An Empty InBox

2RZVIMDLQQ laptop coffeeMany years ago, my department at work took the Gallup StrengthsFinder survey to find out what we were best at, as defined by Gallup. At the top of my list was “Input.” That sounded odd to me, but the description of this strength said it meant I liked to collect things.

I’ve never had a collection of anything, but I do amass junk. Or so says my husband. I keep a lot of paper junk, but also a lot of digital junk. Still the Gallup terminology puzzled me. I decided that in my case “Input” meant I liked to collect information. I love to research. I like knowing things. I keep all my paper and digital files because they contain information, which I might need someday. I don’t know when I’ll need it, but I might. Someday.

A month ago, I smiled in amusement at a friend’s posting on Facebook about his project to clean out his email inbox. He had a few hundred messages in the inbox, apparently, and was determined to get the number down to zero.

Hah! I thought to myself, what a waste of time. What difference does it make if his inbox contains lots of messages? He doesn’t have to do anything with them. The emails can just sit there. They aren’t hurting a thing.

But a few weeks later, I involuntarily cleaned out my own inbox. I accidentally deleted everything in it.

I have three email addresses that I use regularly. I probably have been assigned half a dozen other addresses through various alumni organizations and other sources. Those I never look at. But these three I open daily.

One is my “real” email. Only personal friends and professional contacts get that one.

Another is my “writing” email. I use this one to publicize my writing, and I give it out publicly so readers can contact me.

The third is my “junk” email—the one that I use for shopping online and when I want to sign up for free stuff and sales advertised by retailers. This is the address I use to follow newsletters and blogs and just about everything else that doesn’t require my immediate attention when I get the email. I’m interested in lots of things—legal topics, human resources, writing, book marketing and publishing. I’m on a lot of distribution lists.

Thank goodness the “junk” email inbox was the one I deleted, because hardly any of the messages in it are mission-critical.

But a few of the deleted emails might be important. Maybe it wasn’t so good that this was the one I deleted. It would take hours to undo.

This inbox was by far my largest—over 6000 emails in it at the time. (Which is why I chuckled at my friend’s problem with his few hundred messages.) I tend to keep messages I haven’t read yet, or which have some interesting information I might want to pass along in Facebook groups or through Twitter feeds, or which offer a sale of clothes I might want to buy (though I don’t need a thing). The hoarding must be my Input strength coming through.

Like my friend, I’ve periodically made attempts to winnow down my inbox. I’ve trashed everything more than six months old, for example. Or deleted all messages from particular senders whose newsletters I’ve decided aren’t that interesting, or from retailers from which I never buy.

Sometimes I’ll go through an “unsubscribe” mode, in which I unsubscribe from everything I don’t want to read that day. I stop following blogs, delete persistent marketers, and cancel retail sales pushes.

But despite these efforts, as of Involuntary Trash Day, it had been a long time since my “junk” inbox had had fewer than 2000 messages in it.

I’m still not sure what I did that morning, but all of a sudden all 6000 messages were gone. The inbox was empty.

Upon investigation, I discovered that they had all gone into the Trash folder.

Well, heck, I thought, why not leave them there? Then I wouldn’t have to deal with them.

But what if there’s something in there I really should read? my Input gene asked.

So I went through the 200 or so unread messages in the Trash and some of the most current messages to decide what I really should keep. It wasn’t much. I only resurrected about 30 emails. (One was from the library telling me to call or my card would expire next month. Maybe I should let the library have my “real” email address.) The rest of the 6000 I left in the Trash folder, and let the system delete them permanently a day or two later.

I breathed a sigh of relief at the clean slate I’d involuntarily been given. And I vowed to act or delete on every message I received each day.

But I’m back up to 300 messages in that inbox already.

What do you do to control your email? Or do you bother?

Posted in Philosophy, Technology, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , .


  1. We must be related, Theresa. I too have three email addresses, but right now, they’re all packed. One in particular I’m afraid might crash due to the volume of saved emails. Funny, I was just thinking the other day, it’s time to delete. I’m the same with my work emails. I have things saved from years ago…just in case. 🙂

  2. Umm… Input was at the top of my Strengths Finder as well. I am a hoarder, not of things, but definitely of information, a pathology I have reframed as Context Dependency. 🙂 My email inbox has 4,000 messages with information I might need sometime…. and then there are the stacks of paper. Every time I actually do trash something, it seems that not long after, something comes along that causes me to regret no longer having it.

    • Linda,
      A kindred spirit!
      I’ll have to remember “Context Dependency” the next time my husband complains about my piles and boxes. (Yet I’m the one who has to find his keys and phone and other paraphernalia.)

  3. Had to laugh when I saw the beginning of your post. I can’t tell you how many personality/style tests I took over the years at work. I’m sure I took the Meyer-Briggs at least three times! Not sure what my results mean in terms of email, but I also have several email addresses. Occasionally I’ll go through and do a clean-out, but mostly I just ignore the ones I don’t need or want to read. I have several thousand. I do “star” the important ones, so that’s kind of a filing system, right?! 🙂

  4. Since I was mentioned, I’ll take my 30 seconds to respond.

    I have one email address, the same one I’ve had since Yahoo was invented. I constantly remove incoming emails by deleting them or shuffling them off to another box, like “writer friends”, or “respond immediately” (Ha!). Also, I unsubscribe to many, as if that function really works.

    At one time, I made public my effort to send my inbox to zero. I was mocked by my friends…for good reason. It never reached zero.

    I’m glad you brought the subject of “inbox” up, though. It got me to thinking about a new, and useful, email practice. I do have another box named “almost trash”. Since Yahoo, doesn’t have a limit on stored emails, I going to create another box called “read later”. Except for the emails concerning a few million dollars coming my way, I’m just going to batch all the inbox emails together each day and move them to “read later”.

    There you go. The perfect solution. If I want to read your emails to me, I’ll just search on your name.

    My filing system will remain intact.

    Thanks, Theresa.

Leave a Reply to Jill Weatherholt Cancel reply