I know, I know: It’s not like all that data is taking up a lot of physical space, or physically weighing me down, so what’s the big deal? True enough. And yes, while I’m solidly “in the yellow” on my inbox capacity, I’m still a few hundred megabytes away from reaching my account storage limit….
But do I really need 31,692 emails in my inbox?
There’s a certain archival impulse I have–be that with email, or provisions in the pantry, or scraps of “important” papers. I like to hold onto stuff “just in case.” I never know when I might need garam masala–and even though I haven’t used it for as long as I’ve had two of my three children, and even though it probably has about as much flavor left in it as the dust that has gathered on its lid, I still hold on to it…just in case.
Not quite hording, but still: I’m holding onto a lot of stuff that I just don’t need.
“Data clutter” is so easy to let pile up because it plays right into my archival fantasy that some day in the future I will have a compelling need to check out what email I received on June 29, 2006. Or better yet: I’m saving this stuff for posterity, right?
Granted, there have been times when I have been able to pull a rabbit out of a hat by digging down deep into my email archive. But seriously: do I need all my iTunes receipts? Delta and Expedia itineraries dating back to 2010?
Now, even if I only took one second to review each email, there’s no way I am going to invest the 8+ hours it would take to review 31,692 individual correspondences. Time to bulk delete and hold onto only those electronic documents that have some legitimate need for archiving–HR correspondences, student issues, etc.
I tried purging by date, but that turned out to be too time consuming, since it still meant scanning subject lines to see if I did, in fact, need to hold onto an email. A better strategy: search by subject line. Delete all email with “pizza” in the subject heading. Even more effective: purge by sender. And there was certainly something satisfying about seeing a couple of hundred emails sent to me by this or that person (not you, of course!) over many, many years vanish with a single click.
In the time I could give to this purge in one day, I only managed to delete around 10% of my inbox, which doesn’t sound like much. But then I remembered the original definition of the word “decimate.”
It’s a small step, but hopefully I can continue to decimate my inbox on a regular basis.
And of course, all of this attention to my “archival fallacy” got me to think about all of the other things that I am still holding onto– digital, material, emotional– and whether or not I was willing to let go of some of them as well.
Good thing I’ve got another 356 days ahead of me!