8 Essential Tools For The Digital Hoarder

Hello. My name is James, and I have a hoarding problem. Yes – I’m a digital hoarder – and my hard drive was so full I had to buy a 4TB NAS. Movies, music, photos, eBooks, stock footage — I just know I’ll get around to watching, listening, reading or making use of them someday. Without the proper tools (or counselling, probably) a collection like that can quickly grow out of hand. But I’m not here to judge – no, I’m going to enable you. These tools should help, at least until you realise it’s time to purge yourself of these meaningly virtual things.

If your hoarding is more physical in nature, check out Delicious Library – the ultimate OS X tool for cataloguing real things, from books and gadgets to DVDs and literally anything with a barcode. It’ll even help you loan those things out to friends, which will then give you just a little more space and an excuse to buy some more things, before you realise that you’re only buying things in order to fill an emotional void in your life. But I digress (and you need help).

Text: Evernote

Evernote, as the name alludes, is great at keeping notes — articles with embedded images, plaintext code snippets, random ideas you just had to write down — around forever. Retrieval of those notes is then just a search query away, but you can make the task easier by tagging and classifying notes into different notebooks.

Bonus features include the ability to access those notes from anywhere in the world, sync across devices, and even perform text recognition on scanned images.

evernote   8 Essential Tools For The Digital Hoarder

A basic service is provided for free, and I still haven’t hit the storage limit. If this sounds like something you could MakeUseOf, then go download our completely free Evernote Guide – and then store that guide in Evernote. Oh, how meta.

Articles: Pocket

Evernote can handle articles just fine, but if you literally just want to save your favourite articles from the web, then Pocket – formerly known as Read It Later – may be a better choice for you. With integration into hundreds of apps like RSS readers and the obligatory bookmarklet, Pocket makes it easy to clip and store articles for reading later. It has a beautiful visual interface, unlike the sometimes overwhelming text of Evernote.

pocket   8 Essential Tools For The Digital Hoarder

Inspiration: Pinterest

Pinterest seemed to pop up overnight from nowhere, and is now the digital tool for “scrapbooking”, or collecting little snippets of inspiration from around the web. The concept is simple – find an interesting image, pin it to your own personal boards, and it’ll link back to the original site. Boards can be public or private, and you can follow others to be alerted when new pins are added.

pinterest   8 Essential Tools For The Digital Hoarder

And – wait for it – we have a free Pinterest Guide, too!

eBooks and Magazines: Calibre

Calibre isn’t the best looking of apps — it’s certainly more functional — but as well as serving as a catalog of your eBooks, it also interfaces directly with any eBook readers you have to facilitate the process of syncing libraries.

calibre   8 Essential Tools For The Digital Hoarder

Again, all the key features critical to maintaining a huge library of horded eBooks is clear and present, from book covers to meta search and classification. Warning: some people get pretty emotional about the fact Calibre manages its own directory structure. If you’re the kind of person that hates not being able to manage mp3s on the iPhone, Calibre probably isn’t for you.

Luckily for you, we’ve also got a completely free Calibre Guide that you can download or read online. I bet you didn’t see that one coming.

Movies and TV Shows: Plex

I’m a big fan of Plex – it is, in my opinion the ultimate media cataloging app around, and it’s free. It’s both functional — it will automatically scan your movie files, determine the content with good accuracy and grab covers and artwork for you — and a beauty to behold, unlike its XBMC cousin which seems like it was repeatedly hit with the ugly stick by Linux programmers.

plex   8 Essential Tools For The Digital Hoarder

The only complication to Plex is that it requires both a server and client to function. The server catalogs your terabytes of media, while the client accesses this over the local network. You can run the client on the same machine if you only want this for your desktop, but the overhead of having the server run all the time is something to keep in mind. Adding files couldn’t be easier – just drag them into the correct directories, and Plex will automatically detect the changes.

Bonus features: a bookmarklet that allows you to save YouTube and other web videos to view on your Plex client later, and the ability to share your media hoard with friends (they can stream your media).

And wouldn’t you know it – we have a free Plex Guide too. Really, I shock myself sometimes with the awesome amount of free guides we publish. Seriously – you should check them all out.

