What is data hoarding, and how to declutter your device?

Anton P. | June 2, 2021

Data hoarding is similar to the physical accumulation of items and goods that offer little to no value. However, in this case, excessive collecting refers to information, not to any tangible things. So, by definition, data hoarding (or digital hoarding) describes the superfluous gathering and storing of data. While it might seem like you can never have too much data, it is not the case.

Defining data hoarding

Data hoarding (e-hoarding, cyber hoarding) means the excessive collection and retention of data. Users might keep electronic material even though they no longer need it. Feeling reluctant to throw anything away typically leads to clutter (at least for physical hoarding). However, data hoarding is not as recognizable.

Digital hoarders do not need manpower or actual space in their homes to preserve their items. Instead, electronic material gets stuck on laptops, smartphones, cloud, or PCs. They might run out of storage, but data hoarding might not be as overwhelming to the accumulator.

An active Reddit community represents just how positively data hoarding might work. Members of this community claim to be digital librarians, preserving the information for a variety of reasons. These motives include legal requirements, competitive requirements, distrust in cloud services, and cultural and familial reasons.

Also, people claim to prepare for the end of the internet, when we will lose some or all digital resources. With governments suppressing access to specific digital assets, it is understandable why individuals tend to preserve them. Many experts claim that instead of expanding horizons in today’s society, the internet shrinks little by little. Thus, data hoarding might be an attempt to conserve critical information for when entities forbid access to it.

Nevertheless, it does not mean that data hoarding is not detrimental. Users that tend to bottle everything up will need more hard drives and power to handle the load. However, for the most part, with the digital storage capacities increasing, users will likely have a place for their data. It is an issue as well, as many might underestimate data hoarding because of unlimited storage capacities.

Reasons and types of digital hoarders

Data hoarding will not be identical in all cases. People do it for varying reasons, and their motives and techniques differ.

  • An anxious hoarder. These people are fearful that if they delete data, this action will have severe consequences.
  • A collector. This type of accumulator will probably value order and have impressive organizational skills. All the details are likely to be neatly stored in their designated places.
  • A compliant hoarder. Some people might hold on to data because others instruct them to do so. For instance, companies might require employees to retain files or other information.
  • A disengaged hoarder. Data hoarding could mean that people do not know where to start cleaning up their cyber clutter. However, they might make no effort to learn.

Signs of data hoarding

There are many clues hinting that we feel reluctant to get rid of digital data no longer necessary to us. In many cases, data hoarding means that users have formed emotional attachments to their electronic data.

Additionally, users preserve content believing that they will need it at some point. This just-in-case attitude will quickly fill up your computer with useless information.

Let’s look at the common symptoms of digital hoarding and whether any of them apply to you.

  • Cluttered inboxes. The chances are, you have more than a couple of unread emails in your inbox. According to a survey of over a thousand participants, an average American has 15 unread emails. The unwillingness to open and delete emails is relatively strong. Typically, people hesitate to get rid of emails because of fear they will need them in the future.
  • Desktop icons. Cleaning up our desktops is a pain. As soon as we finish, it quickly fills up again. Americans tend to have approximately 21 icons on their desktops. Data hoarding can mean that you save everything on your desktop with no organization in mind. People explain that they need quick access to specific files without having to click through multiple folders.
  • Many rarely used apps and programs. Users will feel reluctant to delete applications. Thus, their smartphone or computer will feature many tools that they might not have opened in months.
  • Always running out of space. Your device constantly reminds you that you have limited storage left? It just might be that you retain too much information, which you should have deleted months ago. However, instead of deleting data, users might opt to buy new hardware.
  • Dozens of bookmarks. Bookmarking something important via your browser takes seconds. However, resources that you put aside for later viewing do not stay relevant for long. Data hoarding would mean keeping many bookmarks that you no longer have any intention of using.
  • Cloud full of useless files. Cloud storage could become the spare room people use to stock everything and more. Most of the files there may have lost their relevance. However, data hoarding means that you keep these files anyway.

Main issues with data hoarding

Keeping everything just in case can directly affect your emotional state and how you function throughout the day. Additionally, while data hoarding might not be as damaging to the environment, it is more harmful than you expect.

  • Devices work slower. Volumes of unnecessary data impact the performance of devices. They will run much slower as hard drives will have much more to handle.
  • Hurts productivity. Data hoarding will mean taking longer to find things you need. As a result, people get less done than they would if they have sorted everything out.
  • Triggers anxiety. Clutter can induce stress as people tend to feel contradicting emotions. On the one hand, they will feel bothered by the mess and disorganization. However, the fear of losing something of vital importance will prevent you from straightening things up.
  • More cybersecurity risks. Imagine that perpetrators manage to hack into your device and steal the data available. The severity of the attack increased as criminals managed to scoop up more data. Data hoarding, in this case, means that you will need more time and resources to mitigate the attack.

Companies and digital hoarding

Yes, users can be the ones retaining files out of fear or alleged convenience. However, companies unwittingly do the same. Data brokers track your every move online, and sign-up processes tend to get lengthier. Companies, essentially, want to know more about their clients.

These insights work in favor of the user when companies store and use data wisely. However, this is not always the case. Retaining more than necessary also means that organizations might struggle to keep everything safe. Thus, this clutter exposes companies to more cybersecurity risks and makes data breaches more severe.

According to a Verita study, 62% of companies and professionals there believe they are data hoarders. Policies might encourage employees to store everything, forcing them to see data hoarding as a necessity. Thus, companies should distinguish between valuable information and data that is redundant and obsolete.

How to stop data hoarding

Data hoarding might not seem as big of an issue. However, it can drain you mentally and make you form unhealthy attachments to digital content.

The first step is to admit that you have a problem. Decluttering your closet or your smartphone will start similarly:

  • Review everything you have and categorize it into groups.
  • You can judge everything according to the last time you used it. If you have not used something in months, it should head straight to the bin.
  • Unsubscribe to emails that constantly fill up your inbox.
  • Create separate folders to store data.
  • Never keep random files on your desktop. Keep it clean and neat.
  • Get rid of duplicate documents on a single device.
  • Run through your cloud to see which data is no longer necessary.

Of course, some collectors might take pride in preserving information that quietly disappears from the internet. In such a case, data hoarding is more of a hobby but should not interfere with or hinder your lifestyle. If it does, it might be a bad habit you need to break.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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