Help! I am a digital hoarder

Let’s talk about stuff. LOADS of stuff!
Well…what is that stuff I’m talking about then? Here, I mean in particular the things that we collect and store for ‘possible later use’. The things that pile up more and more until the moment you realize that something needs to be done about it. I’m quite sure over the past few years many of you have come across the declutter expert Marie Kondo. In the popular Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, she helps people to organize their homes (and minds) in a systematic way.
In times of pandemic, now more than ever, people returned to their home setting and massively started stockpiling as a consequence of the increasing collective anxiety. On the other side of the coin, spending so much time at home while constantly being confronted with an excess of objects, also led to more and more people feeling the need to declutter. We realized we want our home to be a comfortable living space instead of a storage center!

Now, when making the link to the virtual world, the digital space is in essence not that different. Impulsive collecting has perhaps become even more a digital than a physical thing! How often it happens that I need to quickly download a file and ‘forget’ to save it in the right folder, thinking that I can leave that for a later time. In case I need it, I can find it in my download folder anyway, right? Eventually, when I do need it, I find myself searching for hours in my download history in order to find THAT ONE important file I once refused to organize. The chaos has begun…

As we live in the age of the cloud, we are no longer bothered physically inside the house by the overload of ‘stuff’ we store. Most of digital information is now stored on servers in datacenters, thus out of our sight. Digital clutter may then not be visible in our near physical environment unlike physical stockpiles, but it is still chaos in the digital environment. According to Marie Kondo, the process of physical cleaning up is also a process of clearing the mind. Following Kondo’s line of thought, therefore any clutter, whether in virtual or physical form, blocks us from the life we want to live! More reasons to see digital tidying as a crucial task for our mental wellbeing!

A way of seeing physical and digital clutter as similar, is that even though the digital data is out of our sight, it is still stored physically. In early times, we used to store data on CD-ROMs or before that even on floppy disks. These were physical objects that piled up over time as we collected and generated more data to store. In modern times, we store our information digitally, which is in fact still physical storage! The only thing is that it has moved from one physical place to another: from objects in our homes to our laptop’s hard drive or else in datacenters.

Then why do we most of the time still give less importance to digital (de)cluttering? The answer can be both a positive and negative trait of digital hoarding: we can simply switch off the mess. For example, when we work on our laptop and go to its file explorer, we might get frustrated by the documents which are saved all over the place without any structure. The only thing we then need to do, is shut down our device and *poof* the clutter is gone in one click! Only to be there again once you switch your laptop on…
In some sense, that sounds like pretty low-impact clutter. Yet, when I heard in class how much time many of us spend looking at our digital screens, I was shocked. If we spend up until 8 hours online on a daily basis, don’t we live as much (if not more) in our digital as our physical realm? If so, that means  we may have underestimated the tremendous impact that digital clutter can have on our mental wellbeing.

This desktop needs some organizing

I bet you think: ‘I get it now. I should clean up my mess, but I don’t have time for that.’ When I browse through my documents, I get a little overwhelmed too by all the work that needs to be done. How can I possibly make time to organize my digital data if I even have trouble organizing my own room? To help you (and me) get started, I have listed some general declutter tips below from Marie Kondo as well as more specific tips from for organizing your digital data.:

Tips from Marie Kondo:

Organize per category
To help you keep your focus during your digital declutter session, limit yourself to one category of files such as financial documents or school projects.

-Make a habit of tidying up
Make an agreement with yourself to directly save a file in the appropriate folder right after downloading. This saves you a lot of time and frustration afterwards!

Hongkiat’s tips for digital decluttering:

-Filter on date
In order to oversee the whole bunch of data, sort it chronologically by date. If you are searching for files from the same project, they are likely to be grouped together when you filter chronologically. Applying the right filters can save you hours of searching and makes sorting so much easier!

-Set your browser to ask where to save a downloaded file
Now your browser does no longer automatically dump the file in the download folder you also have a reminder that requires you to think about where to organize the file. Using this setting makes it easier to stick to the habit of e-tidying and indirectly enables you to find back the file when needed.