A Simple Approach to Living With Less

11 Steps to Banish Email Clutter

Editor Note: This is a guest post from Tanja Hoagland from Minimalist Packrat.

Is opening your email like heading into a digital clutter war zone? Do you cringe at the mountain of messages in your inbox? I know the feeling! But recently I tamed the wild email clutter beast. You can too with these easy steps. Note: I use Google Gmail now. They’ve got armor plated spam technology and powerful mail sorting features. Can you believe it’s free?

Here are 11 simple tips to clear your inbox:

1. Dump the Corporate Newsletters: How many newsletters do you get? Are a hundred big box businesses sending you their “hot deals of the week”? Hit that unsubscribe button.

2. Refine Your Remaining Newsletters: Those opt-in forms are inviting, especially on your favorites sites and blogs, but how many email newsletters do you have time to read? Set a maximum amount and follow the one in, one out rule.

3. Dump Newsletters Altogether: I used to have dozens of email newsletters I subscribed to, now I have zero. Life hasn’t ended, it’s gotten simpler!

4. RSS It: I’m so late to the bandwagon that I just discovered the joys of an RSS reader. Now I can follow all my favorite blogs without having them clog up my email. The Google RSS reader lets you categorize and sort your favorite blogs. With one quick glance you can see who has a new post to check out. RSS is revolutionary!

5. Set Up Filters to Sort Mail Types: I looove filters! In gmail you simply hit the button “create a filter”, choose a common keyword and input it into your subject line or from line, then checkmark the “skip the inbox” button, create a new label using the “apply the label button” and hit “create filter”. How does this work in action? Here’s an example: I set one up for my Twitter direct messages. I simply followed the steps and put Twitter in the “from line”. Now every time Twitter notifies me of a direct message it goes straight to my Twitter folder rather than clogging up my inbox. Easy!

6. Tracking Comment Replies: I always wanted to be notified when a comment I’ve left on someone’s blog gets a reply BUT I didn’t want a thousand and one messages about new comment replies. Easy as pie with filters! I set up a filter using the word “comment” in my subject line and now they all get sorted into one folder. Now I can sign up for all the comment reply notifications I want! It’s an easy way of tracking your online conversations without clogging up your inbox.

7. Set Up Folders for Frequent Contacts: If you have to archive your emails (for work), set up folders for each frequent contact. Put all of your emails from that co-worker or business contact in their folder. You’ll have a chronological record to refer back to. There was a time when I needed to do this and it saved me many times when I was able to refer back.

8. Be Ruthless in Deleting: Better even than setting up folders is to be ruthless in deleting. If your email is for work, you may need to do folders, but if it’s for personal use or if email records aren’t necessary for your position, make friends with that delete button. You will be more focused, more productive and more “clear” without archiving 1,000 old emails. I promise! But you need to save those emails so you can remember their email address? Look at the next tip, #9.

9. Use the Contacts Feature: I used to save emails just to have people’s email addresses. I was in “reply” mode. I never set up a contacts list so the only way I could respond was through digging around until I found an email from them, opening it, and hitting the reply button. This is old school. The contacts feature is new school. It doesn’t take long to set it up. Whenever you get a new contact, take a few moments to add them to your contact list. Then there’s no reason to hold on to those old emails for contacting purposes! Hint: Use their full name and an identifier in your contacts list. Mine include the person’s name and the name of their blog.

10. Start With a Clean Slate: If you’re email account is being attacked by the dark forces of spam mail to the tune of 50 + messages a day, consider a fresh start. Let all of your real contacts know you’ve got a new email address, then jump off that sinking spam ship!

11. Join the Spam Police: It takes vigilance to keep spam out of your inbox. Be cautious every time you hand out your email address. Don’t sign up for random “free special offers” unless you trust the website completely and totally. Common methods are offering a free report, a free e-book, a free coupon, or a free product. Now not all free offers are guilty, but some of these are just ways of stealing your email address so it can be sold to a thousand and one lists. Getting on those lists is easy, getting off of them is a lot tougher. Nip it in the bud and guard your email address like you would your credit card number.

Using these tips I’ve conquered my email clutter. My inbox is now a streamlined one page affair with maybe a dozen “active” emails in it. I archive almost none of them, so there isn’t a giant hoard of emails hiding in my sidebar folders. It’s easy, breezy and I can open my mailbox without fear!

Tanja is a reformed packrat gone minimalist. She is the author of 30 Day Clutter Bootcamp and blogs about simple living at Minimalist Packrat. You’ll get to hear more from Tanja in my upcoming book.

Don’t forget: Anyone signed up for the special newsletter list will get a discount code to use on my book Family-Sized Minimalism. You can sign up in the sidebar right now.


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Article originally published on 02/25/2011

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  1. Hi Faith. Thank you so much for featuring me with a guest post! I’m honored to be here today. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks so much for this, Tanja! These are some great tips. It is so easy to get buried in emails and digital clutter.

  2. This is great advice. I use folders to categorize and organize my emails that I’m not ready to delete. Then, once a month, or every other month, I go through the folders and get rid of anything I no longer need.

    Also…. for #11, I have a separate email account that I never use and if I’m asked for an email address (sometimes it’s required), I give them the account I never use.

    • Hi Jill! Knowing you I bet your email is even more organized than mine. πŸ™‚

      I’ve done the “fake” email account thing before too. Then along the way I found that it was better to just stop giving it out in the first place. That’s just me though. πŸ™‚

  3. mailinator.com gives free temporary email addresses that you can check later… great for when you need to have an email but don’t want to give a real one.

    I’ve also been using an RSS aggregator for over 5 years now. It is great! Not a lot of choice out there, bloglines was good but I think that they closed… and I moved over to google reader. I have a ton of feeds that I can easily keep up with (including this one) and I only have to go to one website.

    I do wish that there were better free email services. I am frustrated with google and am currently trying on zoho just to see how it works… so far it is OK. Any thoughts on this?

    • Hey Genie,

      How’s zoho working out for you, and what frustrated you about google mail? For me switching from yahoo mail to gmail was a dream come true and I haven’t found any limitations in what I want to do there. But my email needs are more limited now that I’ve learned to control the inflow of mail.

  4. Faith & Tanja,
    Great guest post! I love the feeling of having a clean, no fear experience with my in box. I don’t mind mail now that I follow much of what you suggested Tanja! I still prefer blog subscriptions in my email, still works for me because of how I deal with them, but I can see a lot of people would benefit from rss. Love gmail, such great, free features!! πŸ™‚

  5. Hi Gena,

    Nice to see you here! Ah yes, the no fear experience is a delicious one indeed! I can’t believe I spent so many years struggling with junk mail and spam. It’s nice to be free of it now.

  6. Hey Tanja,

    Great post! I just discovered it, and your tips are very well thought out and simple to follow. I need to work on my newsletters! Like you said, they’re so easy to get, and then they spiral out of control. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with the rest of us and take care!


  7. These are such great tips Tanja! I need to start really considering unsubscribing from newsletters and promotional emails, as I find myself spending several minutes each morning just deleting most of them from my inbox anyway without even reading. It would save me so much more time in the long-run if I just unsubscribed!


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