How many emails do you have in your inbox right now? How many tabs are open on your browser as you read this? How many files do have downloaded to your devices you don’t really need anymore but are hanging onto anyway? How many selfies and pictures of your kids and pets are on your on your Camera Roll, long after you uploaded them to Facebook or Instagram?

As the storage capacity of our devices keeps increasing with every upgrade and as cloud storage plans cost just pennies (and some, like Google Drive are even free), it might not seem like a problem to hold on to thousands of emails, photos, documents and various other digital belongings.

But new research on digital hoarding–a reluctance to get rid of the digital clutter we accumulate through our work and personal lives–suggests that it can make us feel just as stressed and overwhelmed as physical clutter. Not to mention the cybersecurity problems it can cause for individuals and businesses and the way it makes finding that one important email you need sometimes seem impossible.

What is Digital Hoarding?

The term digital hoarding was first used in 2015 in a scientific paper about a man in the Netherlands who took several thousand digital photos each day and spent hours processing them. “He never used or looked at the pictures he had saved, but was convinced that they would be of use in the future,” wrote the authors.

Experts now define digital hoarding as the “accumulation of digital files to the point of loss of perspective, which eventually results in stress and disorganisation”. And it’s something that is affecting more and more of us, whether we consciously realize it or not.

The authors of the original paper went further. They set out to find out what people were digitally hoarding and why.

The reasons people gave for hanging on to their digital effects varied–including pure laziness, thinking something might come in handy, anxiety over the idea of deleting anything and even wanting “ammunition” against someone. Emails were the biggest problem, with many participants admitting that even looking at their inboxes was a source of stress.

And that’s the problem. Digital clutter seems to be as stressful as physical clutter. But as more and more things ‘go online’ – when was the last time you paid your bills by sending a check in the mail? – the digital clutter in our lives gets bigger and bigger.

Getting Digitally Organized

So, how do you do a digital declutter? Like physical decluttering it’s a process, one that will be different for everyone. But here are some basics to help you get started.

Decluttering Your Desktop

  • Clean Up the Desktop: remove all the files and programs from your desktop. Use Spotlight or Search to open them instead
  • Choose a Clean Wallpaper: it might seem silly, but your wallpaper can have a big impact on your productivity. Pick a photo that won’t distract you but rather help you focus.
  • Uninstall Programs: go through your programs and apps and delete everything that you don’t use. Many PCs come ‘preloaded’ with programs we never use but don’t delete. Take the time to do that now.
  • Install Updates: after clearing your unused apps, check for updates on the ones left and install them

Decluttering Your Phone

  • Remove Apps: as with the computer, start by deleting all the apps you don’t use anymore. For apps you use but not frequently consider using the browser version
  • Remove Social Media: trust me, you’ll survive. Social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely a bad habit and the Facebook app in particular is a memory killer for your phone.
  • Clean Up Contacts: browse through your contact list and delete numbers you won’t need ever again
  • Delete: the prime candidates are podcasts and music you don’t listen to anymore. Stream instead of downloading
  • Remove Notifications: leave phone calls and text messages but remove all the other notifications. The world won’t end. When you want to check something, open the app and do so. Don’t let the app force you to open it
  • Do Not Disturb: schedule Do Not Disturb after working hours so you can relax, such as from 8 PM to 8 AM

Decluttering Your Inbox

  • No Email Before 11 AM: spend the early morning focusing on critical work that moves the needle on your goals for the day.
  • Close It: if you’re done, close it. Out of sight, out of mind
  • Unsubscribe: from anything you don’t need, such as newsletters, groups, mailing lists, and notifications
  • Send Fewer Emails: not every email needs a response, especially if it’s only going to be “Thanks!”
  • Be Short: don’t write ten sentences when two suffice. Try replying to every email with three sentences or less
  • Reply with Statements: don’t answer questions with another question. When asked “What time should we have the meeting at?”, be assertive: “10 AM”

Decluttering Your Internet Habits

  • Know Your Time Wasters: use Time Tracker to figure where you spend most of your web browsing time. Knowing the time-wasters is the first step
  • Unfollow & Unfriend: if it doesn’t interest, entertain, or inform you anymore it’s time to go. Our feeds are full of distracting posts from people we’re not close to. Unfriend anyone that doesn’t add value to your life
  • No Bookmark Bar: next time you want to browse Facebook you’ll have to manually type it
  • Review Your Reading: stop browsing websites that do not contribute to your life. Removing an option by default is the quickest way to change behavior.

Your home, your digital habits or your life. The professional organizers of Just Organized by Taya can help you take control of clutter and get organized. Contact us today to learn more. 

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