Sunday, January 5, 2014

Gmail Inbox cleanup Take 2, or how to become a Deleting Diva

You are about to embark upon a journey.

A journey that will have you looking back on years past and saying:

"Who the hell is Sheila?"


"Which Michael is this now?"

Sheila is the person who has been cluttering up your inbox. Or, at least she did from 2008 to 2011, and you haven't heard from her since.

Because she was actually just the name of the marketing person for that furniture store you once shopped.


At midnight.

In a haze of glory.

So let's get rid of it, shall we? 

There are two Michaels. One, is your husband's best friend, and you'd like to hold on to conversations you've had with him in the past. For nostalgia's sake, for a funny-look-back. The other one is a former co-worker whose emails are no longer relevant. This is why we're struggling with inbox maintenance.

You must be brave. YOU MUST BE STRONG! You do not need that old email, hoarder. If you don't need it for tax purposes, or the eventual speech you will make at your friend's wedding or 50th birthday party, TRASH IT, along with your maternity pants.

[you can keep one pair of maternity pants per child per decade post-pregnancy.]

This is something I've been doing for the last week in between trips to the basement to remove demo debris from the hubby's workspace, which according to him, is the key to all organization in our house because, when functional, will provide him the space to produce such magical items as shelving, beds, and more shelving, which are, as you know, not available in stores. This may also be my effort to call his bluff on the overarching excuse as to why projects haven't been finished in the house.

The newly cleared basement workshop
The newly cluttered garage-in-waiting
Oh, and the kids have been watching a Toy Story marathon in between playing with their new Christmas toys.

Thank you, Father Christmas.

As usual, I do not claim to be an expert, but I have some tips, as this was the electronic part of my organizational resolution for New Years 2014, and I've managed in five days to go from 12,000 emails to 549. (And counting!) (Down, that is!)

So, basically, I am skinny again. I'm like, 24 years old skinny. Like, almost pre-internet skinny. It's my approaching-40 equivalent, in any case.

And, while these tips apply to Gmail in particular, I'm certain your email provider has similar options. You must be diligent and curious; and in a few weeks, you could be much lighter in the Inbox. And, the best part is, unlike your fitness Resolution, you may get to a point where you don't run the risk of gaining the weight back! 

Quick & Dirty breakdown:
  1. Delete unnecessary folders you have created and send those emails back to Inbox.
  2. Allow category configuration from Gmail into "Priority"; "Social"; and "Promotional." 
  3. Delete all content in latter two.
  4. Search by senders in search box using "from: insert email address".
  5. Create filters to delete en masse unwanted senders while simultaneously unsubscribing from any future emails.
  6. Create filters to "star" en masse wanted senders while simultaneously deleting or starring old messages from this sender.
  7. Now that you have starred important senders and past emails, you can delete "unstarred" en masse.
  8. This is what got me to the 500's. I'm then going through receipts, donation records, fun and serious conversations from years past to whittle it down further, but you may not be so lucky. You may have more detailed reading to go further. Promise yourself to never let it get this bad again, and open up a bottle of wine.
  9. Create another category that applies to you. Perhaps "work emails" get their own immediate category upon arrival into your Inbox, and start from step #4 again.
Slow & Painful, and sometimes illustrated, expansion:

Unless you are completely happy with your current filing situation, get rid of your old folders right off the bat. You want to send all those emails back to your Inbox so you can mine from there to delete. If you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry about it.

While we're at consolidating, click on that little gear-icon on the right-hand side of the menu (which is 'settings') and make sure you are looking at the most compact screen filled with the most emails as possible (preferably 50.)


While you're in those settings, you will want to reconfigure your Gmail Inbox to 'categories' which can include "Social" and "Promotional." You'll want to delete all current emails filtered into these categories (because you don't care what Facebook birthdays occurred in 2008, and the rest of your accolades on Twitter are still on your Twitter page, and whatever discounts you could have gotten from Zulily have long passed and your babies no longer fall into the categories offered by Buy Buy Baby.)

Just delete them. This will get your inbox a fantastic head start on trimming up. Going forward, you will be able to skim these categories for anything that may actually interest you. But for now, it is all superfluous *old* fluff.


If, you are like me, you had already started a little bit of categorizing, filing, and 'marked as important' type organizational efforts. This is now screwing you. Because, in another category, "Priority", you have everything that you've ever 'starred' or 'marked as important.' And this includes birthday invitations and event details from five years back. This is when you need to start sorting by sender. In the search bar, type: "from: Evite" and watch the emails flow below. DELETE THEM. Even if there is an upcoming event, you'll get a reminder the day before it. You must, unfortunately, go through and delete by page. In each page is usually no more than 50 emails at a time. In order to go 50 at a time, you must go to the settings [that picture of a gear icon] on the right-hand corner of the inbox that allows you to view more messages at a time. So, if you have 75,000 messages in your Inbox, and only 5,000 are from Evite, it will still take you 100 pages of clicks to delete all those messages. But, like I said, consistency and diligence will win you your prize. This will be one of the most time-consuming parts of your efforts.

I mentioned the filter method in my first email on this subject, and included these graphics below. Take a promotional email you don't want anymore. Follow its unsubscribe motions. Then, in a drop-down menu on the right-hand corner of every email is "Filter messages like these." Make sure you click through to 'delete' this message and 'apply to all messages like this.' This will ensure you have taken care of all previous emails from this sender, and all future [sneaky] emails from this sender.


Ideally you want to use this same method for "starring" or marking in some way, the messages that you DO want to read. If you make sure that all your emails coming in from your besties and family members are starred before they even get read by you, they will never be deleted or lost in the shuffle. You could also create a folder or even top-level category labeled "family", so that they are easily found & filed after being read. Or maybe there's a family member you never want to 'star'. I don't judge. 


Once you've starred important messages, you can simply use the drop-down menu to select all 'unstarred' messages in your Inbox and DELETE, DELETE, DELETE. Yes, this might take a while. Yes, you can only do 50 at a time. But doesn't it feel good? No, not the carpel tunnel, but the ever-decreasing emails...the instant weight loss...

Ok, that was time-consuming. You are going cross-eyed. You have taken several drinking breaks. I don't blame you. I alternated physical activity with sitting in front of the screen, scrutinizing senders and categories and deleting away. Then the real work begins. You want to read through those seemingly important emails that made it through all the other cuts, and see if you really want to re-hash those conversations about how the twyns' teething was affecting their sleep schedule. No. I don't think you do. But the one about how thankful your hubby is for your support, yeah, *keep* that one. Oh, you don't have that one either? Ok that makes me feel better.


After all the spam, the promotional emails, the social networking, and personal history, you may still be inundated with thousands of emails. You may just need another top-level category altogether, like 'work' or 'wedding.' You must teach gmail what senders should be sent there, and it will require some follow-through going forward. This is not an overnight project, unfortunately. Like all organizational efforts, having a 'place' for everything is step 1, and continuing to put things in that place is step 2.

Keep up the good work, and you will see results.

You will see less than 1,000 emails in that Inbox.

And you will never, EVER, ever sign up for discounted offers on every single website out there again

Or maybe the kids will start kindergarten, and you will become a daily deleting diva. Brava!

Happy Monday! Happy 2014! Happy Inbox fitness!


  1. Wow! Great info - maybe a job at Google help desk is in the stars for you LOL

    1. Ya think people will pay me to do it for them?! :)


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