minimalizing my inbox


i hate admitting weakness.  i avoid mentioning it at all costs.  but today, i will break from tradition.

i have used e-mail at work consistently for ten years.  and i have “purged” my email inbox only twice in my life.  the first time was when i switched companies 4 years ago.  at that time, i had little use for my old emails.  i saved them all to a cd and never looked back… never opening them again… any of them… i started my new job on my new computer with no email messages.

4 years later (today), i turned on my computer to 1,204 email messages in my inbox – no folders, no systems to retrieve data, just 1,200+ messages.  luckily, “purge inbox” had been entered on my to-do list almost 10 months ago and this morning i had set aside time to do it.

first, i poured myself a cup of coffee.  second, i closed my door.  third, i researched recommended folder structures for email by searching on-line and calling friends.  fourth, i got to work going through each message individually and filing them into a folder or deleting them.  fifth, 3+ hours later, i emerged from my office with every message in its proper home in its new folder.  inbox messages: zero.

i incorporated two valuable pieces of advice that i collected during my research.  1) if you can retrieve the information elsewhere, don’t keep the email.  this works for me.  i am not in a job where large amounts of needed data are stored in emails.  most of my necessary data can be found in files and folders on my hard drive.  and 2) keep your email filing system similar to your document system.  in other words, my document folders are sorted by category and event, not people names.  therefore, it made little sense for me to establish an e-mail folder structure based on people.  it serves me better by using events.

i am not surprised that my uncluttered inbox breathes into me such fresh air now when i check e-mails.  just like an uncluttered desk, an uncluttered desktop (or outlook) is so freeing and energizing.

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Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    I’ve been trying to keep my inbox empty — and mostly succeeding. I gave up categorizing most stuff years ago. I usually just archive stuff (even have an “Archive” folder in my Yahoo mail, lol) and maybe star it if I still need to do something with it. I tried adding my starred things to my to-do list, but really the simple starred list works just fine for me.

    One good thing is that I don’t get too many emails. I’ve unsubscribed from a lot of junk, and used filters to delete or archive stuff I don’t need to read. And, fortunately, Gmail has a pretty smart spam filter.

    Until recently, I didn’t get real spam as I kept my email address rather private, but some idiot whom I trusted my email with started sending forwards to everyone in their inbox without even using the BCC line. Everyone’s email was now visible to everyone else on the list and everyone they sent the stupid forward, too, as well as any viruses on any of their computers. A few days later I was getting emails asking me if I wanted to enlarge genitalia I don’t even have. Did I mention how much I hate it when people forward junk to multiple addresses?

  2. Shawn says

    Getting rid of anything is always terrifying, especially data files, such as emails that may contain valuable information. Minimalism is wise to practice for decluttering your life but also for maintaining the value of the possessions you do keep. I.e. keeping fewer emails reduces the threat of viruses and speeds up how fast your computer will allow you to navigate said email application (gmail, yahoomail, etc.) The same can be said for the files and programs we keep on our computers. These drastically slow down your computers performance and decline its value significantly.

    Just another example of how minimalism can better your life in a plethora of ways.

  3. di says

    If it’s an email generated by the people you work with, then your company is paying you to also delete and stay up-to-date.

  4. di says

    As a Registered Nurse, we had to follow many policies.

    For quick reference, I recorded brief notes in an email and sent it to myself. When I updated, I’d resend the same email to myself. Whenever, I needed quick access, everything was easy to find in that one email.

    Because my co-workers knew of this, they would often ask me questions about certain policies rather than search through the 3 large policy books kept at our work station.

    • di says

      It’s a lot quicker to review brief notes than it is to review a paragraph.

      It’s easier to remember a word or short phrase than it is to remember an entire sentence.

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