Better Living Through Technology

Digital Housekeeping: Dealing with Too Much Email

Every time I watch an episode of “Hoarders,” I am prompted to clean out the physical clutter from my home and office. As a technology coach, I often see how people can be overwhelmed by what I’ll politely call “over-storage” of emails.

Having virtual and visual clutter in an email inbox can make one’s computing time unproductive and frustrating. Digital housekeeping can be extremely liberating.

The goal: To set up a system where you receive a manageable amount of email that is relevant to you, store and retrieve what you need, and delete the rest.

Consider your email account to be like a running bathtub, which could overflow if left unattended.

Slow the Flow

The inbox is like a running faucet, with new mail arriving constantly. How you slow the flow depends on who is sending the mail to you.

  • Known senders include companies you’ve done business with or whose mailing list you signed up for (perhaps without realizing it). Reputable companies will include an unsubscribe option. It’s more effective to unsubscribe from these than to mark them as junk or spam, since companies often sell their mailing lists to others. Start with the most recent ones you’ve received. For each one, decide whether you’re ready to unsubscribe, and if so, click the unsubscribe link (usually found at the bottom), following the instructions carefully on any web page that link takes you to. Some senders also give you the option of reducing the frequency or fine-tuning the topics you want to be emailed about.
  • Unknown senders, which include spammers (Rolex watches, anyone?), usually include no unsubscribe link, and even when they do, you should not click it since it may lead to malware or phishing attempts. Your best bet when it comes to unknown senders is to mark them as junk/spam, but don’t expect miracles. Spammers will keep trying!

Drain the Bathtub – Out with the Old

All major email providers and programs have a feature for finding all email from a particular sender, which you can use to locate and delete at least the oldest ones.

Have a Bucket Handy

By bucket, I mean a filing system. Set up folders to file messages that you may need to retrieve later, like coupons or receipts. If you decide to stay on a mailing list, consider setting up a rule or filter that automatically sweeps that sender’s emails into a special folder, where you can find them when you need them. Each email provider has a unique technique for this.

Going Forward

Be careful when signing up at new websites or purchasing online. There often is a checked box to “Subscribe me to the ABC Company’s newsletter” or “Send me special offers from ABC Company.” Uncheck it if you aren’t interested.

Denise Rivas owns Your Computer Tutor, a Parker business that provides personalized, patient training and setup on today’s technology – @Your Pace @Your Place.  For information, visit or call 303.946.1894.