The Dangers of Digital Hoarding

Woman at desk with disorganized cloud storage/digital space and files

If we printed all the files currently stored in our University’s cloud, it would be enough to reach the moon—and back.

According to Eric Frahm, Enterprise Applications Services Manager at Tech Services, at the average thickness of a sheet of paper, our current storage contents would also take us 22 times around the earth and weigh 88 million metric tons. 

Digital hoarding is the disorganization of data and not deleting files, regardless of their usefulness or relevance. This can lead to cramped and cluttered storage systems, decreased productivity, and bigger security risks.  

Benefits of Decluttering and Organizing Your Data

There are many reasons why decluttering and organizing your digital space is important:  

  • Optimized Storage Space — By removing unnecessary files, users can free up valuable storage space, ensuring that resources are available for the most important data and projects. 
  • Improved Efficiency — A clutter-free digital environment enables quicker access to relevant information, enhancing productivity and workflow efficiency. 
  • Enhanced Security — Regularly reviewing and deleting old files reduces the risk for data breaches and unauthorized access, safeguarding any sensitive information. 
  • Easier Transitions — For graduating students and those moving positions or starting fresh with a new semester, quarter or year, clearing out digital clutter before a new phase ensures smoother transitions and prevents loss of important files. 

To combat digital hoarding, it’s important to cultivate habits that promote regular decluttering and organization of digital files. 

Tips to Staying Organized and Avoiding Digital Hoarding

Choose the right storage options

Given the breadth of our university, there are many different kinds of data and many different kinds of storage options. Choosing the right spot for your data can ensure that you are maximizing the space available while ensuring easier access and use. For researchers, Research IT offers an easy way to help decide where to store what. If your data isn’t research-based, you also have Google Drive, Microsoft 365, and U of I Box (or a mix of all) to choose from.

Delete or archive your old files 

Regularly make it a practice to delete old files that you don’t need anymore, whether manually or with one of the many available automated online tools. If you aren’t sure whether you want to keep or delete a file, make an archive folder and store files there until your next digital cleaning day, or back up those files in another place or external hard drive before deleting from your spaces of regular work.

If you are deleting manually, here are some options to make manual deleting easier: 

  • Filter by file size and start with the unnecessary bigger files first 
  • Filter by date and start with the older files you don’t need anymore 
  • Filter by “last modified” and start with the oldest files if it’s not needed 
  • Start with application data folders — any folders with a name matching an app such as Outlook or Teams may be automatically storing images, files, etc. that you don’t need 
  • Start with your online spaces — Read about five places to spring clean your data

Stay Organized

Staying organized enables you to know what you need and what you don’t need more regularly and can help you delete your files faster in the long run. Some easy ways to organize your files: 

  • Choose a system of categorizing your folders — By date (year, semester, quarter, month etc.); by category (type of work, project, class, etc.); or a mix 
  • Pick a style of naming and stick to it — Decide on a format of naming every folder and keep it consistent, so that it’s easier to find information via the search function 
  • Create a system of folder hierarchy — Put folders within folders, organized by topic, time period, etc.

Empty Your Recycling Bin Regularly

When the time is right, empty the recycling bin, and find a rhythm to empty it regularly. There is a lot of storage space taken up in recycling bins that can be easy to forget about.