What Type of Digital Hoarder Are You?

What Type of Digital Hoarder Are You?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 17 January, 2023

The digitization of life has changed our habits. Cell phones, tablets, and computers are now our daily appendages and we both love and hate them. Moreover, they condition us and, in turn, the way we use them defines our personalities. This constant interaction between humans and machines brings new phenomena well worthy of study.

For example, do you have emails in your inbox you’ve been accumulating since time immemorial? Or, are you obsessed with freeing up space and deleting everything that’s of no interest to you as soon as you can? As strange as it may seem, your recycling bin says a lot about you.

In fact, some people don’t delete anything, while others erase so much that they even destroy documents and photos, an act that they later regret. Interestingly, your character and personality traits are reflected in the digital universe. So much so that science has defined four types of technology users. You’ll surely identify with one of them.

Digital hoarding is the tendency toward the accumulation of apps or folders on cell phones and computers. The anxiety-driven digital hoarder is afraid of what might happen if they delete their files.

Man looking at the mobile symbolizing the digital hoarder
We all handle our digital content in a different manner and the way we do reveals our personality types.

The four types of digital hoarders

In 2020, Northumbria University (UK) conducted a study on the subject of digital hoarding. It seems we’ve all become digital hoarders. In other words, we accumulate on our electronic devices large numbers of apps, data, files, and photos that we don’t always need.

Curiously, thanks to the advent of new technology, many of our shelves are now empty. We’ve stopped buying filing cabinets and photo albums because now our hard drives can accumulate tons of information that used to take up space in our homes.

For example, you can now have a whole library on your computer with hundreds of books. It’s even possible to no longer buy records and opt for a different Spotify playlist every day according to your mood. Technology has liberated our physical spaces and we’ve become digital hoarders; accumulators of digital information.

This fact has allowed science to divide us into four types of hoarders. In fact, experts have even detected truly pathological behavior patterns. One example lies in people who buy dozens of hard drives because they don’t dare to delete even one file or photo.

Everything that doesn’t generate joy, virtual well-being, or is useful to us should go in our virtual recycling bins.

1. The anxiety-driven digital hoarder

“I’m not deleting this just in case”. Does this sound like you? Well, the truth is that compulsive hoarding disorder, described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) can be equated to digital hoarding. While it’s true that this behavior hasn’t yet been included as a diagnostic category in itself, many psychologists and psychiatrists have been observing problem behaviors.

Behind the most obsessive digital hoarder lies anxiety. These people are afraid of deleting any file or photograph because of what might happen. Sometimes, there may also be an emotional trigger (I can’t delete my son’s photos, even though I have 200 that look exactly the same).

There are no rational explanations for their reluctance to erase any information. They keep emails and documents that are decades old, according to them, in case something should happen. However, their justifications don’t always make sense. This means they’re forced to buy hard drives and pay for various servers simply to free up more space.

2. Compliance-driven digital hoarders

The compliance-driven digital hoarder is often found in work environments. This phenomenon appears when employees are asked not to delete any file or email, in case it could be useful later. Indeed, it’s true that, occasionally, for various reasons, it can be useful to have certain emails or information to hand to justify certain actions.

However, productivity and data protection experts claim that the more files we accumulate, the more cumbersome our work will be and the more exposed we’ll be to cyberattacks.

Anxiety can turn us into digital hoarders. One example of this is keeping a large amount of virtual space for photos and data that we don’t delete for fear of what might happen.

3. Disengagement-driven digital hoarders

You probably have that one friend whose entire laptop screen is covered in folders. In fact, there are so many programs and files that they affect the performance of the computer itself. The same happens with cell phones. Sometimes there are so many apps that the user finds it difficult to locate what they need when they need it.

These kinds of digital hoarders aren’t organizing their files or deleting what they no longer need due to laziness.  In addition, they’re not particularly mindful of the technology and data they use.

4. The collection-driven digital hoarder

Everyone has hobbies, passions, and interests. Moreover, today, thanks to the vast amount of online content you have access to, collecting what you love has become easier than ever. For instance, you can have dozens of hard drives containing your favorite movies and books, images of your favorite works of art, and actors and artists you adore.

However, there are those who take this practice to the extreme of obsession, to the point of accumulating large amounts of information on one or more topics. This is a new phenomenon that still needs to be studied in greater depth. That said, it’s already attracting the attention of many experts.

Mind connected to a mobile symbolizing the digital hoarder
The good use and management of online files promote good mental health.

Orderly cell phone, orderly mind

You probably have the tendency to accumulate tens of gigabytes of photos of your children, friends, family, and pets. Moreover, you feel somewhat uneasy about deleting them because, by doing so, it’s as if you were actually deleting your loved ones. However, curious as it may seem, the correct management of your information and digital data also impacts your mental health.

It used to be said that a tidy house equals a tidy mind. Now, we can say the same about our devices: a cell phone or computer with well-ordered information reflects an orderly mind. Because, behind those who accumulate data and fear deleting the slightest file, often lie high levels of anxiety.

Excessive digital hoarding isn’t currently defined by any clinical disorder. That said, it’s possible that it’ll soon be included in diagnostic manuals. That’s because we’re becoming a society that stores tons of information that it doesn’t need for fear of deleting it.

This translates into the creation of millions of servers around the world that consume large amounts of electricity. So, bear in mind that erasing, as well as freeing up and sanitizing your life, also helps the planet.

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The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.