Monday, April 11, 2011

Confessions of a Digital Hoarder: I’m Ready for My Intervention

Earlier today, I had more than 7,000 emails in my inbox at work. I deleted 4,718 by attacking anything from 2009 that still lingered. It took me years to amass those messages, and only a minute or two to delete them permanently from my life.

That’s just the inbox. I can’t even bear to look at the sent folder … not ready for that and I may need actual therapy. Logically, I know that if I haven’t looked at or acted on a message in two-plus years, it likely has little value to me. Realistically, whatever info was contained in those little digital blips could be recreated or found elsewhere.

Yet, I hoard emails, fearing that as soon as I delete something, I’ll need it. Fearing I will never get organized if I can’t refer to some detail or process from the past decade. It’s the same for documents, digital photographs, you name it. But what actually happens is that I have so much stuff, that finding what I actually need becomes a monumental challenge. Or, I don’t even look at the docs, emails or pics ever again, and they waste away, taking up valuable server space, which then makes me feel (slightly) guilty in return.

In one of my previous jobs, the information technology infrastructure was shall we say outdated at best. Perhaps strung together with duct tape and string. At any rate, the email system would crash from time to time, and be down for hours at a time …

… the culprit was said to be a woman at the company who was rumored to have OVER TEN THOUSAND EMAILS. Let’s call her Madge. The reputed number of emails was always mentioned in hushed tones, as if talking about Chupacabra or a relative that no one was allowed to talk about.

Ten thousand … It was part of the organizational urban legend and we all assumed that it was her fault that email would go down for the rest of us on a regular basis because Madge refused to delete any of hers. She had been with the company for years and years and years and that was like her cache of institutional knowledge, her insurance policy if you will.

I don’t know enough about the technological vagaries of Outlook and servers to weigh in on whether Madge’s trove was actually causing our email problems, or if it was just system limitations, but we all accepted it as truth. And since that time, I find myself very easily nearing that mystical 10k mark.

What is an email anyway? A bunch of bits and bytes? It’s not a tangible object, it’s the idea of information … but when you have thousands and thousands of those intangibles, it starts to feel like they are real things, like actual physical objects, weighing down on you like some psychological burden.

It can be overwhelming. Or, maybe I just had a crappy Monday at work.

I guess the principles are the same for the hoarding of objects, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t struggle with that too. But watching shows like Hoarders and Buried Alive helps – watch one episode and even if you don’t have hoarding tendencies, you’ll be shucking stuff out to the trash in no time flat.

Who says TV isn’t educational?

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