As posted on I’m an iMessage sentimentalist running out of storage
There’s only one thing standing between me and a tonne of free space on my iPhone: my entire iMessage history. But, try as I might, I cannot bring myself to delete a single message. I’m an iMessage sentimentalist and it’s becoming a problem.
I’ve been receiving warning messages for months. “Storage Almost Full,” my passive aggressive iPhone would say. Last week I came face to face with my very painful fate: my iPhone had finally run out of storage and I didn’t know what to do about it.
I tried deleting photos, videos, and apps I no longer used. Nothing made a dent on the storage situation. Exasperated and desperate, a colleague proffered some advice:”You need to change your iMessage history settings,” she said. I went into my phone and scrolled through my Message settings. “Keep messages: Forever,” read my current status.
Changing your iMessage history settings means that any messages preceding the 30 day, or one year, limit will be deleted from your phone. If you backed up your device using iCloud or iTunes before changing your settings, you can restore those messages at a later date — should you want to. But, if you change your settings without backing up, those messages will be gone forever. Speaking as someone who rarely backs up my iPhone, changing my settings would mean kissing goodbye to my messages forever.
My finger hovered nervously over my screen and my entire iMessage history flashed before my eyes. I couldn’t part with my iMessage history. There is too much IRL history there.
Later that day, my lack of storage reached a critical point when I needed to download an app in order to retrieve a train ticket. Rather than deleting my iMessage history, I chose to delete every single app on my iPhone in order to get my ticket. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tinder, WhatsApp, Bumble, and CityMapper were all killed off in order to preserve my precious iMessages.
My iMessages are a treasure trove of digital love letters from former boyfriends and casual no-labels lovers.
Why would I do that? The answer is pretty simple. My iMessages are a treasure trove of digital love letters from former boyfriends and casual no-labels lovers. My feelings for each and every one of these people have long since evaporated, but I cannot, and will not, bring myself to erase the messages that passed between us.
A few months ago, an old boyfriend posted a photo of his newborn child on Instagram. For old time’s sake, I scrolled through an iMessage thread that he and I once shared. I looked at the first (cringeworthy) message he sent me asking me to “sling him a text” if I ever wanted to go for a drink, and my subsequent (deeply uncool) reply. I laughed out loud as we awkwardly entered the sexting phase after we’d starting sleeping together. And, after one pretty big scroll, I could see the fraying of our relationship in the messages.
In my mind, deleting these messages equates to erasing our entire relationship. I need to know those messages are there to assure me that my relationship was real. And I’m not the only one. Sian Meades, co-editor of lifestyle newsletter Domestic Sluttery, has never knowingly deleted a text message. She prefers to delete photos when her phone’s running out of space.
“I have every iMessage from my boyfriend of two and a half years,” says Meades. She believes that iMessages have a kind of “immediacy” to them that, when you read them, you are transported back to the moment they were sent. “There’s so much history there that I can’t imagine just pressing delete on the entire thread now,” she says.
Lucy Stevens, a marketing executive based in Cambridge, feels the same way. She keeps her old iMessages for sentimental reasons. “When my boyfriend and I first met he was off to Canada for a ski season, so I didn’t want those messages to be deleted before he went and then I’ve kept them ever since. Nearing 5 years now,” says Stevens. She reads through the messages from time to time and she says they often bring back nice memories or make her laugh. “It’s nice to hold on to them — a bit like you would have kept letters back in the day, I suppose it’s just the modern day version of that really,” says Stevens.
But Matt Goolding, founder of a digital marketing collective, says he feels “no sentimentality” about past messages. “There’s no reason for me to hoard. It’s understandable that people want to reflect on past conversations, but personally it’s not something I ever do.” He says there are no messages that he holds on to for sentimental reasons, he only ever saves messages for practical reasons.
You might think I’m an incurable romantic, but for me, my messages are the only tangible remnant of my past relationships. I see iMessages as the love letters of modern courtship. And, rather than stowing away old letters in a dusty box, these iMessages are on my person at all times, just waiting for me to open them up whenever I so desire. Even after the breakups and the upset, I still want to have the option of looking through them.
For now, I have no plans to throw out any of my digital love letters. There’s simply too much relationship history. And I’m not ready to hit refresh just yet either. I guess I’ll just have to find another way to free up space.
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