Depending on how many emails you've got sitting in that inbox, and how many different email accounts you've got to deal with, this may take you more than 15 minutes to completely finish the task.
This is one of those tasks, kind of like decluttering your paper piles, that you may need to set your timer many times to deal with it, but every 15 minute session significantly whittles it down.
And the beauty of decluttering your email inbox is that it is as simple as getting very friendly with the delete button, and learning how to sort your emails in various ways to delete even more quickly.
You don't have to take time to shred paper, or carry things out to the trash or to a donation spot or anything when doing digital decluttering.
There are two parts to this mission, dealing with the large numbers of emails that have accumulated in the past, and then also learning new habits and routines for dealing with email clutter from now on so it doesn't ever get this bad again.
We're actually going to talk about those issues in reverse though, first discussing some of the practices you should begin implementing, today, to deal with email clutter, and then we'll discuss how to deal with the email backlog.
How To Make Deleting Email Clutter A Part Of Your Daily Routine
Starting today I want you to make deleting email clutter part of your daily email checking routine, if it isn't already.
You'll know you have an issue with email clutter if you've got 500+ unopened emails in your inbox. Since emails come in constantly you've got to begin dealing with this stuff each day because even if you got rid of all the clutter today it would quickly re-accumulate otherwise.
Therefore, from now on you need to commit to checking your email regularly. For most people this means checking it every single day, but for you it could be checking it less frequently, and that can work assuming you don't get huge amounts of email, none of which needs to be urgently responded to.
However, each time that you check your email you need to spend time at the very beginning of the session deleting any email that has come in since the last time you checked email that is obvious junk and stuff you don't want. (Hint, tomorrow's decluttering mission discusses how to get rid of a lot of this spam, so you can keep from having to do this daily at some point when you unsubscribe from certain lists, etc.)
After you've deleted the most obviously junky stuff you can begin the process of actually reading the real emails you wanted to focus on. However, as you read these email you will often come across additional emails that you thought you wanted, but then realize you don't. Delete those as well, immediately.
Similarly, some messages can be read and then you don't need them anymore, for reference or for any reason. Again, delete those.
This is not a hard thing to do, except to get in the habit of doing it. If you get a lot of email it can seem overwhelming to deal with it, especially if you choose times of the day to check your email that you really don't have enough time to do all the necessary steps to be managing it correctly. BUT doing that is setting yourself up for failure.
If you change this little habit of ignoring junk emails, and only cherry picking a few you want to read, but instead first deleting the clutter ones you'll actuallyl save yourself a lot of time and hassle in the long run.
Of course, doing this every single day does not get rid of all the previously accumulated email clutter you've already got, so below I've got more instructions on how to deal with those emails as well.
Above we discussed the simple habits and routines you need to adopt to keep email clutter from accumulating in your email inbox from now on.
BUT, what about that huge backlog of unopened, or even opened emails you've got currently sitting in an unorganized mess in your email inbox?
The next part of this mission focuses on how to deal with the obvious email clutter, which is old unopened emails. (If you're looking for tips for organizing the relatively few important emails contained within this mess of mostly junk in your inbox right now check out the main email organization challenge article here.)
Get Yourself In The Right Mindset To Delete!
First, get yourself in the right mind set. Accept this truthful fact -- most of the stuff in your email inbox is junk, and should and could be deleted without you experiencing any negative consequences at all.
I know you're afraid of deleting something important. I get that. BUT you've lived this long so far without seeing whatever is in those unopened emails, and honestly, any benefit to you of the one or two slightly beneficial things you might accidentally delete will be insignificant compared to how much better you'll feel when you're free of most of the email junk.
Learn How To Use The Sorting Functions In Your Email Inbox
Second, learn how to use the sort functions in your email inbox. The beauty of your digital clutter, compared to your paper clutter, is that is much easier to sort digital clutter using technology, so you can delete large amounts of it at once instead of having to look at each file or email individually.
I suggest logging onto your email account using a laptop or desktop computer when you get serious about decluttering old emails, because I've found the sorting features in the desktop version of email programs to be more robust, generally, than the mobile versions you see when checking your email from your phone, or sometimes even your tablet.
