Email and Computer Clutter

I was working with a client in her home office. She complained about being overwhelmed by her email. She got over a hundred emails a day. She said it took her two hours a day to try and keep up with them and she wasn't able to. We opened up her laptop and looked at her email account. There were hundreds of email on the screen and as we were looking at them more were coming in. As she witnessed the emails increasing in front of her she gasped, "Oh, my God." She looked frail and ill.

I said, "Wow, emails are an odd thing. If you had one task in front of you to take care of, you could complete it, but when you have a growing amount of things to take care of all at once, it's like an assembly line and it's moving too fast. Kind of like that I Love Lucy Episode where Lucy and Ethel are trying to package the chocolates on the conveyor belt and they can't keep up and it becomes a disaster."

I closed her laptop. I asked her to take a breath. I had her look out the window at the bright blue sky. I said, "It's easier to think like this. When everything is simple we think clearly. We're going to go back into your email account with this new point of view. It’s good to know that emails are letters people sent you. They feel it's important. It is to them. But they don’t have to be to you. They are people asking for your attention. It's your attention. It's for you to choose where to put it. You have only so much to give. So we are going to make choices. You will decide what is important and what isn't."

I opened up her laptop. I clicked on the first email and said, "Let's see what this one is all about. Let's see if it really merits your attention or not. It was an email from a friend. It was something political that her friend sent daily. Usually she felt compelled to read it and to respond. But she said it got her agitated. I asked her, "If you didn't respond to your friend's emails would you be okay?" She relaxed and said yes. She wrote her friend and asked her not to send her the emails.

We moved from one email to the next. Because we approached it with the feeling of 'is this important to me or not?' she was able to think clearly and make decisions. She responded to the ones that were important and deleted the one's that weren't. She said, "If you weren't here, I would be overwhelmed and give up and stop and I'd feel guilty and I couldn't relax because I'd know they were still there and I'd be thinking people would be angry at me because I hadn't written them back." I said, “It’s good that you’re taking the reins to your life back in your hands.”

A few times she didn't want to respond or delete particular emails and instead wanted to put them in a folder. I asked to see her folders. She had 78 folders. She was embarrassed. She put things in folders because she didn't have it within her to face them. She was tapped out. The thing is, even though they were hiding in a folder, a part of her knew they were there and this bothered her. A collection of things not taken care of leaves us with a general feeling of something is wrong. Even over a short period of time this will have a detrimental effect on our health and well being.

I said, "You're shrinking before my eyes. You don't have to. You're tall and big and bold. It's okay that you did this. You were overwhelmed and trying to do what you could. We're stopping to take a look and we're noticing it didn't work. Oops. You made yourself less important than all these people's needs. You can't help anyone until you stop and breathe and take care of yourself. Let's go through these and see if any of this information that you set aside and stored assists you, or not. And if not, we're going to let it go."

We took a look at her files. She had stored a large amount of articles that people had sent her. These people thought they were interesting. She respected them more than herself and stored them. The evidence that she hadn't read them meant they weren't part of her life. They were clutter. She said, "I feel guilty deleting these." I said, "It's good that you recognize that. Guilt is the only emotion that isn’t necessary. It doesn't propel you into action. It doesn't help you complete things. It only serves to make you feel badly.” She said, "I can't believe I kept these for so long." She looked awake and strong. She deleted them.

She had many business emails in folders that she had saved because she needed them at the time they were sent. But time had passed and there was no purpose for them. She deleted each of those.We deleted all of her email folders and created a new one called “Archives”. It was for any legal documents that she needed to save.

We went through the rest of her emails until she had an empty inbox. We also cleared out any email addresses of people she was no longer associating with. A few of these she didn't want to let go. She said, "I don't want to be in contact with them anymore, but I also don't want to let them go." I asked her, "Would you like to send this person an email now, and then have to respond back to them when they email you?" She deleted them. Lots of people come into our lives. Some of them become a part of our lives. Most of them move on.

Our computers are often a clutter storehouse. It seems okay to not take care of the computer clutter because it doesn’t look as badly as stacks of paper on the floor and your desk. However clutter is just as detrimental when it’s small. When you take care of the computer’s clutter situation, the process rewards you with tremendous feelings of relief.