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Back to You: Clear 1,000 emails from your inbox in 10 minutes

Delete{This is my first installment in the Back to You project that I am doing this monthwith Meagan Francis at The Happiest Mom. Read more about the project here.}

Last week, I peered over the Not Boyfriend's shoulder while he typed away at his computer to give him a quick kiss on the cheek, when I saw a flash of words I'd never seen before. I gasped.

"Your inbox has 0 messages."

What in the hell? That can happen?

That's, like, a real place for your 14 forwarded email addresses to be? There is a Zen, a centered and still place where messages don't settle in to live out their days, where there resides no tips for melting fat from Prevention magazine nor variations on Groupon nor forwards from your mother's best friend with the dancing old lady cartoon and 76 safety tips should you ever be pulled over by a cop on a deserted highway at night? 

What I saw on his pale, gaunt and empty screen was heaven, like Xanadu or unicorn town or a shoe shop where everything is marked 100% off. I didn't think it existed and yet, there it was. An empty inbox.

At that very moment, there were 21,735 emails living in the cramped quarters of my Gmail account. 


Granted, Gmail saves everyeffingthing. You can archive it, label it or ignore it, but it kind of can't ever make itself scarce enough until you absolutely, urgently need it and have to put in six of the craziest-person search terms of all time to dig it up. The only option is to DELETE FOREVER, and frankly, this is rather aggressive and scary to me. 

But barrelling toward 50K messages doesn't seem healthy. The clutter drives me nuts and I lose the really important messages often. I don't regularly skim my spam folder for errant but REAL messages because a good portion of my inbox could be considered spam. It's a lot. A super lot.

After I teased the Not Boyfriend about being who he is (which is not me), I went home and tried to be him (a little bit). I put to work some of the email organization and decluttering tips I know and have used -- often, just not in a while. In ten minutes, I was down a great big chunk of my inbox (I'll tell you the exact number after you make your way through my tips).

Here's how to get rid of a bucket of emails you have hanging around. Will the number add up to 1,000? I can't guarantee it, but I sure do hope it will surpass that count.

1. Delete shopping emails STAT this way: Quickly (and in your sloppiest speed handwriting) jot down the name of five retailers who email you often. Don't overthink. Don't pretend you don't know the name of the naughty-girl store and that Forever 21 (not the same) contacts you daily. Once you have your list, plug those brands into your email search box one at a time. Hit SELECT ALL and delete. 

Are you stressing you will miss a coupon or deal? Consider it cash saved. If you absolutely cannot bear the thought of bidding all those daily deals adieu, uncheck the most recent two and IMMEDIATELY file them in a folder labeled appropriately. That label should probably be STOP SPENDING SO MUCH MONEY ONLINE.

Make your way through all five. If you have a few extra minutes to spend on this task, do five more. If you are stuck, search on "% off" or "sale" or "clearance" or "friends and family." I had at least 100 among these categories.

How many emails did this first step clear out?

2. Now trash newsletters, newspapers, online magazines and other subscriptions in the same way: Jot down five publications you get on a regular basis. Mine are the New York Times, NYLON magazine, Runner's World, Circle of Moms and the school parent group newsletter. Delete them one by one. It feels heavenly to kiss them goodbye, doesn't it? 

Again, if you are shaking violently to do this, file the most recent into a special folder. Maybe consider labeling it CRAP YOU KNOW YOU WILL NEVER READ. Then smile for sating yourself and set a calendar alert to empty that whole folder at the end of this year. Trust me. Do it.

3. Run this routine again for social network updates or any other alerts or notifications you get: Type in TWITTER, FACEBOOK, PINTEREST. Kick all those emails with updates, retweets, repins and birthday alerts out of your inbox. All that stuff can be at home on those actual social networks. They don't need to couch surf in your inbox for years on end.

Same goes for search-find-delete on names of ex-boyfriends, the PTA president, your bootcamp instructor.

What do these notifications tally? Psst...I had thousands. 

4. Quick-file by year like this: Sort your email by date and go to the oldest emails stored in your inbox. My inbox emails dated back to 2007. Select all emails, page by page, and file them by year. Label the files for the year -- 2007, 2008, 2009, RIGHT THIS MINUTE. As you scroll from the past to the present, simply hit "select all on page" (or whichever the best option is for your email, so long as you are not clicking one by one) and add all the emails checked into the appropriate year file. 

