You just can’t delete any of your ex’s emails, because what if…?

When I first got my iPhone 7 and showed it to my husband’s organized, tech-savvy best friend, he threw it back at me, squealing. How on earth could I stand all of those red bubbles on my home screen? Who allows their inbox to accumulate 14,836 unread emails? Why, what, how… He was thoroughly aghast at my digital situation. To me, that’s all it really is. A situation that has gotten out of hand, with the never ending barrage of Anthropologie sale emails.

As it turns out, some people actually are digital hoarders, writes Jeanne Sager in a recent article on Quartz. Others are just facing the “universal plight of the overwhelmed.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) defines horders as people who hang onto items regardless of their value and experience significant distress over the notion of parting with them. And one study, conducted at Yale University School of Medicine, found that when hoarders were asked to make choices about whether or not to discard items from a pile of unsorted papers while hooked up to an MRI, they had significant brain activity associated with “generating appropriate emotional response” and “regulating affective state during decision making” throughout the experience. So, throwing anything away, regardless of its importance or sentimental value, generated a more emotional response in hoarders vs. non-hoarders.

So, if you’re struggling to delete old emails, voicemails, photos, etc. because it emotionally pains you to think about deleting them, you may be a digital hoarder. The biggest red flag is if you just can’t even bring yourself to sort through your collections of digital files, because you’re freaked out that you may lose something that you may find yourself missing at some point. At that point, you need to admit you have an issue and do some organizing.

And if being defined as a “digital hoarder” isn’t reason enough to get your act together, consider that allowing an out-of-control digital mess to fester could put your security at risk. As William Budington, security engineer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation tells Quartz, “People often use email as a way to transfer files, often to themselves (from, say, one device to another). These often take the form of photographs or documents which, if they contain sensitive or embarrassing information, could be used by an attacker for the purpose of extortion.”

So, Budington advises backing up old files you can’t bring yourself to delete and storing them on multiple hard drives in different locations, so they won’t get stolen virtually or physically. Out-of-date email accounts should get the boot, and the sensitive information you deal with on a daily basis (like bills you pay online or social media accounts you maintain) should be linked to your current email account. Ideally, you should really try to bring yourself to deleting any and everything you legit won’t need down the road.

Of course, none of this digital housekeeping guarantees you won’t still terrify your friends with your phone’s perpetually poppin’ red bubbles. But at least if you’re going to be a digital hoarder, you’ll be a more secure one.