Digital Decluttering

colour blocked capital M that's the current Gmail logo

Somehow I let my email inbox accumulate more than 10,000 emails. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to spend a few minutes every day clearing them out.

I know what you’re thinking. “There are email extensions and apps and all sorts of ways to organize your inbox!” Right! I’m aware. But think of my email like a pile of clothing sitting in front of an empty dresser. While I’m hyper-organized in most areas of my life, I walk by that pile every day and rarely open a drawer. This isn’t a knowledge problem. It’s a human problem. And that human is me!

Snip of my email inbox showing that I have 2,926 emails.

This is my progress as of this writing. But it’s much more complicated than simply deleting all of the old emails. It’s documented history in there. Decisions must be made.

Fussing with Folders

For example, I’m keeping every email my Mom ever wrote. It occurred to me that her entire cancer journey is in there, and that was our journey, together. Also, my Dad’s decline from Parkinson’s and our struggles to get him into long-term care. Everything is in there, day by day and thought by thought. One day, I’ll compile it all and perhaps it will become a book. Who knows? I’m filing them in a folder called MOM.

Then there are emails from clients I don’t even remember doing work for. I don’t open them all during the delete-athon, but once in a while I pause to take a look. “Oh yeah, I wonder whether those people stopped that company from digging a quarry?” “That voice-over I did for US Homeland Security freaked me out! It was all about surviving a mass poisoning in government buildings!” I had forgotten that I wrote a monthly, rant-style column for the Byron Villager magazine called, What’s Provoking Penny. It was a few hundred words of old Penny crabbing about something like people who don’t move out of the way on a sidewalk and it was a hoot to write.

There are memos from ex-bosses. Musings from people I’m not in touch with anymore, for good reasons. Notes from friends who have passed away. And junky stuff I simply forgot to delete. Remember Home Outfitters? I loved them. And I still have some of their flyer emails. I found friends’ responses to Derek’s and my definite decision that we would stay in London and maybe put an addition on the house. And we all know how THAT worked out!

And then there are the folders. Do I keep the one for the guys I was ghost-writing a book for, until they ghosted me? Do I throw that work and those notes away? I know I need to do a major cleanup of folders, too. Some aren’t specific enough. I have one called KEEPERS. How vague is that?

Time (Mis) Management

The thing is, it takes a dedicated block of time – or two, or seven – to concentrate on getting this chore done. Yes, getting it done will make things easier in the long run or I wouldn’t even bother. But in the short run, there are other priorities. So, because of this, I find myself chipping away at it, 50 emails at a time.

This guide to cleaning up a messy inbox gave me inspiration. The author asks salient questions like, “When was the last time you needed a five-year-old email?” The answer, of course, is never. And my cleanup efforts are centering on emails sent to me more than five years ago. 99.9% of them will go to the trash. But a select few with personal meaning won’t, and that’s what’s taking up time.

The answer is to manage my inbox properly from the start. But until I invent a time machine, this method will simply have to do. I’m committed to finishing it the old fashioned way. By hand. The way our ancestors used to deal with their emails!

BTW thank you again for the comments and notes about Miss Sugar. (She has her own folder too!) I don’t know what I’ll do now with her Friday blog spot. I suppose we’ll find out together.

2 thoughts on “Digital Decluttering”

  1. I feel your email pain. I put a star next to the ones that I haven’t answered but really need to take some time to write with compassion and consideration (not to say I bang off the others mindlessly, but some need more care than others – those about grief, for example). And then, usually late at night for some gawdforsaken reason, I scroll, find those stars and freak that I’ve left people hanging. Staying connected, as you and I both know, makes a difference to so many, and it causes pain on both sides if you let it slip. Sure we were busy, or having an awful day/week/month/year but not everyone understands. I’ve written back 2 years later and people are surprised but thankfully not aggrieved. THE WORST though, is taking that ten minutes to carefully craft an email and have it come back “undeliverable”. Where did you go…….????? Sending a hug, E. (PS – don’t respond to me! LOL)

  2. Being a former nerd who at one time lived and died by E-mails I’ve always had a system and let the tools do some of the work for me. Outlook has an archive feature which will automatically archive E-mails and folders on a time schedule you can set. The E-mails and folders aren’t gone, just moved to the archive folder and you can define if there are some items you don’t want moved.

    Another thing I do, is at the end of each year I copy my currently active main folder into a folder for example called Outlook 2021 and then go back and completely clean out the active one and I have them dating back decades.

    I started this process when I was working for various organizations and involved with human right cases which presented the need to CYA which is over kill for the average persons but sometimes necessary.

    And yes, sometimes those old folders do come in handy. a young woman who was helping me out with my groceries who I had become friends with mentioned on this day how her computer crashed and she had lost her only copy of her resume. well it just so happened that she had sent me a copy a year or so prior to review and I was able to dig it out and send it to her. I’ve gone searching through old E-mails a number of times over the years sufficient to keep holding on to them.

    When was the last time I needed a 5-year old E-mail? Never right, Wrong!

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