Hardware: Synology Disktation NAS

If you’re serious about your digital hoarding – and you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t – you need to think seriously about the possibility of drives failing. I speak from experience – I used to have piles of external bare drives lined up in my bookcase, each holding a few hundred gigabytes of something important. One day, the inevitable happened – I plugged one in, it started clicking menacingly, and wouldn’t read. I even tried the freezer trick (yep, that one really doesn’t work). I didn’t have backups, because I assumed wrongly that I wouldn’t be so attached to something so meaningless as crap I’ve downloaded over the years; but actually, I was. It was devastating, and I learnt my lesson – don’t just backup your core system in case of emergency, backup your data too!

synology ds413j nas review 7   8 Essential Tools For The Digital Hoarder

The ultimate backup solution (or one of them, since you technically need three), is a NAS with RAID function. The Synology has a hybrid RAID solution that allows you to mix and match drive sizes, so it will always give you the optimal amount of space with a one or two disk redundancy – it doesn’t matter if any of the disks break as long as you replace them quickly. Traditional RAIDs generally need to use drives paired to the same size, which can be costly when it comes to upgrading – with the Synology, you just need to buy a single drive that’s bigger, and replace the smallest (or broken one). The hardware itself is on the premium side, but you’re also paying for the world class DSM operating system that powers it. Most NAS devices will just give you shared folders – the Synology gives you an app store. Read my full review here (sorry, the giveaway has since finished; perhaps you should subscribe to the newsletter so you don’t miss out next time!)

There’s even a Plex server app for DSM.

Encryption: TrueCrypt

If you’re hoarding more sensitive files like leaked government documents that show the NSA is recording everything you do (totally unlikely, right?), you probably want a certain degree of privacy. TrueCrypt is the tool you’re looking for. In a previous article, I showed you how to create a hidden partition with TrueCrypt within an encrypted partition for extreme privacy – leaving you with what’s called plausibly deniable encryption.

hidden volume   8 Essential Tools For The Digital Hoarder

In case your drives are examined and questions asked about why you’ve encrypted them, you can supply the fake password to reveal a cache of private data that you planned for in advance – the actual encrypted data is then stored within the free space of that initial volume. In some countries you can go to jail for not revealing your password (the UK, for one).

Passwords and Software Licences: 1Password

1Password is cross platform, integrates with your browser, and can even generate strong passwords for you. It fills in login forms so you don’t have to, and makes securing your hoard of digital accounts quite painless. Now you just have to make sure the password you use for 1Password is itself quite secure.

1password1a   8 Essential Tools For The Digital Hoarder

Bonus feature: it doesn’t just do passwords – it’s a secure way to store software licences and other personal data like bank accounts.

On the downside, it’s a little pricey – $49.99 for the Mac or Windows versions. If you don’t need to store software licences, look into LastPass instead, which offers a free plan or you can get a full year of premium service through our MakeUseOf Rewards program.

To Conclude…

Some people say digital hoarding is a psychological problem – but it’s only a problem if you can’t manage it. With the right tools, hoarding is simply another way of saying “always having the data you need at your fingertips”. And unlike real life hoarding – yes, I’m looking at you Mr 500 DVDs – bytes don’t take up real space.

I think that’s a pretty extensive list, but if you’re holding on to more ideas for hoarding tools, please share in the comments so we can all keep our digital addictions under control.

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

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28 Comments -

0 votes

Nicky

Forget 1password, go for Keepass. It’s much better than 1password or lastpass.

0 votes

Frederick D

I beg to differ. The syncing abilities of Lastpass makes it much better for people with more than one device. This is especially true if you have an iOS device, although I suppose you could sync Keepass with dropbox and redownload the entire database every time you use it.

0 votes

Nick C

Haven’t you remember what happened when Lastpass was hacked? Keepass can be stored on a flash drive to Dropbox.

0 votes

Frederick D

Here’s the article:
http://blog.lastpass.com/2011/05/lastpass-security-notification.html

The Lastpass team handled the incident really well. For starters, they made all of the information public immediately.

With all of the precautions they put in place (must change master password, can only change password from trusted IP, email confirmation) your data was still secure. IF (and that’s a big if) the anomalous data transmitted was indeed a malicious attack, the MOST the attackers could get was email addresses, the hash salt, and salted hashes (NOT encrypted blobs). If your password was secure you’re unaffected by the attack. If your password was REALLY insecure and they could brute force it with the hash salt then they still couldn’t access your account because it could only be accessed from a trusted (i.e. previously used) IP address or with email confirmation.

If you’re syncing your keepass vault over the internet you’re potentially exposing yourself to a greater threat because then the ENTIRE database (i.e. the encrypted blob) is stored in the cloud (say, dropbox); this makes bruteforcing the database easier because there’s no server that will raise a red flag after repeated attempts to decrypt it. Lastpass is also a security company, so I trust them to keep the encrypted blobs on their servers more secure than I trust dropbox to keep the encrypted database safe.

