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Why Digital Hoarding Can Be Healthier Than Real World Hoarding

a messy deska messy desk
A messy desk isn't always a disorganized workspace. Aaron Pressman

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Saturday Night Live remains one of the few shows that can entice my entire family, including the three teens¹ to put their phones down², sprawl out on the couch, and enjoy together. Mind you, it’s usually on Sunday morning on the Tivo. This past week’s episode with guest host (and former SNL writer) John Mulaney was a classic, and the best bit was definitely the Willy Wonka send-up, Bodega Bathroom. But it was my family that got the last laugh on me when the skit turned to a spoof of the song “Seasons of Love” from Rent. “There’s 525,600 items, 525,000 unrelated things, 525,000 flavors of ramen,” the cast sang. “Dad, that’s like your office,” someone piped up.

To be fair, I’ve been working on going paperless for some decades. It’s just not working out very well. And have you noticed that digital life can be just as overstuffed, sprawling and disorganized as real life? There are hundreds of files in my Dropbox account, even more in my Google Drive if you include photos, plus whatever stuff got into my iCloud Drive folder. Adobe also has some of my stuff in the cloud, as do a bunch of note apps. I also acquired a Microsoft OneDrive account somewhere along way. Look a little closer and there are different contacts listed in Google, on LinkedIn, even in my Apple Contacts app on my computer and on my iPhone (come on, Apple).

So let’s just say I was intrigued by Steven Melendez’s brilliant piece for Gizmodo this week about “digital hoarders.” Did you know there’s even a Reddit forum for these people? It’s /r/datahoarder. Forget my excess of New York Times articles saved to Evernote—there are people spending $3,000 on hard drives to save old BBC sound effect samples or digital copies of illuminated manuscripts. But digital hoarding—or really, collecting—is unlike its real world counterpart and can be a healthy and positive behavior, so says psychology professor Gregory Chasson of the Illinois Institute of Technology. “The collections tend to give pride and positive feelings, whereas hoarding tends to be associated with stress and disorganization,” he tells Melendez. Now I just need the professor to speak with my kids.

Footnotes:
¹Our oldest turned 20 recently, so I really shouldn’t be calling her a “teen” anymore.
²Of course, the phones come right back up as soon something really funny happens so they can Insta about it.