I have created more than 10 email accounts over the course of my 21 years on Earth, each for a different reason: one account for personal use, another account for personal use but with a better email address, an account for receiving newsletters and advertisements, an account for my prospective business that never had the chance to take off.
No matter what intention lies behind any of these accounts, they all bring me the same problem: old and unwanted emails.
Even after I finish deleting the 67 items in my spam, the “Updates,” “Forums,” and “Promotions” tabs follow. With the advent of these new tabs, I can no longer rely on the “Select All” square that allows me to mass-tick and mass-delete all at once — some of my most important emails arrive under the “Updates” and “Forums” tabs.
I’ve hit the point, not once but many times, where I’ve been warned that I could no longer send or receive messages because I’d reached my 15GB Google storage limit. This happened several times when I was in high school, at extremely critical times: times when I was waiting for emails from organizations I had applied to or simply approached for a spot of volunteering, and admissions offices’ answers to my questions about the Common App and English language test scores. I was always in a hurry to clear up spams and old conversations to make space for these priorities at the time. Looking back, I knew I didn’t need to surround myself with the worst scenarios, but at the time, those small things, if left unattended, could build up into big piles of troubles that would eventually alter the future that I always wanted.
Then came my first two years of college. I was always worried that I would miss out on one of the biggest college events or fail to comply with new policy — say, updated masking protocols — by missing one email, perhaps an email blocked from reaching my already full mailbox. Having three to four email accounts helped a lot with this crisis because I had a clear idea of which email would be sent to which account (plus, they’re nice back-ups to your primary account), though sometimes I particularly focused on some accounts and neglected the responsibility of taking care of the rest, which weighed on my conscience until I sat down and tidied my inboxes.
But a clogged email is not just a source of personal inconvenience — the planet suffers too. Mike Berners-Lee, a professor at Lancaster University’s Environment Centre and advisor of 2019 research commissioned by OVO Energy, says that while sending an email already requires electricity, having it stored in our mailbox requires even more energy, since this information needs to be kept in the Cloud. By sending less polite replies and emptying your trash often, you prevent these “pointless” emails from clogging up your system and contributing to carbon emissions. While I am still working on the former because the exchange of pleasantries is essential in some conversations, I am diligent about the latter because all it needs is a short five minutes of my time every morning.
I started to regularly clean up my Gmail more often two years ago. A few management tools I use now to complement my tech habits are Unroll.me and clearfox.io, and they were true helpers that got me off the subscribers’ list of companies I didn’t care about but allowed me to keep receiving emails with headlines like “We think this is something you might like.”
While learning to delete emails habitually was at first an unpleasant experience, I can now envision myself winning at a future workplace for how responsive I am to emails. Weaving these facts and fantasies together, I am happy to have had a deep and emotional engagement with this seemingly ubiquitous e-tool. Deleting emails feels so therapeutic when you have time on your hands, but you need a warm-up activity to actually start doing everything on your to-do list. What’s strikingly clear is how pushing myself to maintain this practice on a daily basis allows me to intuitively track my personal development with something that is a dime a dozen like emails. As the saying goes, you end up mastering a thing that had consistently concerned you in the past.
After going through these emails, I can just sit back, relax, and feel good about the virtual burden that I independently shrugged off of my little shoulders. Now, the fact that this tiny action helps prevent excess carbon emission adds more weight to this commitment.
Amherst College students receive at least one email per day courtesy of the Daily Mammoth. Other emails come incessantly from administrators, Google Calendar invitations, newsletters from Management Consulted talking about their newest case prep program and free drills giveaway. It’s about time we act like the female lead in a K-drama, tie our hair up in a ponytail, and start nurturing that habit of decluttering our inboxes regularly.