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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.