Later, when you are feeling slightly more email-sane, you can sort through a year at a time and delete all the junk. For now, be happy it is out of your inbox.

How many emails did this file far, far away from your inbox?

5. If you are totally amped up on this clean-up and want bonus points, go another step further: Vow to mark all those shopper, deal and coupon emails as spam. GASP! Too much? Set your preferences to send them all to a folder marked SHOPPING. If that confounds you or you totally need more distance, set up another free email account with an addy you ONLY give out for these kinds of inbox-clogging email sign-ups. Then only log into that account when you need to shop.

TA-DA! I just saved you a GAZILLION DOLLARS. Thank me by not emailing me, please. A telepathic note is gladly accepted.

Ready for more? Go into that shopping folder or email account monthly (yes, set another calendar or cell phone prompt) and delete the EVERYFREAING EMAIL IN THERE. I am not even kidding. I know you can do it. Be strong. Be frugal. Be brave. Be less inbox-hoarding.


Not so painful, right? I'd like to make this a regular practice, so I've carved out time monthly (yep, calendar and cell phone-set) to run through these steps. Even if it takes a half-hour rather than ten minutes, it is well worth easing toward that goal of seeing a sad and lonely email perched in my inbox .(I couldn't possibly stand having it be completely bare in there. It's who the Not Boyfriend is, but not who I am after all.)

My goal in going through these five steps was to delete a thousand emails. But you know what kicks major internets booty? I annihalated more than 5,000! 

I kid you not. Only 15,734 to go.



Be sure to read Meagan's post on how to make over your chaotic morning schedule here and be sure to leave a comment to be entered in the killer giveaway!

« My kid is obsessed with Mr. Bill | Main | Back to You: A project to put moms back on the schedule »

Reader Comments (8)

This is one area of life I have totally under control! I have an account for all the offers and coupons to go to. As I randomly get ones in my "real" email box I either unsubscribe or update with the offers email. My real email is what I use for all my bills, bank accounts, professional correspondence etc. I am grateful for all the mobile devices that allow me to check my emails all day long. Things that require action get left in the inbox until the next day at the latest to be acted upon and everything else gets appropriately filed or deleted!
September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMomofTwoPreciousGirls
MomofTwoPreciousGirls, you go! This is an area I am always working on, so I love hearing your tips. xo
September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Ashley/Sassafrass
Fabulous, fabulous tips. Thank you so much! By the way, I think we both have about the same amount in our inboxes and get the same crap junk mail!
September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary@Everyday Baby Steps
I do many of these, but at the same time as I'm doing the mass delete, I also set up rules to send those into folders and skip the inbox entirely. That way I can easily review those folders if I want and also more easily mass delete them the next time.

Another filter/delete that I use is:

"If you would rather not receive future communications from"

Most of the spammy PR e-mails I get have that at the bottom. While I don't have time to unsubscribe to each one individually, I can send them to the trash in bulk.
September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie @ PhD in Parenting
Ooh...just tried out another filter for the word "unsubscribe". AWESOME!
September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie @ PhD in Parenting
I love it! This is such a timely article for me. I used to keep my email under control, less than 200 in my inbox & now that number has creeped up to 3000. I've been feeling overwhelmed & wondering how I could get it under control without setting up a new email account. I can't wait to try your tips!
September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJodi Davis
As I sit looking at my inbox with 1096 emails not organized, this post came at a very timely moment. Great tips in there. Hadn't thought of filtering by year and organizing that way!

ThanksIan - Founder, iWishfor
September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIan Hancock
This is super time consuming. Here are my tried and true email rules that might help you eliminate most of this list for the future.

Delete all crap immediately without opening it.

Unsubscribe is your best friend. Any business or publication you want to find out about can be found on Facebook. Like them and keep them out of your inbox. If you're going to a store, run a search of their website for deals before you go.

Stop all social notifications. You're going to visit the sites anyway, you don't need them.

I get pick me up daily quotes - I delete every one when I am finished. it's for THIS day, not next year when they'll be sending me new ones.

Keep As New keeps to-do items in my inbox until I have taken the necessary action. If the item is still there next week I probably don't actually HAVE to do it. Delete.

Mark items you want to keep with keywords that are easily searchable by forwarding them to yourself. You can store passwords, tax receipts, etc this way. Forward - change the subject line - send. Click so it doesn't stay unread.

This will eliminate most of your email chores super quick.
September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTracee Sioux

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