Your inbox says more about you than how you deal with clutter. Yesterday, I finally hit inbox zero. I’d managed to clear out a few thousand emails every few months, but my unread total had exceeded 20k this week. My boyfriend is an empty inbox kind of guy. Probably the biggest folder in his email is his Youtube folder. He gets several upload notificiations daily, but he’ll go through each email and watch the all videos for that day so that nothing is left unread. I get teased for my thousands of unread messages, but even I had to admit that 20k is too much.
I resolved to clean out my email and put away the emails I need to keep. It took just over 6 hours total to sort through and delete over 25k emails (the 20k unread, plus 5k that I had read but didn’t need to keep). I started with keyword searches so I could delete whole sections; things like “newsletter” and “deals” were sure to be outdated junk by now. When I had eliminated the broad topics and senders, I started picking through the miscellany. It was a relief to get rid of things by keyword, but clearing it out by date was a whole different experience. When nothing in my inbox was newer than 2014, I started to feel like I’d lost my anchor. New arrivals floated at the top, reaching to find footing, but nothing was there. When I got back to 2013, I started to feel depressed. I felt like big pieces of my identity were being picked out of my brain, and I couldn’t remember them because they weren’t there anymore, but I just knew that something was gone.
I’ve had that account since around 2006, but it looks like I cleared it out in 2011. By the time I reached the last email, I just felt dead inside. I had a bitter scowl on my face, but not even on purpose. It just came to rest that way.I reminded myself how free I was, and how I could keep up with the important things now, and I felt a little better. Later that night, I was talking with my boyfriend and he said that once his email hits 51 and things start moving to a second page, he feels overwhelmed and anxious. I explained to him how I felt cold and empty, and how it felt like I had no foundation.
I think when people say “There are two types of people in the world…” in regards to inbox messages, it’s much deeper than keeping up with clutter. It tells so much about how the individual views life. Why would it feel so uncomfortable when a whole year had been deleted? Maybe the past holds my identity, and without my past, I don’t know how to define myself. Everything I’ve accomplished is in the past. My sense of self is tied to those achievements, and without a past, I feel less sure of myself. How terrifying must amnesia and dementia be?
Perhaps I can use this lesson moving forward to do things each day to affirm my sense of self. Instead of being content with my past, I need to actively BE ME. I need to be able to say “I am an artist,” not because of the paintings on my wall, but because of the art that I am doing. I need to be able to say “I am a writer,” not because of the things I’ve written, but because of the things I am writing. If I feel like those parts of me would be undone if a year or two suddenly vanished from my past, I need to either move on or renew. I’ve felt grossly uninspired this week, but a clean slate may just be the kick in the pants I needed.