Now, there is a way around this, keyfiles. I don’t know if Keepass supports keyfiles, but TrueCrypt does. You have keep a 1MB keyfile on all devices you want to access the Keepass database from. The keyfile is NEVER shared over the internet; it’s only shared over a local network or a physical device. In order to decrypt the database you have to have the password AND the keyfile. If someone steals the Keepass database from dropbox they’ll practically never be able to decrypt it because they would have to bruteforce your master password AND a 1MB random file. To give some perspective, a single character takes up 1 or 2 bytes of memory depending on the language and encoding. An incredibly strong password of 50 characters can be as small as 50 bytes. A MB is 1 million bytes, so it’s essentially impossible to bruteforce.

0 votes

Frederick D

Aaaannnnnddddd MakeUseOf got rid of all the formatting in my reply. Sorry about the big blob of text.

1 votes

Tina Sieber

Your formatting is still there. We just show a preview when comments are posted, to reassure readers that their comment was submitted. Many comments go into moderation and won’t show up until someone approves them.

0 votes

Aram Iskenderian

You can store your lastpass database in your own encrypted volume. But Dropbox? Funny you mentioned hacking. :-)

Unless you protect your dropbox account with 2 factor authentication, you are also risking your password db.

0 votes

Nick C

For me, I have multiple layers of back up including Flash drives and external hard drives as well

0 votes

Nick C

I have multi layers of back up including external hard drives

0 votes

JDL

I not only have layers of backup; I’ve got BINDERS of backup…

0 votes

Frederick D

Lastpass can store software licenses. They’re categorized as a type of “secure note”

0 votes

Dominic C

Used to hoard on to data. But now due to technology improvement, I’ve started using fiber connection with speeds up to 100mbps thus allow for movies to be downloaded in 20mins or less so I’ve deleted everything that can be hosted to the cloud or downloaded again from the net.

1 votes

MakeUseOf TechGuy

But what if the INTERNET BREAKS?!?!

0 votes

Chris Williams

Thanks for the discussion reminding me why I’m glad I bought a family license for 1Password. Among other benefits, it has excellent syncing capability and no hacking worries.

0 votes

Richard Steven Hack

The more I think about external storage, the more I believe all NAS and external drives are brain dead. For the money you spend, you can buy a FULL PC (even a USED one!), then slap some large drives in them. This is FAR more reliable than relying on someone’s badly designed heat-sucking case and badly designed interface card which fails within months.

Of course, you need a little smarts to network the backup PC to your main machine and set up the necessary backup software. But you’re either serious about backup or you’re not.

In my client support, I’ve seen external drives fail constantly just when they’re needed. As a product line, they’re unreliable. My Western Digital MyBook has been going for maybe 18 months, but I don’t like to trust it which is why I intend to replace it with a docking station holding 2 2TB drives. If you do use them, don’t ever move or touch them – just put them somewhere safe and let them sit there doing their job.

The backup PC can also act as your literal backup PC if your main rig goes down, allowing you to do Net research for fixes and keep up with your email while it’s being fixed.

At the moment, I’m still stuck with external USB drives, but I plan to get a backup PC at some point. I’ve had two PCs at the same time in the past and it’s the only way to go.

Also, all these cloud services where you’ve stashed your life? They’re likely to ALL go out of business – or be bought out and have their services changed – at some point with NO guarantee you’ll get your stuff back. That’s not backup. Backup is where your stuff is in at LEAST TWO places at the same time – preferably three.

The best way to keep your digital life trimmed is to start running out of disk space – then go in and ruthlessly delete what you really don’t need. Being too poor to buy dozens of hard drives makes it easier. :-)

0 votes

James B

The power requirements of a NAS vs a desktop PC are incomparable. Theyre also far more reliable, as specialist devices built only for that purpose. I speak as someone who has had both…

0 votes

Carl Chery

You’re right, but it’s a small price to pay for total control. I too used both a NAS appliance and a desktop PC-used-as-a-file-server. IHO with Windows or *nix OS installed on a desktop, I have total control of its operation, in addition to the file sharing capability, such as the flexibility in hosting various other servers is unparalleled. In my home server, I have added: DynDNS (static URL for my dynamic IP), Plex Media Server (to stream movies, tv shows, music, etc to smartphones, laptops, and tablets), Calibre eBook Management (serve my eBook library on any networked device).

The whole system is headless in my closet, controlled by RDP and logmein. This is much more than a NAS should be expected to do.

