How to Manage Email by Reducing, Not Reading

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It is liberating to click the unsubscribe button at the bottom of a recurring promotional email that has bombarded your inbox for far too long. I have learned from Julie Morgenstern that holding on to outdated things has an energy that can hold us back in life. One of my motivations for living a more simplified life is to clear out all that stagnant energy that might be holding me back from making meaningful changes. I saw my email inbox as one of these areas that could use an overhaul. Today, I share the details of my journey in unsubscribing from over 130 different companies and services. 

The Beauty of the Unsubscribe Option

The majority of the time, it was a quick and painless process to unsubscribe. Most companies provide an unsubscribe option in the teeny tiny print at the bottom of their emails. I noticed that some companies don’t even change the font color or have any text decoration (i.e., underlining) for the “unsubscribe” or equivalent text. Click confidently and proceed forth, and you will be taken to the unsubscribe page.

Retailers seem to provide the reassuring message that if you place an order with them in the future, you will still get an order confirmation email. Some companies will give you the option to receive emails less frequently, such as once a month. I chose to unsubscribe without apology from every frequency of contact via email.

I never thought I would be a person who would go so far as to call an 800 number on a website to be unsubscribed from their mailing list, but when you have a goal in mind you would be surprised what you are capable of. After trying to click the unsubscribe button on promotional emails from the New York Times about 10 different times and on different occasions with no success, I finally gave in and called the 800 number. I spoke to a very nice representative who graciously removed me from their lists, no questions asked.

To save time, once I unsubscribed from a list I did a keyword search for all other emails from the same service in my inbox. I then deleted the results in bulk. This process typically swept out approximately five to ten emails each time, and the number could be even larger if subscriptions have been coming in for months or longer. Whatever total count your email inbox is at right now, take comfort in knowing that the real number is more like a fraction of that, because many of the emails can be deleted in bulk.

Separate the Treasures from the Trash

Among many of the lessons in simplicity I have learned from Julie Morgenstern, learning how to identify treasures versus trash has been one of the most helpful. Imagine yourself in a closet filled with clothes. Let’s say you haven’t gotten rid of hardly anything in the last five years, and you have decided it’s time to make a change. How do you separate the keepers from the rest of the clutter?

Likely, you would start trying things on and create a few piles: yes, no, maybe. Ideally, the yes pile would only be clothes that fit properly, still look nice, and that you love wearing. Although it would be somewhat difficult to let go of the no pile, you would remind yourself that you now have room to buy some new things.

The unsubscribing process is akin to selecting very few treasures among the rest of the junk in a room that has been collecting clutter for far too long. Although it can be difficult to let let things go, it is reassuring to know that there is always an option to re-subscribe.

I selected a few subscriptions to keep. I kept my subscriptions to blogs and businesses of people I know personally (currently four in total), because I want to support them and it’s inspiring to me to see that they are putting their creative ideas out there. I also kept updates from Facebook and Twitter for my blog since it’s still new and I’m still figuring out how to build my platform. Once my blog is more well-known and the volume of these alerts is higher than it currently is, I will likely cancel these as well. I also remained subscribed to paperless billing alerts.

Final Thoughts

My unsubscribe journey is far from over. I likely have many more services to unsubscribe from due to the variety of frequencies with which marketing and promotional emails are sent. Also, now that I am more aware of the tactics of many apps and websites requiring an email address to login, I will diligently unsubscribe immediately from the first marketing email I receive that I am not interested in (which is pretty much all of them).

Beyond clearing out my email inbox, I have long been interested in paring down the junk mail that comes to my physical home address inbox. Stay tuned for a post in the coming months on unsubscribing from physical junk mail.

I want to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. Just because email and mailed marketing messages are the norm in our culture today doesn’t mean that they are the right or best ways to communicate. I don’t have all the answers, but as a consumer, I am playing my part in questioning the practices I am subjected to more than I ever have before.

I have spent way too much time feeling overwhelmed by my workload, the amount of information out there that I feel I should consume, and the volume of my many email inboxes. The time came for me to stand up for myself and reclaim pieces of my time freedom that I too quickly gave away.

I would love to know how you deal with the volume of messages that come into your own email inboxes. Let us know in the comments below! Namaste!

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