Brazil mailroom

So you’re going to clean out your email inbox. To what end? Say that you do. Then what? Take a picture of the zero and frame it? Close your laptop, move on with your life, and spend more time with the people you love? Don’t be absurd. This pointless exercise will net you only the faintest and most illusory sense of control over your own life. But you insist, confident that it will bring you peace of mind and the luxury of a guiltless moment. Fine.

In the time we’ve wasted discussing this, you have received three new emails. One of them is from a Yahoo Groups discussion board you signed up for six years ago. If this does not give you pause you are either a gibbering maniac or the only living son of a bitch on this planet with a chance in hell of saving humanity. Let us endeavor to discern which of the two you truly are.

Begin, of course, by putting it off. No, longer than that. And now again. Did you know that you can use half a jar of Trader Giotto’s pesto instead of water when you make Easy Mac? Pesto pretty much boils after two minutes in the microwave, so you can actually throw away your Brita filter, too. You’re going to need a lot of time to process this.

Now, try to remember your old passwords so you can delete ancient AOL and Hotmail accounts now spewing spam missiles at one another, drifting aimlessly through an elephant’s graveyard of abandoned URLs. Was it Lukeshouse14? Was it lukeshouse14, with no caps? Was it Lakehouse41? Luke would probably remember. Repeat for six hours.

What about your email address from college? The first username someone ever bestowed upon you, simple and clean and free from numbers or puns about your sexual prowess. The shining key of [yourname]@[yourcollege].edu that opened the minimalist, blue-and-white doors of 2004-era Facebook. Shouldn’t you have gotten an alumni forwarding account? What if that sociology professor who totally got you tried to get in touch again? What if he wrote you feverish, late-night missives about how your junior-year essay on symbolic capital and its significance on Survivor changed his life? Maybe he gave up in despair, when you’d just forgotten to tell him about your new Gmail account after you graduated and moved to the city for that marketing job that was actually an internship that didn’t really work out.

You try calling your alumni association and the school’s IT department, leaving messages with both, because you’re calling outside of their Monday-to-Friday operating hours of 7:30 to 4:00 EST. After someone from IT emails you a link to the alumni page with your login information you access your account and realize that they’ve also posted your transcript online, so you totally paid that $55 processing fee to the registrar back when you were still thinking about applying to grad school for nothing. Consider trying to get that money back. Delete all the mass emails from your old campus groups. Realize that’s all there was.

In your current inbox, you now have 17 new emails since you embarked on this useless endeavor. Two of them are from your uncle, and they are written in bright red, 18-pt. Courier New font. Create a separate folder that filters messages from all of your family members if you haven’t already. Check “skip inbox.” Whether you choose to “mark as read” or “move to trash” depends entirely on whether or not your family members are the kind to reference their emails in person.

“So are you in for the Alaska thing? Shauna needs to know by March 1st so she can get a final count for Frank to get the tickets before prices go up.”

“Sorry, what Alaska thing?”

“The cruise? In July? The one where Frank can get a really good deal on the tickets through his work? I sent you like fourteen mesages about it. It’s probably going to be Grandpa’s last chance to take a vacation with the family, so. He’s been asking if you’re coming a lot. It’s one of the only things he can remember really clearly these days, is this trip.”


“Jesus Christ, Christine.”

Now begins the real work. Start with all of the Evites to theme housewarming parties you’ve already forgotten and bachelorette weekends in Napa (“Okay, everyone needs to kick in at least $50 to Emily before this weekend, okay? I really need to hear back from you guys on this to make it the best weekend ever”) you begged your way out of. Why are you still getting email updates from Twitter every time some new spambot starts following you? God, you haven’t updated your account settings in forever.

You start swinging at fences, searching your mailbox for anything containing the phrase “read” or “Georgia” or “green” and deleting the results. Goodbye, notification of password changes from State Farm! Goodbye, chat with Sean P. from 8/22/07 (54 lines)! Delete. Delete delete delete. Still the numbers don’t go down. So many starred. So many archived. 354 drafts? That can’t be right. Send them all, even the empty ones. It’s everyone else’s problem now! They can try to figure out what you meant by “Honestly, I think you shou” whenever they want – and in the meantime their inboxes will only grow. Let others suffer. Let them all suffer. You’re cleaning house and the time for mercy ended somewhere around “FWD: My new weight-loss blog -tx for reading guys!!!” from T. Yang on page 36.

Create a folder called “Old Inbox.” Move all your emails into this folder. Inbox is now empty. Job done.

What’s on your to-do list? Tell us below so Mallory can tell you the consequences. Also see her piece “So You’ve Decided to Drink More Water” at the Hairpin.

  • Greg Harrison

    If you are using GMail, you can just archive your messages which I highly recommend.

    • Kay

      I never had a problem with things being in myinbox (not since online email accounts started having virtually unlimited space). It’s the UNREAD ones that haunt me. Hundreds of unread emails in all of my accounts.

  • Robot Omens

    Get yourself the 0 inbox nerd merit badge at!

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