pushing the button on my email hoarding habit

Hi, my name is Kristen, and I’m an email hoarder.

email inbox

This past year, my email issue has gone from a minor nuisance to a DEFCON 5 situation.  I have been trying to play catch-up for the better part of a year, and I can literally feel my blood pressure go up every time I open my inbox.  It has become a major source of stress and I think it’s time to take some drastic action.

When I came home from Haiti after the earthquake, I had hundreds of new emails to sift through.  I never completely got through them all (what with the addition of a new child and the overwhelm of four kids, etc.)   I was really frustrated that I left so many unanswered.  And then it seemed to snowball.  The hoarding part is two-fold: one, because I save emails that I don’t have time to respond to, thinking I will get to them later.  Two, because if something gets pushed below the 100 emails my inbox shows on the front page, it is likely never going to be dealt with, or even deleted.

I want to be clear that this isn’t a case of someone whining about having too many party invitations.  About 80% of it is spam.  It’s a special kind of spam, reserved just for bloggers.  It’s emails like:

FOR IMMIEDIATE RELEASE: Smart Water announces new pomegranate flavor


Could you please share these five parenting tips from Alexa of The Real Housewives?


Dear Kristin, we love your blog called Rag Again the Minivan.  If you write a 200-word post about our company along with 10 hyperlinks, we will give you a 10% off coupon code that you could probably get in about 5 seconds by searching at retailmenot.com.

Basically, things that no one wants to read about.  I get about 20 ridiculous pitches a day.  It’s annoying and there is really no way to stop it.  Then I have a proliferation of undeleted facebook notifications, blog comments, travel fare alerts, and GAP promo codes.  Things that I might want to see, but things that are again making it hard to sift through my inbox.

I also get sincere questions from blog readers, and I think this is where I am really struggling.  I want to answer these.  I want to give a thorough and thoughtful response.  So, what happens is that I put off responding until I have a quiet moment to give it the attention it deserves, and that quiet moment never happens.  And then, a few months later, I realize I have a pile-up of emails that I never answered, and I feel like a big jerk.

It’s easy for me to answer a quick question.  I can respond to “Where did you get that lamp?” much easier than I can respond to, “How do I get my in-laws on board with our adoption plans?”  But that’s the nature of email, really.  What is on top and easy to answer tends to get our attention.  It’s not necessarily dictated by priority, and this aspect really bothers me.  I’m struggling to sift through what is most important, and finding that personal emails from family and friends – the very ones I want to prioritize – get pushed down and then forgotten.

All of this is compounded by the fact that I am a perfectionist.  I don’t like starting projects that I can’t finish.  I like a sense of completion.  So, for the last year, I have vacillated between totally avoiding my inbox, or shutting myself off the world while I attempt to completely clean out my inbox and then emerging hours later, tired, grumpy, and defeated.  Because the unread email is in the thousands right now, my goal of “getting a handle on it” never happens.  The result is that I am ALWAYS frustrated and living with this looming sense of guilt and stress.  And yes, most of this is self-imposed.  This cartoon from Hyperhole & A Half pretty much sums it up:


(Are you reading Hyperbole And a Half?  You should be.  It is the funniest blog ever.)

Over the past month, I’ve been working really hard at setting up filters to help manage the emails I get.  I now have any coupon codes or travel alerts skipping the inbox and going straight into a folder, so that I can pull it up when I’m actually needing it instead of having it in my inbox.  I also have all twitter, facebook, and blog notifications skipping the inbox, so that I can look at them when I have the time instead of having it bump down real emails.  I have set my email to automatically delete anything with the words “press release” or “for immediate release”, because these are usually PR spam.  I’ve also made folders to move emails that I don’t need to respond to, but want to keep.  Having them out of the inbox really helps.

email folders

All of this should help prevent me from getting into an email black hole again, but it doesn’t solve the 4,000+ unread emails.  After devoting six hours to trying to get through them and only getting to midway of 2010, I’ve decided that I need to just accept defeat.  I wish I was the kind of person who could just ignore that number, but it really is a source of stress for me.  I’m an over-responsible, list-maker, type-a kind of girl.  I hate loose ends.

After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided that I’m just going to delete all of the unread emails.  This is really, really out of character for me.  But I need to do something and this seems like the most compassionate thing I can do for myself right now.  So, I’m gonna take a few days to do a bit more sorting, and then I am going to hit delete. On all of it.  I’m gonna start fresh, and I think it will be a huge weight off my shoulders.

My sincerest apologies to anyone who sent me an email that went unanswered.  But I need to do this for my sanity.

And then, I can tackle the issue of the facebook message inbox.  Why oh why is there no way for me to disable this?  The last thing I need is ONE MORE inbox that I can’t manage.facebook email overload

There are days when I think that the Amish might be on to something. 

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