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You’ve Got (Too Much) Mail: Confessions of an Email Hoarder

Want a new lease on (your electronic) life? Clean out the clutter!

(Image: ThinkStock)

For the last few years, I’ve harbored a miserable secret: I’ve started each day already woefully behind, and the minute I logged on to my computer, it made sure I knew.

“65 unread messages,” it whispered in 10-point type. That was back in ‘09. “474 unread messages,” it confided, circa April 2010. I’m sure I went in at some point and cleared out a few (didn’t I?) but by last week I had tipped over 1,000 and thought, This has got to stop. So today, I got busy cleaning house.

How does someone who checks her email several times a day, who is responsible (relatively), organized (sort of) and well meaning (I try) end up with 1,313 unread messages? Easy. And don’t act like you don’t get it, because I know I’m not in this predicament alone. According to a recent article in The New York Times, unanswered emails are the No. 1 gripe of the net-manners set.

Don’t get me wrong: Emails that require a response get opened and answered promptly (my apologies for the rare exception). But I’m notoriously slow with responding to evites, especially those sent way in advance, and I may not get to that latest joke from my aunt today… or tomorrow… or this year.

You know what I’m talking about! Between emails from work and actual friends, from my kids’ schools and my kids themselves, from marketers, my neighborhood association, government agencies, charities, political campaigns, Facebook and Twitter, newsletters, my alma maters, appointment confirmations, evites, ecards, echains and retired family members who share every National Geographic photo, motivational poem, YouTube discovery, and prayer for President Obama’s safety and success with me, it’s… a lot.

The upside is that an overflowing inbox can make you feel popular and highly favored. And, on a good day, it can be a treasure trove of good news (“The baby arrived!”), useful information (“Pass it on: The TSA is hiring”), and happy surprises (You won!). The downside is that it can completely drive you crazy and, untended, it multiplies faster than you can hit “reply.” So, I don’t. At least, I didn’t. I’d routinely open everything that required a quick response (and, no, it didn’t have to be marked urgent for me to pay attention), I’d delete all unknown senders or dull subjects, and I’d skim past the rest, leaving their highlights intact, with the best of intentions to return when I had time. But that time never came. Until today!

Now, as Eleanor Roosevelt once encouraged: I’ve done the thing I thought I could not do and it feels great!

In the process, not only did I clear my electronic clutter and my guilty conscience, I acquired some worthwhile info, including my old friend Dot’s “new” contact info (from 18 months ago) and I laughed out loud—a lot! Aunt Joy: Keep those ejokes coming!

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