Hoarding vs Curation in the Digital World

How big is your envelope?

A number of years ago, I bought this card thinking it was hilarious but then realized that you really can’t give this to someone unless they have a sense of humour about their hoarding problem which in all likelihood, they don’t. Hoarding is an indication of bigger issues happening in your life.


The definition of hoarding pathologizes the practice:

The practice of hoarding is done in secret and carefully guarded and it is an act of compulsion as well. It gets to the point where the secret is out. We can no longer hide because our homes are taken over by the need to collect and store these objects.

Have you read this book? The suggestion is to hold an object in your hands and meditate on it. Consider whether this object brings you joy and if it doesn’t, discard it. It offers you nothing but further clutter in your home.

When we take the time to clean up and declutter, we can come across some gems — old school projects, photos, and letters from friends and family. This has been happening more and more because at my age, my parents and my friends’ parents are moving to smaller homes and discarding all of these items they have saved for years and asking us if we want them.

The cover of Mark’s Autobiography from 1982

My father found my brother, Mark’s, autobiography that he wrote when he was in fourth grade. A friend of mine brought old letters that we wrote her when we were teenagers to our girls’ night out dinner a few weeks ago which she found when her mother was preparing to move out of her house. What if we had thrown it out? Holding that old letter I wrote my girlfriend in high school was amazing. My voice is still my voice but with a few teenager expressions I no longer use but there it was and in that moment, it brought me, and everyone else at the table holding the letters they had written to her, joy. I have a box of my own like that filled with letters I got when I went to camp — from my grandmother, my father and mother, my friends and when I take the time to open a few, it is wonderful — a time machine sucking me back 30 years into my past. 

Then, at the same time, I am reading this book by Audrey Watters, Claim Your Domain — And Own Your Online Presence. I am struck by the story she tells about her mother, like my parents and my friends’ parents, handing her a manilla envelope filled with her report cards, art work and stories she wrote as a young girl. She challenges the reader to ask what is our manilla envelope now? How do students have control and own their own content? What gets stored in online courses and then the thinking is lost forever? Who owns it?

Watters book pushed me to think about who owns my content. I also have to think about which space is best. I have my work Google drive and my personal Google drive. If I put it in my work Google drive, who owns it? What if I have to leave my work tomorrow? We need to be more intentional about how and where we store our content.

It has pushed me into finally purchasing my domain name: debbiedonsky.com (still under construction) and I will also be purchasing domains for my kids so that they too can claim their space in the digital world but it also made me think about some other practices we have in terms of digital space.

I have been connected now to a couple of doodle groups, first #doodleaday with spicylearning and now #sketch50. The prompt for the doodle to the left was “social media”. This is just a sample of the tools I use and each is used for a specific purpose.

Earlier this year, when I got a new computer and I had to move old content over, I was presented with a challenge. The new MacBook Pro does not have a USB plug. I had brought my external hard drive to responsibly move everything over but without the proper adapters, I was stuck. I decided to use AirDrop which worked well as I moved the content over, folder by folder, until I got to my Outlook. I had to export each folder, one at a time, and then import it into Outlook and then move it to my archived folders. In the process, I started deleting old emails — 25 000 of them. I had only been on my last computer for two and a half years and as I started deleting my emails I felt what can only be described as a buzz.

Marie Kondo, author of the life changing magic of tidying up talks about this feeling. When we discard objects that no longer bring us joy there is space freed up to breathe and in that space we find joy. It was just like that. I started deleting whole folders of emails, thousands of them. This is just emails. What about all my other files?

Years ago, my computer died and when I brought it to IT services to be fixed they said they could not recover any of my Outlook files because it had been set up so that all of the archives were in the program files rather than my hard drive. In order to fix the computer, they had to re-image it which meant over writing all of my program files. I quickly learned to direct the archives into my hard drive so that I could recover them if it should happen again. I was in the middle of a possible legal battle tied to a custody issue with a family in the school and I had lost all of the emails documenting the exchanges with the school. Luckily, it didn’t go further and I had my hand written notes but it made me consider, when my content is a matter of public record, it needs to be stored and backed up differently than when it is my personal exchanges.

I have two external hard drives at home filled with old documents from years past. Do I need them?

Because the digital hoarding we do doesn’t take up physical space in our homes and lives it goes unchecked.

Social media has offered a space for curation of my content: art, recipes, photos, documents, travel information — but what about my hard drive?

What do I have there? Multiple versions of the same document? Articles I will never go back to but can likely access at any time by doing a quick Google search? In all likelihood, multiple copies of the same documents saved for different projects at different times. I have this system that when I am working on a document or project, I leave it on my desktop and when I am done I carefully curate the content into my folders, Google drive or onto any of the above listed social media sites that I use regularly to curate my life.

I can’t help but think of the scene in Eat Pray Love when Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) stands outside of the storage unit and says, “My whole life fits in a twelve foot square box…” and the guy working there replies, “You know how many times I hear that in a day? Most of them never come back for their whole life.”

When is the last time you cleaned out your hard drive?

And have you asked yourself this essential question…

Is it hoarding or is it curation?


Originally published on Medium on April 18, 2017.


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