You can choose to sort in all kinds of ways, which can help you declutter more quickly. I will discuss some of the best ways to sort your email below within your email inbox so you can delete large amounts of emails at once without worry.
Sorting Opened Versus Unopened Emails
Do you have a lot of unopened emails, much like a reader, Linda, who sent in the screenshot above, which showed she had over 23,000 unopened emails?
If so, you may currently be in the habit of opening emails you deem important, but then just ignoring, and not opening (nor deleting) the emails you know are junk. First, for the future, stop doing that! It is going to stress you out in the long run when you get over 23,000 emails accumulated!
But in addition, if that is your current habit one way to quickly delete a lot of emails is to decide to delete all the ones over x months old (I suggest 6 months) that you haven't even bothered to open.
If it is over 6 months old and you didn't ever open it, it most likely doesn't matter, in the slightest, now. Sales that are now over, information about events that have now passed, spam that never mattered even on the day it was sent, etc. Sort it and delete it, and say good bye.
Sorting By Sender
Another method for deleting lots of emails at once, or to keep yourself from deleting something you know you want to save before doing a mass delete, is to sort by sender.
You can, for example, find all the emails from your child or spouse, opened and unopened, and move those into a designated folder, out of your email inbox, and then you'll be sure not to delete those emails when you delete older stuff.
On the other hand, you can sort by sender and find all the emails from the store that has been sending you loads of sales emails, all of which are completely useless now that the sales are over, and delete all of them at once, and feel confident you've not deleted anything of importance.
Sorting By Date
You can also sort by date. In fact, most sorting systems have a way to sort by two criteria at once, such as opened or unopened, or by who sent it, and then sort within that group by date.
Sorting by date (I suggest sorting by oldest first) is one of the most important sorting functions you can use, because it allows you to confidently delete things that are quite old, and therefore are most likely not of any importance or relevance any longer.
Make sure to use all these different ways to sort your emails to help yourself delete more quickly. Once you've gotten rid of the majority of email clutter it is simpler (and less overwhelming) to go through a smaller number of emails that are left to organize and further declutter as you come across more that is junk.
Once You Delete Old Emails From Your Main Inbox Don't Forget To Also Declutter Your Email Folders
Once you've gone through your actual inbox I suggest also looking through your email folders. Often times many of these emails can also be deleted once they reach a certain age, or if they are no longer relevant.
It can feel really good to get rid of this digital clutter, because even though it isn't physical it does carry a certain mental weight. Once it is gone it feels so freeing!
Don't Be Overwhelmed By Your Email Inbox, You Control It, Not The Other Way Around!
If you both get in the habit of deleting emails each time you check your emails, as well as use the tips above to deal with the large backlog of excess emails you can get your email inbox more under control.
So then you'll almost be done with this challenge, and you won't feel like a reader, Celeste, who sent in the photo above, showing how she had over 11,000 emails in her inbox.
After getting rid of the email clutter there's just a couple steps left, which are the topic of other articles here in the series.
Take Steps To Stop Unwanted Emails From Coming Into Your Email Inbox
One of the next steps is to stop unwanted email from coming into your email inbox in the first place.
This is important to keep you from having to hit delete as much in the future. To help you with this task I've written an article on how to stop unwanted emails by unsubscribing from them which can save you so much hassle in the future. (In fact, it is the Declutter 365 mission for tomorrow!)
Take Steps To Organize The Emails You Don't Want To Delete
Finally, after deleting lots of junk emails you will have a much smaller amount of emails left that you do actually want to save.
As mentioned earlier, check out the Organize Email Challenge for more details on creating folders and files within your email system to help you organize what you've got left.
Are You Ready To Declutter Your Home?
I hope this has inspired you to declutter your email inbox.
When you begin to declutter the feeling you get is contagious, so if you're loving the results you're getting I would encourage you to keep going.
Just pick and choose the ones you want to do, that will make a big impact in your home. But if you want someone else to tell you the order you can also grab the 15 minute daily decluttering mission calendars and follow along as we all get our homes clutter free together!