getting rid of these will clear up a lot of hard drive space.
  • Finally, go to the Control Panel and select Uninstall on your computer.   Look at each and every program on the list, paying close attention to the last date used column.  If you haven’t used a program since you bought the computer three years ago, uninstall it.  (Be careful with this though.  If you don’t know what a program is, look it up and find out.  You don’t want to delete anything that might be integral to your computer’s operating system.)

These are just a few tips on how to break the cycle of digital hoarding.  Your computer doesn’t have to be a cluttered mess.  Just like you set aside a time to spring clean your house, set aside a time to spring clean your computer.  It will be worth it in the long run.

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