Cleaning Life’s Nooks and Crannies: Old Emails

DECLUTTERINGDIGITAL

I am a hoarder by nature. I keep things “just in case.” I have 12 half used toothpaste tubes (because you never know when you might need them!), ticket stubs from the first movie I saw on my own after a major post-college breakup, every scrap of paper Chloe has scribbled on in the first 2 years of her life, and that ugly white purse I will never, ever, ever use but kept because it was the second-to-last thing my Nana gave me.

I can attach sentimental meaning to virtually anything. Especially emails.

I have saved almost every single email ever sent to me in the last 10 years. This has led to a Gmail Inbox full-to-bursting with quarter-life-crises and mundane debates on the subject of bangs. But it’s also encapsulated the moments when my best friends *knew* they’d found their soul mate. Or when my own relationship turned from a casual “ya know, we’re seeing each other” to “I love you.”

For a digital generation, email has become our hope chest (Tweet this!). Our collection of memories, anguishes, feelings, thoughts. It has the added benefit of preserving other’s commentary and quirks. But, like our mothers’ wooden versions that hold their wedding dresses and locks of children’s hair, sometimes that hope chest needs a good, old-fashioned clean out.

I started the process by reading Jillee’s “10 Tips for Decluttering Your Digital Life,” a useful basic guide that goes over every part of your computer and streamlines your organization (though not 100% sure I’m ready to jump on her “don’t organize your documents” train). The idea of labeling was lost on me, but in order to better start organizing there was a lot to get rid of first.

This is what I deleted and what I kept:

Deleted:

  • Saved tips from training blogs and fitness sites, back from when I was a “runner” for a year
  • Recipes that I never cooked
  • Vague and flirty conversations with pseudo-boyfriends long since moved on and with boys who fell in that perplexing “other” category
  • Gossipy exchanges with friends over celebrity culture and that girl we couldn’t stand (*cringe*)
  • Photos from ski weekends I missed out on
  • Random science facts (because… why?)
  • Old roommate emails detailing bills due and shared purchases
  • Work emails with details of aborted projects or long-since finished presentation edits/design ideas/communication plans
  • Anything that documents a “dark” period of my life (no more bad juju)

Kept:

  • Email chains with my best friends that detail the minutiae of our lives, but also shows how we’ve grown together
  • Mom’s words of wisdom (you never know when you’ll need them)
  • Book, restaurant, and music recommendations
  • Donation, ATM, and credit card payment confirmations (hello, taxes)
  • All other work emails

It was a total catharsis. And an energy shift. There was a lot of baggage I was holding onto in that Inbox. Even if I hadn’t read the emails in years, they were still in there, taking up space. Ex-boyfriends, jobs not granted, Recession-era lamentations about money… they all went in the Trash. Because as much as I want to believe that in a few years I’ll laugh as I read that rambling email I wrote to a love interest at 3AM in 2009 (trying to sound totally casual… nice, Becca), it really is just a reminder of how awkward and unprepared I was at that age. Now that I’ve entered my 30’s, it’s time for a clean slate, both emotionally and virtually.

Have any tips or stories about decluttering your digital life? Please share!

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