0 votes

Carl Chery

I wholeheartedly agree. I too have converted a 5-yr-old Dell Optiplex 745 desktop to a NAS appliance, backing up on three external 3TB hard drives with one of the drives being swapped out of a bank safe deposit box; backups occurs nightly automatically. I have over 15 years of documents, photos, home videos, music, movies and TV shows totaling over 2 TB. My preference is to use the 3-2-1 strategy in that you have 3 copies of your data, in 2 different places, of which 1 of them is offsite. It’s impractical to store all to the cloud–it will take too long and way too expensive.

One major advantage to the NAS solution employed is the laptop backups. It took a little over an hour to restore one of my kids’ laptop that was infected with a worm. Restoring failed OS is definitely a time saver.

Cloud storage is employed for sharing selected photos, videos and data I need access to regularly on a day-to-day basis.

0 votes

David O

Oh my goodness! This article confirms it beyond all doubt! what you say? – I am a Digital Hoarder – Bigtime!!

Every single app listed here, l not only have, but use continuously. Even worse, they are bursting at the seams trying to contain my addiction.

I take solace from knowing that l am not the only one!

0 votes

Eric B

Lastpass supports software keys and several other types of data including credit cards and other form fill info. Keepass can support software licenses if you put the key in the password field. It more of a preference thing now than features.

0 votes

Paul P

I use many of the apps mentoned here, Dropbox Keypass, Google DriveBox Sync, 4Sync, Sticky Password, Amazon Cloud drive, Copy.com, Truecrypt, Xmarks and I exchanced FreeNAS dervers with a frend so we both have offsite archives we can physically get to in an emergency.

0 votes

Paul P

ack i’m can’t type today sorry about the typoes.

1 votes

Tom

The program I use is Tags at http://www.caseapps.com/tags/. Allows me to add and search on tags so articles can be found across the many folders where they are stored.

0 votes

tenacious B

calibre’s pure quality.

1 votes

Jono M

sigh you make a comment of mr 500 dvd’s im in the sad possition of around 1200 dvd,s andha hoarded 10 TB of digital crap (some great some not)… guess i should throw some of it out…or just make use of some of the awesome tools you suggest in the article

0 votes

Jennifer M

Why you no like MediaPortal? Why, in the millions of times I have asked around for others that use it, have I only met like 2 people that have even heard of it? I am definitely a media hoarder, I convince myself I am still better than the hoarders on TV cause I keep it all pretty and organized lol (won’t find any dead for a year cats in my mess). And with MP its actually pretty impressive looking instead of just a mess of files. Admittedly I don’t even have the TV-server installed, but to use it optimally I would have to pay for cable- the digital spread just to get HD too, which would be totally wasted on me- plus a very expensive tuner card with the minimum requirement of taking a one of those cable cards to be able to take advantage of the HD :/ … so yeah, not using the TV server aspect of it.

But MediaPortal is free too, though only works on Windows. It also works well with many MMC remotes (I don’t have one but I hear it works quite well with Logitech Harmony remotes too), keyboard navigation, a remote specifically created for iPhone called ‘Couch Potato’ that I highly recommend, and another one for Android called ‘aMPdroid’ that I’ve never used cause I don’t have one lol.

It’s also compatible with some XBMC plugins, Plex (though the apps creator is perpetually behind on keeping up with stable releases of MePo. So even though he got it working with MyPlex, it doesn’t work with MePo 1.3 or 1.4) and utilizes filebot for the TV and movie databases which is freakin awesome at parsing movies and TV filenames and automatically pulling up fanart, wallpapers, thumbnails, and descriptions and casting/crew/genre. Then you can browse by your choice of show/movie name, genre, director, actor, etc; also pull up trailers for movies.

It also has both Server and client versions, and a TV server to run PVR off of (though I don’t use it, as my TV connection is a pair of rabbit ears and I live too close to the airport lol……I download everything) I did install the plex server on my VPS, but a big downside to MediaPortal is that it is Windows only, my server is Linux. Doesnt matter to me that the myplex doesnt work with my MePo 1.3 as I am used to downloading everything anyway. I installed the Plex for my mom to use on their Roku

0 votes

MakeUseOf TechGuy

I last checked out MediaPortal perhaps 6 or 7 years ago, so perhaps it worth looking at again. Thanks for the tip Jennifer.

0 votes

Jennifer M

Haha yeah it has really gotten a lot better since I started using it a year and a half ago. Though it may just seem that way because I know exactly what plugins, skin, and configuration I want. Definitely for all the stuff I listed you would need MP TV Series, Moving Pictures, Online Video, IMDB+, and Fanart Handler….but there is an extension manager that comes with the install and it includes all of them, so it takes like 4 minutes to install all of them :P