Help! My Email Inbox Is A Horror Show Threatening To Swallow My Entire Life

I kind of buy the idea that the outer conditions of our lives reflect the inner ones. But if that's true, given the state of my Gmail inbox, my inner conditions are ... yikes.
Publish date:
August 24, 2013
gmail, email, help, inbox zero, inbox, sanebox

I think I might be an email hoarder.

See, my Gmail inbox is a perfect reflection of my personal organizing skills -- in other words, it's A COMPLETE AND UTTER FREE-FOR-ALL with no organization or systems or anything cohesive holding it all together. It's a mess, a disaster area, and every time I fearfully venture in there (which is all the time, obvs), I get completely stressed and overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the challenge before me: HOW IN GOD'S NAME AM I GOING TO MAKE MY INBOX LOOK AND BEHAVE LIKE A NORMAL PERSON'S?!? Is it remotely possible for an unorganized sort like me to have an inbox that won't make me want to scream, cry, or die within 30 seconds of logging in?

I know a tiny bit about the whole "Inbox Zero" concept Lesley wrote about once. But I don't necessarily want or need my inbox to have, like, ABSOLUTELY NO messages in it -- I don't care as much about the number of emails I have as the total lack of structure or organization up in there. Yeah, I could probably stand to delete at least half of the 1,500+ messages that are in there right now, but more than that, I just crave some kind of ... system. A simple, neat, clean way to keep things in their proper place, you know?

I signed up for a filtering service called Sanebox -- I even shelled out for a year of it -- and it's helped a little, but not enough. I know Gmail has folders; I've even half-heartedly set up a few. But I haven't been using them consistently; it bugs me that they don't make the messages actually GO AWAY or move them into separate folders (instead of just sitting in my inbox, marked "Receipts" or whatever). Um, unless I'm doing the Folders thing all wrong, which is entirely possible. (Help?)

My problem is not particularly unique. Like I said, apparently I am an email hoarder -- I don't delete anything. Most of my zillion messages have already been read or opened, then brazenly cast aside to be dealt with later. I don't even take the time to delete the things I obviously don't need, like receipts, or order confirmations, or food delivery coupons, or Netflix BS, or Birchbox BS, or Paypal, or whatever -- somehow I end up convincing myself I might need them again one day, so there they sit, cluttering up my Gmail and my life.

Then there are the messages I hold on to because they're from friends, or exes, or employers, and I convince myself I might need them one day for Very Important Nostalgic Purposes (or, OK, because I might want to quote them in something I write). But generally speaking, that NEVER HAPPENS. I very rarely read back through old emails; the only time I do that is when I'm in the throes of torturing myself about an ex (which I surprisingly don't do that often).

In the overall scheme of things, I realize this isn't a big pressing problem, but it still just ... bugs me. Because I do believe that things like the state of our inboxes reflect how we think and feel -- who we are. It's like this James Allen quote someone tweeted the other day: "The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to reflect their inner beliefs." I think I actually kind-of buy that, so it makes me stressy to think about what the state of my inbox says about me.

Anyway, thought I'd ask you guys for tips; got any? How do you keep your inbox clean and organized, if you do? Got a good system in place? Any tips or tricks = much appreciated!

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