Let’s Keep Everything, Just In Case

I hear this phrase a lot in both my personal and professional life. I’m continually amazed at the reticence people have to delete anything digital, especially email.  It’s not uncommon for me to see email accounts with thousands of read/unread messages. Whenever I suggest that a large amount of the emails could, in fact, be deleted, the users often resist.  Here are some common justifications:

  • I need those.  One time x years ago I needed something and luckily it was still in my email.
  • I never know what I’m going to need so I like to save everything, just in case.

Whenever I hear this I always like to ask “just in case of what?” My mind immediately thinks about just-in-case scenarios where hoarding and mismanaging emails is detrimental.

Just in case my email account gets hacked I want to know exactly what was compromised.  Often when people save everything they don’t know, or remember, exactly what’s stored in their email account.  

Just in case I want Google to learn even more about my habits by analyzing the content of my emails. The more information I keep, the more data companies have to analyze. For the moment the intention is to create targeted advertising, but who knows what else can be done with the data in the future.

Just in case I need something later that I didn’t realize I would need. This reason probably has the most weight with users because it illustrates the unknown. Deleting emails scares people because they don’t want to get in trouble later for not having something or they need a CYA paper trail.  However, understanding how to recognize (and create) emails of value and practicing strategic saving can help to combat this mentality.

A few months ago I had a conversation with an IT guy who saves all his email.  He felt justified because storage is cheap and he never knew when he would need something.  I pressed for an example and he told me about a time when he had to reinstall MS Office on his computer and the information was in a 2-year-old email.  He spent ~10-15 minutes searching for the right email.  I pointed out that this scenario is a perfect example of strategic saving.  I would have saved that email someplace obvious because that’s valuable information and not wasted time searching.

In my opinion, people tend to fixate on the few times when saving something for an excessive period of time ended up being beneficial as a justification to save everything all the time. However, to only focus on these exceptions negates all the other times when something was purged and never needed again.

3 comments for “Let’s Keep Everything, Just In Case

  1. Anonymous
    26 November 2013 at 09:47

    Great blog – thanks. Perhaps next blog should be on setting up folders to store information that is/will be needed in the future.

  2. Donald
    26 November 2013 at 14:05

    Until we can prove that it is not, in fact, cheaper to save everything, we will continue to fight the uphill battle against the “just in case” crowd. This said, I came across an interesting blog on this subject a bit ago that debunks the notion that storage is cheap: http://futureproof.records.nsw.gov.au/mythbusting-that-storage-is-cheap/.

  3. Paul Pinkerton
    26 November 2013 at 15:56

    I think I tend to save everything (well, almost) mostly because going back to do clean out work is exactly that, a lot of work – and much like cleaning out my garage, or rearranging my stereo wires, not something that I am keenly interested in spending a lot of time on. So with the advent of cheap storage, I can continue my lazy habit in not cleaning out the junk or expired information in a timely manner.

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