Crafting a happy home, family and life through simple living.

Simplifying Challenge: A Clean Inbox

Simplifying Challenge is a series featuring an easy to complete task each month to move forward in your simplifying and decluttering journey.  This month’s challenge: A Clean Inbox! The goal is to do a massive unsubscribe, delete years worth of promotional emails, and become an inbox gatekeeper from any new retailer subscriptions.

I became curious about how many emails I have in my Gmail account. THIRTY-EIGHT THOUSAND. Yes, 38,000.  So, I’m in this challenge with you.

A step by step guide to decluttering your inbox.

Why is a Clean Inbox Important?

Let’s start off with the “why”.  After all, google does offer 15 GB of free storage, and even with 38,000 emails, I am only using 20% of that space. Why even clean my inbox?

Better Use of the Space

First, starting with the technical side, the 15GB of free storage is not just emails.  This includes Google Photos and Google Drive.  One of the basic principles of minimalism is using your space more efficiently.  If you declutter a kitchen drawer of things you don’t find useful, then you have created space for the items you do find useful.  The concept also applies to your Google account. Why waste all of that storage space on years worth of Groupon promotional emails when you could be using this space to back up your invaluable photos?

Eliminating Consumerism

Second, At least 95% of the emails I receive are from retailers wanting me to spend money.  These retailers have hired the best marketing firms to tell them what to write in the subject line to entice you to open the email.  A few subject lines from my inbox are:

“Get on board with this summer trend.”

“Clock is ticking- Last chance for $30 off of $50!”

“Everything’s on sale. Go bananas.”

“Easter Surprise! 20% off everything is extended ’til midnight!”

These subject lines create a sense of urgency, a sense of belonging (“get on board”), or a call to action.  In the end, they cause us to spend money (or in the least think about spending money). Retailers use our emotions to make us feel that we need something and this is an easy way to confuse our wants vs needs.  Reducing consumerism from our lives is not only a way to simplify (we aren’t tempted to buy more stuff) but also a form of self-care.


Third, every email you receive requires an action from you.  Whether that action is reading, deleting, or scrolling past it still requires your time.  Reducing your emails to only the essentials will save you time, enable you to focus on the important ones, and requires less “maintenance” from you. A clean inbox is one of the first steps in simplifying your digital world.

Reducing Technology Distraction

Finally, emails contribute to the technology distraction that can easily overcome our day. Every time our phone notifies us of a new email, we feel compelled to look.  Eliminating this distraction is essential to being present in the moment.

Wait, what About Coupons?

Many times, I’ve continued to opt into retail emails because of the coupons.  However, you can find almost every coupon online.  One of my favorite apps to find coupons is Coupon Sherpa.  You can search by store or by location to find the coupons you need.  Best of all, its free (just don’t opt into their emails when signing up!). I use this app for Carter coupons and even oil changes at Firestone.

Simplicity Challenge: Your Inbox. Apply minimalism concepts to your inbox with this step by step guide.

Strategies to Clean Your Inbox

Here are some of the best strategies to help clean your inbox.

Be a Gatekeeper

The first step to cleaning our inbox is to stop allowing new, unnecessary emails into our inbox.  While checking out at a retail store, some employees will kindly ask for your email and others will phrase it as if it’s required for your purchase (“What is your email?”).  It’s okay to say “no thank you.” Some of the persistent employees may give you a spiel on all the amazing deals you will be missing, but just smile and say “no thank you” again. I always gave my email until I heard a man in front of me checking out say “no thank you.”  I realized how easy it was to decline and that it is OKAY to decline.

Also, be cautious when making online purchases. Uncheck the “opt in for promotions” box before completing your order.


Second, now that we have eliminated new email subscriptions, it’s time to unsubscribe to all the emails you already receive. Unroll.Me is a great (free) website to mass unsubscribe from emails. This neatly lists all the subscriptions you now receive and you choose which ones to unsubscribe to.  Then in one click, all the work is done.  An additional feature they offer is “The Rollup”. From their website:

Now that your inbox is junk free, easily combine your favorite subscriptions into a beautiful daily digest email called the Rollup.

You choose what gets rolled up and when you receive your Rollup. Like to browse email with your morning coffee? You can get all your newsletters and social notifications at 7 a.m. each day. It’s up to you.

I personally have not tried this feature yet, but it sounds like a great idea for enjoyable subscriptions I receive (like from other bloggers).

Unsubscribe As You Go

Third, you may have some stragglers that you will need to unsubscribe from, or you may accidentally opt in to new emails, so the next strategy is to unsubscribe as you go.  When you check your emails in the morning, unsubscribe from any emails that fall into this category.

Eliminate Your Archives

Finally, you are ready to clean out years worth of LinkedIn Notifications.  This will consume the most time (especially if you have 38,000 emails like me).  Google has a nifty feature that categorizes your emails by “Primary”, “Social”, and “Promotions”.  Start your cleaning in the promotions tab, then move to the social tab, and finally your primary tab.  The reason is that your promotions tab is most likely the biggest category.

I’ve found two options to delete emails.

The first is the simply click “check all”, and the “delete”.  Before you start, change the default items per page to 100.  Unfortunately, you will only be able to delete 100 emails at a time.

A Guide to a Clean Inbox

The second option is to search a specific “conversation”.  I used to receive lots of emails from The Limited, so  I searched for the company name and every email from The Limited is filtered.  One extra step is to click “Select all conversations that match this search”. In doing so, I am able to delete all 183 emails from The Limited at the same time.

A guide to a clean inbox.

Like I mentioned, this is a very time-consuming step but now that you have unsubscribed from any other emails, it is manageable (and the feeling of having a “zero inbox” is worth it).

Good luck in your April simplifying challenge and enjoy your clean inbox!




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