Why is it so hard to delete old emails?

Why is it so hard to delete old emails, texts and TV recordings

Yes, it’s nearly that time of year again — the one day I look forward to almost more than any other. It’s fair to say the anticipation’s nearly killing me.

But no, I’m not talking about December 25. Rather I’m waiting impatiently for the day the Christmas TV guides are printed.

Once they’re released, I carefully programme my Freeview Plus box (which does what a video recorder used to, but without the hassle of storing all those bulky tapes) to record everything I like the look of, sit back smugly and relax.

Parting is such sweet sorrow: Many of us are too sentimental about messages and recordings

Parting is such sweet sorrow: Many of us are too sentimental about messages and recordings

And that’s where it all goes wrong. For what I forget every year is that my Freeview Box is almost always full and fails to record anything new.

Last year, I happily spent Christmas evening playing rather naff parlour games with my loved ones, safe in the knowledge I’d be able to catch up with Dr Who and Poirot when I got home. But no sooner had Matt Smith landed on a strange planet than the recorder had cut off, saying the storage disc was full.

I know I should learn from past mistakes and delete things regularly from my Freeview box. But I just seem pathologically unable to do so. A quick look at its contents confirms this — a music festival from August 2008, a Jonathan Creek special from New Year’s Day 2009, plus 16 films that, over the past two years, I have not yet watched.

And it seems I’m not the only one. In fact, it’s so common there’s even a name for it — ‘digital hoarding’ — and it applies not just to TV recordings but to text messages, photos and emails.

There’s even a worse offender than me: 47-year-old Tracey Moberly, from East London, who has kept 100,000 texts. When I first read about her in the Mail, I laughed and dismissed her as mad. But then it struck me — since getting my iPhone more than two years ago, I haven’t deleted a single message.

As Tracey says, our mobiles tell the story of our lives. Nights out, relationship breakdowns, loved-ones fighting illnesses — it’s all in there.

Digital hoarding: Our emails and texts tell the stories of our lives, which is why many are reluctant to delete them (posed by model)

Digital hoarding: Our emails and texts tell the stories of our lives, which is why many are reluctant to delete them (posed by model)

And don’t get me started on emails. Until recently I had 27,000 of them in my account. The oldest I’d had for more than a decade, but for a good reason — it’s the last email eversent to me by an old friend who died, aged 32, of cancer. To delete it would say I no longer care about him.

Others I’ve had less reason to keep, such as the invite to a birthday party I didn’t go to. In 2003.

Yet gradually my computer system became so full and so slow that each missive would take over a minute toopen. So I decided to take action and began to delete. My life hasn’t fallen apart since I got down to a more manageable 8,000 messages. But I’m still reluctant to hit delete as the numbers creep up again.

So why do I feel the need to hang on to everything Psychologist Dr Keith Ashcroft, of the Centre for Forensic Neuroscience in Manchester, blames the growth of consumerism. ‘Our society thrives on people accumulating all manner of things, virtual and material,’ he says.

For most of us, it’s harmless — unless the thought of having to throw stuff out makes you angry, in which case, you might be a compulsive hoarder and need help. Thankfully, that’s not me, and the idea of deleting my digital bits and bobs makes me feel sad rather than furious.

But it may finally be time to face up to the problem and begin deleting the things from my Freeview box that I know I’ll never watch.

Then, maybe this year I’ll get to watch the Doctor fighting evil in high definition on a big TV, instead of on the tiny screen of my laptop while watching the BBC’s iPlayer website.