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Psycology of Instagram: Saves are the private side to the public app, but what do our bookmarked posts really say about us?

In the fast-paced, public world of Instagram, more and more of us are saving posts in private collections for our eyes only. But what do the posts we save and how we treasure them really say about us? 

How many times do you hit ‘save’ on Instagram? Chances are you fall into one of two categories: 1) you’ve got a backlog of saved posts stored in your phone and regularly tap the little bookmark button on things that make you laugh, cry or feel inspired or 2) you don’t even know where the ‘save’ button is.

Whatever camp you fall into, Instagram Saves aren’t an entirely new thing, but they’re one of the least talked about features on the social media app.

Launched in 2017, Instagram Saves give you the option to ‘bookmark’ things you’re interested in without actually publicly clicking ‘like’ on something. Saves are added to a handy little secret space on the app where you can categorise the posts you’ve marked into ‘collections’ and revisit them whenever you like. Contrary to ‘likes’, the person you’ve saved content from is able to see which posts are being saved, but not who has saved them.

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The save tool was introduced by Instagram in an effort to move away from public likes in favour of a more private Saves metric, according to social media scheduling platform Later.

For many people, Saves are fast becoming their favourite part of using Instagram, with their private, secretive nature setting them apart on an app that forces us to share ourselves so publicly.

Saves offer a different type of interaction; they’re personal and pocketed away on our phones for our eyes only. And with the latest data telling us that users spend on average 28 minutes a day on Instagram, it’s not surprising more and more of us are saving posts rather than liking them.

For me, Instagram Saves are like my wardrobe. They’re a chaotic mix of things I either love, like or will probably never look at again. But they’re my mix and my very own curation of ‘stuff’.

I save interiors and fashion items I’m lusting after and things I might want to buy in the future. I keep infographic posts that make me think, feel or pause so I can go back and devour them. I’ll hold on to recipes (that will probably end up looking nothing like the video) and art I want to share with my loved ones.

My Saves are my space. They’re a way I can consume Instagram without openly expressing that I ‘like’ something to my entire internet world. They’re messy and unorganised, unlike most other aspects of my life.

Instagram Saves feel nostalgic, like an early version of Pinterest when it was first launched in 2010. Saves give people the ability to not only curate their feeds, but to curate their thoughts in one neat little package behind closed doors. But what do Saves mean to women in 2022?  

Munich-based Lauren Rae, author of I Am Not A Writer and Wine And Other Highs, says Instagram serves as her own personal mood board rather than a photo-sharing app. 

“I tend to save inspirational quotes to post on my private Instagram account when I’m in a creative lull and interiors inspiration for when I feel like finally starting Ikea hacks with thrifted furniture,” she tells Stylist. “I also have a folder dedicated to Black hairstyling tips and tattoos I hope to try in the future.”

Saving posts is something Rae began to do during the pandemic. “I find a sense of comfort in putting items I’ve liked, that probably won’t relate to anyone except me, in a box,” she says.

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Instagram carousels, where people can share a post with multiple photos and videos, were also launched in 2017. They quickly became a clever way to share infographics with snippets of information on a whole range of subjects, including self-care, relationships and mental health.

For Bambi Homayoun-Fekri, a restaurant manager from Manchester, these carousels have become one of the things she regularly bookmarks on Instagram so she can come back and digest them later.

Homayoun-Fekri has three folders she saves posts into called ‘healing’, ‘self-love’ and ‘food’. “A few people I follow create carousel posts with quotes. If I really like them, I’ll write them down in my journal too, so I can memorise them,” she tells Stylist.

If she’s having an anxious day, Homayoun-Fekri will look back to her ‘self-love’ or ‘healing’ folder and read her saved posts to feel inspired, less stressed or simply to feel uplifted. ‘Food’ is where she keeps recipes.

Madeleine Walder, a humanitarian programme worker currently based in Yemen, sees her Saves as her online scrapbook. “For me, the saving function almost works like a diary,” she tells Stylist. Walder’s Saves fall into a mix of inspirational posts or things that motivate her, like images of haircuts or a glute workout to try in the gym. She also keeps mental health posts about relationships, tips for managing anxiety and poetry.

“For me, saving is instinctive. I save rather than ‘like’ because I know it will go into my bank of Instagram content I can go back and re-consume it to have a good time,” says Walder, who explains that Saves are comforting because they’re like a memory bank that reminds her of her thoughts. “It’s my treasure trove of things that make me laugh, things I want to remember and things that make me feel something.”

“Whether it’s make-up inspiration or a self-care tip, saving a post is like setting the intention to digest something immediately or at a later date,” explains Tasha Bailey, a psychotherapist at RealTalk.Therapist who specialises in identity.

While liking something on Instagram is often done quickly and in the moment, saving something is about holding on to things that really resonate with us. This is something we learn to do from a young age, explains Bailey, such as holding onto objects like a toy or blanket in childhood. The object may remind us of home or a parent and it gives us an instant sense of comfort or a memory that can expand into adulthood.

We save things in whatever formats we can find, explains Bailey, be it holding onto an empty perfume bottle because it reminds us of someone’s smell, or saving something that sparks a memory of a good time on Instagram.

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“When we ‘save’ things in real life, we are communicating that this object feels special. It symbolises a feeling, experience or a wish that we have for ourselves, and something we want to remember,” says Bailey.

“Life can move very quickly, so saving things is a way of slowing down and connecting objects or information to memories or goals. It’s not unusual for people to share their saved posts with me in therapy sessions. The saved posts have resonated with them and they ask for my help in digesting how it might give them a better understanding of themselves.”

On an app that moves quickly – one refresh of your feed and you’re faced with a whole new slew of images – saving things is a way of slowing down, savouring posts at a time that suits us and connecting them to our memories and goals. Even if you don’t return to your saved items, the act of keeping them aside can be enough to find meaning, connection or reassurance in rituals. So, tell me: what’s the last thing you saved?

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