If, like us, your phone storage is at its absolute max – we're talking several thousand photos (with some even going back to the early 2010s) and so many unread emails you've stopped counting – and yet you struggle to delete practically anything... you might be a digital hoarder. Yep, turns out there's actually a kinda-scientific reason behind your inability to digitally declutter, with recent research finding that Britons are deep in a digital hoarding hole.
In fact, the average number of unread emails us Brits have got is nearing 1200, while almost a quarter of tech-using people admitted to not installing recommended app updates in the last three months (or never at all), according to a study by CCleaner – whose mission it is to make maintaining your device easier through software developments – that quizzed 2000 people on their digital habits. Of those who responded, 70% of social media users also admitted to having never reviewed their friends or followers, or only doing so once every few years.
"Digital hoarding is when you make and keep a large number of digital files," writes mental health charity Mind in an online explainer on hoarding. "Deleting files can cause you the same distress that other people who hoard might feel around physical objects. And you may want to keep these files for similar reasons."
"We think of hoarding as physical clutter, but it can also be digital," adds Jo Cooke, director of Hoarding Disorders UK and author of Understanding Hoarding. "From letting our inboxes overflow to failing to update software or delete junk on our devices, this can impact our mental wellbeing."
Cooke goes on: "We save things electronically 'just in case' and worry about deleting files and browser tabs because they represent our to-do lists and our aspirations – but they add up and end up littering our already busy and cluttered lives."
It's time to hit 'delete'
As for why so many of us avoid digitally decluttering, the research found that 25% of participants admitted that they simply keep putting it off – although they know they ought to do it. Meanwhile, 23% said the idea hadn't even crossed their mind, while 13% said they just don't feel like there's ever a good time to do it.
Whilst it might be difficult to say goodbye to all that digital clutter, it's important to prioritise doing so for the sake of your mental health. "It’s easy to buy more 'storage', but it’s important to dedicate time to managing our digital clutter, like you would do a big clear-out at home," advises Cooke, who points out that 36% of people who took part in CCleaner's study stated that stress and/or anxiety was a driver to declutter.
In fact, having a digital spring clean – no matter the season – can have a real, positive impact when it comes to your wellbeing. "Recent research [by CCleaner] showed that 59% of people reported feeling positive as a result of doing this, describing themselves as feeling 'productive', 'accomplished' and 'relieved'," Cooke tells us. "What’s more, digital decluttering is really easy to do, using software such as CCleaner, which deletes junk files and updates software to make devices work better, giving you less to worry about."
"Between our devices, social media and storage services, we have more access to digital storage than ever – and at a lower price point – but it’s important to set time aside to have a good clear-out, in the same way we do in the physical world," adds David Peterson, general manager at CCleaner. "Dealing with overflowing digital junk and underperforming devices is stressful. Given how much of an impact the past few years has had on our collective mental health, decluttering our digital lives is just another element of looking after our mental wellbeing."
For information, support and advice about mental health and where to get support, visit Mind’s website at www.mind.org.uk or call Mind’s Infoline on 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 6.00pm).
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