Hoarding has become a pretty popular term lately, and more people are familiar with this psychological syndrome. It’s become popular on lifestyle magazines, self-help psychology websites, a few TV shows (remember the hoarding woman who didn’t even notice the dead body in the chaos of her house on CSI?), and there are even whole reality shows (think Hoarders) following the habits of people with the condition and their struggle with cleaning up that mess their house turned into.
However, there’s more to this unusual character phenomenon than just holding on to possessions. Let’s take a look.
What is Information Hoarding?
There’s a lot of media talk lately about the information overload our society faces in the last decades. In essence, you have all the information right there in your palm. You access the virtually unlimited source of knowledge on the web on a daily basis. The problem is that it’s getting harder to sift through and find the facts that you really need and disregard the useless details.
And it’s not only the internet but there are also all the TV shows and news reports, books on any topic you can imagine, magazines, journals, adverts and so on. What happens is you become attached to the constant flow of knowledge, and start feeling uneasy if you’re not “tapping the source”. You come across so many interesting, and perhaps important articles and facts, that you don’t have the time to read all of them. And here’s how this new beast called “Information Hoarding” came to life.
Examples of Information Hoarding
Information Hoarding comes in many forms. It could be information on paper, but the worst cases come with digital technology. Some examples of this phenomenon include:
- You buy the latest books in your professional niche, but you don’t get around to reading them for months (sometimes even years, and they become outdated).
- You open a link, and it turns out to be this really interesting research on dogs’ feelings towards humans, or great relationship advice, or top ten ways to advance in your career, five tips to declutter your garage, and the latest economics report from WSJ. So you keep all 26 tabs of your browser for days, so you will eventually read them all (yeah right!).
- You have an app like Pocket, or maybe even a few apps like it, where you store hundreds of texts for “reading later”.
- You don’t have any space left on your laptop, a dropbox account, etc. because you store every picture you make with your digital camera or phone.
- You bookmark every “useful tool” on the internet, or helpful guide on how to code, or how to make graphic content like a pro, for “when the time comes”.
- You bookmark funny videos (Cats being cats mostly!) to cheer up later, or share with your friends “when you have more time”.
- You don’t delete emails. Ever. The same goes for phone numbers and texts.
- You have 1 GB worth of recipes of all courses, including “healthy breakfast ideas”, “healthy snacks”, and “green juices”; even though you haven’t used the stove for months.
- And there’s the 5 GB folder of inspirational quotes and images, which you never open. Not even once.
Do you recognise yourself in any of these practices? Congratulations, you probably are a chronic information hoarder! But no worries, 90% of your friends and family probably keep you company.
How to Control the need for Hoarding Information
The first step to escape this endless circle of information overload, you have to understand why it’s actually not helping you, but just the opposite. When you get yourself buried under tons of “to-do” reading, you become uneasy. Even if you think this is not on your mind at all, every open tab, every unread bookmark is somewhere in your subconscious and it’s scratching your brain daily. This will only produce additional stress and nervousness, even without you realising it. You might have stored only useful information, but in the end, you won’t read even half of it.
So here’s how to prevent hoarding syndrome.
Dig a Bit Deeper
Think about why you have the need to constantly occupy your mind with more and more information. Most of the time, people are just afraid to be alone with their thoughts which leads to the constant search for entertainment, sounds, and yes, information. There are individuals who, for example, cannot stay in a quiet room. There is always either music, a podcast, the TV or an audiobook running in the background so they don’t have to listen to themselves.
Sometimes it might take people years to realise they have this habit of constantly occupying their mind and senses, and it’s usually a sign of deeper problems. You can easily check if that is the case. Try meditating or just stay in silence for 30 minutes. Without consuming any type of media or doing anything physical. If your thoughts start shifting to places you’re afraid to go, such as relationship problems, work or education issues, doubts about the future, maybe you have to work on them.
Are you Missing Out on Life?
Besides that, there is also the syndrome of FOMO – the fear of missing out. This syndrome is more often expressed when people have an anticipatory regret about things they could have done differently. For example, you decided to stay home for the night because you need some rest, but your friends are outside having dinner. So, naturally, your mind keeps going to that experience, panicking whether you made the right decision, are missing out on things, etc.
Similar thoughts pop up in the mind of an information hoarder when they glance through an article title that looks interesting or a book that catches their attention. They start thinking about how vital it is for them to consume this information so that they don’t stay behind. So they hoard books, articles, magazines, sign up for countless newsletters, and are constantly online.
Set Some Limits
Don’t take the unlimited space of the digital world so lightly. Think of your mind’s storage capabilities, and most importantly – value your time. When you surf the internet and find something interesting, read it right there and then. If you really don’t have the time, think about whether you will gain anything from the information in the very near future. If the answer is “no”, or “maybe”, restrain yourself from saving it for later – it’s not worth it.
Chances are you will forget about it, and won’t remember you have saved the article even when you need the information. If you answer “yes”, then save the article on Pocket (or a similar app), but limit yourself to up to 10 articles per week. Then schedule some time in the weekend, and go over all the articles.
In regards to pictures, save only the good ones. And better yet, don’t take countless shots of the same setting. If you’re not a professional photographer, then you won’t need them. Remember the good days without digital cameras, when you had to rely on 36 frames only? Imagine you’re back in those years and start appreciating each frame a bit more. Quality, not quantity. And if we’re just talking about a downloaded picture from the internet, delete it right after it’s been sent. The chances of you looking at that picture again are close to zero.
Is all of this information closely related to your current situation or are you hoarding it for a possible future? For example, there are some people who keep saving pictures of kitchens because they really want to do a renovation of their house, but there is no chance of this happening any time soon. Those pictures and ideas will not disappear from the internet so there is no point in saving them. The same goes for books and magazines. Imagine that you found an amazing 700-page book about Artificial Intelligence in Marketing, for example. It may be great and have an amazing cover, but unless you’re working in that field, it’s really doubtful you will ever even start the book, let alone finish it.
In two words, be realistic about your needs and capabilities. Seek advice from your family, friends or partner if you can’t do it yourself. And if you feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for help.