Researchers find four big reasons people become digital hoarders

Hoarding is a behavior that's difficult to miss — it often involves filling one's home and other spaces with a huge number of items that end up having a major impact on the hoarder's life. Less visible is the growing issue of 'digital hoarding,' an activity that involves amassing huge amounts of digital content that one may find difficult to part with.

Unlike typical hoarding, digital hoarding is the activity of collecting a large amount of digital data without deleting content over time. This amassing of information may be deliberate, such as for archival purposes, but in other cases may be more passive, with someone merely growing their data over time by failing to regularly delete it.

This can include, for example, downloading huge collections of images with the idea that they may be useful one day; in other cases, someone may never delete their emails, ending up with an inbox containing thousands or tens of thousands of messages that are hard to sort through. According to a new study, digital hoarders can be split up into four different categories.

The four types of digital hoarders fall into one of the following categories: anxiety, disengagement, compliance and collection. Perhaps the basic of the four is the compliance category, which refers primarily to workplaces in which policy or practices result in employees retaining large amounts of digital data, such as old emails and spreadsheets.

While this category isn't as much of a big deal at the personal level, the researchers point out that it may end up being a problem for companies, particularly if they were to suffer a data breach. Following the compliance category are the collectors — the users who behave in a way that could be defined as hoarding, but without the anxiety, disorganization, or company orders that motivate other types of digital hoarders.

Rounding out the categories are disengaged and anxious digital hoarders, which refers to people who amass large amounts of digital clutter due to being unorganized or worried that deleting data may end up getting rid of something that will be important in the future. The researchers note that companies may be able to reduce digital hoarding by reassuring employees about which information can be safely deleted, but more research is necessary to determine which strategies may help reduce overall digital hoarding behavior.