Help! Why Can't I Delete My Old Text Messages?

- Very Serious: An Advice Column By Kelly Conaboy -
Help! Why Can't I Delete My Old Text Messages?

Kelly Conaboy is writing an advice column for Dipp readers. It's going to be very serious. So serious, in fact, we named it Very Serious: An Advice Column by Kelly Conaboy. Just email her at with whatever's bothering you and each week, Kelly will solve one lucky reader's biggest problem. You can read all of Kelly's excellent advice here.

Dear Kelly,

My phone is out of space and it seems like my only option if I want to continue to take photos of my cat is to delete my old text messages. Why am I afraid to delete my old text messages?



Leslie, I love this question because it is as if you’ve presented me with a riddle, and I will never know if I guessed the answer correctly unless you decide to reach out again and tell me that I did. Is the answer um, that the surgeon is a woman? Or is is it that um … it’s time to fix the fence?! Hm.

I guess I’ll have to think a little harder.

Our data, Leslie: it haunts us. It follows us across the internet. It humiliates us, exposing our awkward high school photos and old tweets. It allows us to purchase unnecessary things without having to get our credit card out of our purse. It haunts our inbox with memories of email fights past. We hate it, and yet when it’s time to delete it — the obvious option — we pause. I’m using “we” here even though I only know what is inside my own heart, but I think in general people feel mostly the same about these kinds of things. At least judging by how many comedians have been felled by their own old tweets.

For the more sentimental among us, there are too many ways to make memories now. Pretty much every second of our day is logged. Every conversation, every passing thought. I think it used to be that in order to record the goings-on of everyday things you had to keep a diary; now you just have to exist. And having a record of everything can trick you into thinking you need a record of everything; that it is all precious, something to keep and look back on in your old age. Ah, remember when I emailed my roommates in 2015 about how much we each owed for the month? What a wonderful memory. So, why are you afraid to delete your old text messages? I have a few guesses.

  • You imagine yourself looking back on these conversations in the future, with warmth. I understand this.
  • You’re afraid someone is going to die and you’ll have deleted your text conversations with them, which at that point would be nice to have. (Not to be morbid.) Okay I understand this, too.
  • You have conversations with an ex in there (friend or lover), and once you delete the existing conversations there will likely be no future conversations with this person and you will no longer see their name or have that tether. Yes, I understand this.
  • You think that at some point something in your text communications will help you win an argument. Okay, I really understand this one.

I don’t think these fears are unjustified. They are very human. But like any fear that leads to unnecessary hoarding I want you to consider whether the fear is based in a reality that you have experienced, or whether it is based in a situation you have imagined that will likely never present itself.

Can you picture yourself really — really — going through thousands and thousands of your old group chat text messages at any point in the future, to remember the conversations had therein? Will your own memory of the conversations not suffice in this situation? I think, you know … having the first texts exchanged with your future marital partner might be fun, of course, but are you holding onto 20 GB worth of chats for that, which is something that you might not even remember to look at later anyway? Just something for you to think about, Leslie.

As for the breakup-related reasons — okay. At some point you have to let go. Once I held onto a winter hat an ex-boyfriend gave me for a while after we broke up until one night I forgot it in a bar. This was devastating to me. I realized at that point that wearing the hat was allowing me to feel connected to this ex in what was ultimately an unhealthy way, because we simply were no longer connected. That’s just life. Are you doing this with your texts? If so I say delete them right now, even if you don’t go through with deleting the rest of your texts. Do it, Leslie. I believe in you.

And the death reasons? Well. This is harder. I can’t reasonably say that I myself wouldn’t like to have those hypothetical memories, in this hypothetical death scenario, though I do think it might ultimately lead to an unhealthy situation similar to the breakup one. You can’t reasonably be expected to save every last stitch of a person, crowding your life with old memories rather than allowing yourself to make new ones (photos of your cat). Maybe instead of keeping the texts, you can keep a file for everyone you know titled “IN CASE [THE PERSON’S NAME] DIES. “Oh, this is just in case you die,” you can explain once someone accidentally sees their own file. “I needed to delete my texts to make room for photos on my phone, so I just printed out a few relevant ones to remember you by.” I can’t imagine they’d think this was strange at all …

The argument reason, well … okay, you got me there, Leslie. It would definitely be satisfying to win an argument with your text receipts.

But the final thing I want you to think about is: Do you really think technology is so stable from update to update that, in the future, you will actually be able to access old text messages with ease, making them worth keeping on your phone right now? Honestly, I doubt it. Those things are gonna be inaccessible eventually.

Delete the texts, Leslie. Give yourself the space to download a new app. There’s a whole world out there to discover (in your phone).



Background via nacnud; stick figure via Kelly Conaboy.

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