Never delete emails? You might be a digital hoarder

Disgraced fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried — the notorious SBF — just may be a digital hoarder.

According to a recent Business Insider report, the laptop of the former FTX CEO is flooded with so much data that FBI officials are working overtime to analyze the content.

But SBF is far from alone in his apparent reluctance to depart with copious amounts of data.

In fact, digital hoarding — a subtype of hoarding disorder that involves the collection of, and difficulty parting with, excessive amounts of digital material — is a growing problem in the US and beyond.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM) recognizes hoarding disorder as a mental illness.

Now, some academics are asking if it is time to add digital hoarding to the bible of psychiatry.

According to work carried out by tech researcher Maitrik Kataria and his colleagues at digital product engineering firm Simform, the average American has at least 40 apps installed on their phone — but use less than 50 percent of them.

Disgraced tech CEO Sam Bankman-Fried may be a digital hoarder, as it’s been reported that FBI agents are working overtime to go through the mountains of data he kept on his digital devices.

Millions of Americans have inboxes with more than 1,000 unread emails.

And some 60% of Americans never delete any pictures or videos from any of their digital devices.

Dr. Darshana Sedera, the deputy dean and director of the Digital Enterprise Lab at Southern Cross University, Australia, warns that digital hoarding is on the rise — and that the consequences could prove to be severe.

His research, he said, shows that the collection and storage of digital content tends to increase as our “number of technological footsteps” increase.

Dr. Sedera, who has published numerous papers on the disorder, said there appears to be a positive correlation between the number of social media platforms a user uses and the amount of content they store.

Moreover, his team has observed a strong relationship between the number of storage platforms (e.g., Google Drive, iCloud, etc.) used and an increase in digital hoarding.    

When it comes to this rather new phenomenon, not all generations are affected equally.

Email list showing 2,907 unread emails in an inbox.
Having more than 1,000 “unread” emails could be a sign of digital hoarding.

In one study, Dr. Sedera and his colleagues compared the digital hoarding behaviors of Gen Xers, which they define as those born between 1965-1980, and Millennials, who were born after 1980.

“We found that both groups displayed symptoms of digital hoarding,” he noted.

However, Millennials displayed “much stronger tendencies of digital hoarding.”

With younger generations, especially digital natives, it is logical to expect even greater levels of hoarding behavior, according to Sedera.

Dr. Darshana Sedera
Dr. Darshana Sedera warns that digital hoarding is on the rise — and that the consequences could prove to be severe.

Digital hoarding does have consequences for mental health.

“When one suffers from the symptoms of digital hoarding [constant acquisition, difficulty of discarding, clutter propensity] there is a strong likelihood that he or she will experience adverse mental or psychological conditions,” Sedera said.

Dr. Bárbara Perdigão Stumpf, a Brazilian psychiatrist who has also studied the dangers of the disorder, told the Post that “comorbidity is common” — especially major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and even attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

However, not all digital hoarders are created equally, according to psychologist Dr. Nick Neave.

The British academic told The Post that, “in research led by Dr Kerry McKellar and published in the journal Interacting with Computers in 2020, we found that digital hoarding was relatively common, but there appeared to be different ‘types’ of digital hoarder, with their hoarding driven by different reasons.”

Young woman looking stressed out while holding laptop.
For some digital hoarders, the motivation is anxiety about getting rid of any information they “might” need in the future.
Shutterstock / Asier Romero

These groups were labelled as followed:


People who are anxious about getting rid of any information they might need in the future, either as evidence or a reminder. (This “just in case” mentality is often a belief set of physical hoarders.)


Those who retain digital files to comply with policies and procedures (business related, government related, etc.) That said, these users tend to delete files without a second thought once they are clearly no longer required.


This category sums up people completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of emails or files they have accumulated, but who choose not to delete it in case they accidentally get rid of something important.


These are people who keep their data organized but very rarely delete any of it beyond obvious junk mail. They tend to use external devices to back up their files and see this role as part of their identity, particularly in the workplace.

Man yelling at phone full of emails
Researchers say that digital hoarding can have negative consequences on mental health.

In fact, “A lot of digital hoarding is driven by the workplace: endless emails and circulating documents with people often unsure about data retention, storage and deletion policies,” Dr. Neave said. “People often send files to everyone as they are worried about ‘missing people out’ or to be viewed as not doing a ‘good job.’

“This creates an environment where most employees retain digital data that they do not need — and can be a major problem in terms of data protection. And the environmental costs of running servers crammed with digital data is mostly unnecessary.”

As the psychology and tech writer Sakshi Udavant noted last year, digital hoarding also appears to have a particularly dark side — revenge.

Studies show that individuals regularly confess to hoarding files with the intention of weaponizing them in the future.

Revenge porn, a type of digital abuse in which an individual shares sexually explicit imagery without the consent of those pictured, is one of the more nefarious examples of this weaponization.