OK, I need to admit something: Hi, my name is Alice Clarke, and I am a digital hoarder.

Of all the hoarding types to have, this one isn’t too bad. It doesn’t clutter our apartment too much, it’s not unreasonably expensive, and I’m unlikely to be crushed by boxes and eaten by cats.

But while digital hoarding is nowhere near as serious and debilitating as regular hoarding, it does make it difficult to find the things that are important to me, and it’s hard to sort through everything because the fear of accidentally deleting something that’s important is real.

The thing is, though, I know I'm not alone in this. You might be a digital hoarder too and just not realise it.

  • How does your desktop look at the moment? Is it covered in files you’re not entirely sure what they are but don’t want to get rid of?
  • Do you have a drawer of USB keys and HDDs that you know have something important on them, but don’t want to check what that is?
  • Does your Documents folder look like possums nested in it?
  • Is your phone’s camera roll 50% precious memories / 50% slightly blurry photos of dinner, or selfies with your eyes shut that you’d never post or want to look at again, but somehow can’t get rid of due to inertia?

If you said yes to any of those things, congratulations, you’re probably a digital hoarder, too.

Now, there are different levels of this. Have you ever been kept awake at night with the thought that one day the HDD storing you iTunes library could die, and you’d lose the live concert recordings of your favourite band when you were a teenager, and the terrible demos from your first band? Do you panic that your new computers won’t have enough space, and constantly invest in more SSDs? Or do you just keep meaning to clean things out and never get around to it?

While technically, you don’t really need to do anything about digital hoarding unless it’s causing you actual, tangible problems, it might be worth looking into making sure your actually important files are properly backed up.

Think about all the things that would devastate you to lose – the video from your wedding, baby photos, the bootlegs of the unreleased album from your favourite band, and back them up. Do some research into which forms of storage last the longest, and (if it’s not too much stuff, or too expensive) do a double backup and keep one copy at your place, and one copy at a friend or relative’s house.

Maybe it’s being raised in an apocalypse prepper’s bunker built into the side of a particularly flammable mountain, but I’m always worried that maybe one day my apartment will catch fire and I’ll lose everything.

My dad has the same, much more justified fear, that the forest near his house will burn down, so we each have a USB key of our most important files. Using cloud storage is good, too, but there’s a lot of risks and monthly expenses that make having that tangible backups of just the key items feel more reassuring.

I also recommend printing out and framing a couple of your most important photos. Just because it’s nice, and printed photos will outlive most HDDs. Another Very Good Thing to do is to just take a day, maybe sitting with a trusted and calm loved one going through your files and drives, making sure you’re only keeping the gold.

Like getting rid of physical items, it can be a stressful and upsetting process, so make sure the person you do it with is a calming and loving presence who understands. Also, it’s much more fun to laugh at your hilarious teenage phases with someone who loves you than doing it alone.

So, yeah. I'm a digital hoarder, and while I'm probably not going to do anything about it, it's not too late for you.

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