Last week a family member called me up for some help with an email problem. I was able to fix it but when I went into the account I noticed that since the email account was created, three years ago, by me, it had never been cleaned out. Every single message ever received was still in the inbox, along with all the replies. Nearly 1000 messages in all, most of which were the usual nonsense, people forwarding jokes, confirmations of orders, stuff that was long obsolete and of no importance. It didn’t take but a few clicks to clear it all out and it got me to thinking about a concept that I had read about a years back when I was getting started into minimalism…the zero inbox.
Currently, I have 5 email accounts active and running. Later this spring, after I take care of some accounting and tax issues I will eliminate 2 of them. I will have a personal, one for iCloud, and one for the contact for the blogs. As of the writing of this post, here is what the inbox currently looks like…
I know what you’re thinking, “that poor lonely bastard.”. Well, yeah, but also no. I finally got into the habit of clearing out the emails as often as possible. It’s rare that I retain an email for any length of time. Mainly if I need to hold onto something as a reminder I may leave it sit for awhile. But most of the time I delete as soon as I have read and processed whatever the email was about.
In my particular case, I don’t get many emails at this time. I finally convinced my family to stop sending the jokes, forwarding the spam, and email only if it’s important. I get all the comments sent into my inbox for moderation before I let them be published. The email has plenty of information so I can determine if the commenter is legit or another spammer. About 90% are spam. So keeping a nice clean inbox for me is quite easy at the moment. For others, maybe not so much.
When I sold my last iPad to a neighbor I helped her set up her email. She had over 8,000 messages stuck in her inbox. Some dating back 5 or 6 years. I have no idea what could be so important about an email to hold onto it for that long but that’s the way she wanted it. I can understand holding onto sentimental emails from relatives. Maybe a message from somebody who passed away or a lost relationship. But most of the rest is just small talk and spam. Clutter is still clutter, even if it’s virtual clutter.
If you are in the midst of a minimalist downsizing project, take a few moments and look through your email account. Is it empty or near empty? Or is it almost at the limits of its bandwidth. Go in with a virtual shovel and start getting rid of it. If every time you go check your mail and there are dozens or even hundreds of messages, and none of them have any real importance, then delete, upgrade your spam filters, and let people know you love hearing from them, but you got better things to do than read that joke they forwarded from a thousand other senders.
While personal emails may be easy to control, that might not be the case with business email. If your inbox at work is overflowing with messages from coworkers, edicts from management, and complaints from customers, it may be something you can’t keep a lid on as easily. The only advice I can offer is to take care of the most critical stuff first and work on the rest later. When possible, let people know you prefer to keep email limited to what is important and related to your job. A zero inbox at work is probably an impossibility but at least you have the ability to control your personal email at home.
As I said earlier though, if you are downsizing, you can expand it into the virtual as well as the physical. Take some time and go through your emails, your texts, and any other programs you use where old data may have built up and is just sitting there taking up electrons. Clear it all out and see if you can get to a zero inbox.