Digital Spring Cleaning

By Lisa Grant ’87

Organizing one’s digital life is just as important (and mentally restorative) as dealing with all the stuff that has accumulated in your basement or garage. Because digital data doesn’t occupy physical space, we tend not to think of electronic content as junk, especially since we can buy more storage or move things to the cloud when memory on a device runs low.

With many of us spending long hours toiling in the virtual world, email inboxes have become the modern version of a cluttered closet. The good thing is you don’t need a mop or dust rag to clean things out.

Lisa Grant ’87

The Goal

Ultimately, your inbox should only contain emails that either need a reply or require a response from the recipient. Think of your inbox as the top of your desk. Doesn’t it feel great to sit down to a clean and orderly workspace, one that’s not cluttered with papers and files? Getting a grip on your inbox can save you time, increase productivity, and reduce your email anxiety.


I know this is an ambitious order, but set a goal to clear your inbox at the end of each day. If you have tens of thousands of emails, the first step is eliminating ones you don’t need.  This may sound a bit radical, but to jump-start the process, I give you permission to mark all of your emails “read.” Seeing the number of unread emails grow exponentially every time you open your account can create anxiety. If you want to get even more radical, move these “read” emails to a folder with a later date.

If evicting all your emails to a new location is too drastic a move, then take a breath and deal with the unread ones first. Now is the time to be brutal. We’re often afraid to get rid of things, believing we might need them in the future. But if you haven’t had to search for a particular email in a year, spike it.

This could take some time, especially if you’re an electronic hoarder. The best way to handle this is to devote a certain amount of time every day or once a week to purging emails. Schedule it as an appointment on your calendar. Put on your favorite music and try to delete as many messages as possible in a 30-minute span. Setting the timer on your phone also can provide motivation as you race against the clock.

Move It

Setting up folders by either category  (car, taxes, travel) or sender (mom, kids’ teachers) and then moving emails there once you’ve dealt with them is the same as creating file folders for your physical paperwork; you’re storing them in a place reserved for information deemed important or memorable but not pending. You also can add subcategories to folders. For example, separate folders can be created under the category of health for medical bills, eye doctor, prescriptions, etc.

Move newsletters, blogs, and other daily missives that you want to read but don’t have time for right now to a dedicated folder. This task can be automated so all reccurring correspondence from say The Daily Skimm or Lafayette College lands in its own digital space. And be realistic about what you put there. There will always be more information vying for your attention than free time. Get into the habit of reading through emails in these folders by the end of the weekend. Once Sunday night comes, hit delete to make room for the next batch.

Return to Sender

Unsubscribe to the slew of emails you receive from every company you ever placed an order from, every organization you ever gave money to, and every concert venue, theater, or museum from which you ever purchased a ticket. Just scroll to the bottom of the screen and click “unsubscribe.” Then do a search of that sender and delete all remaining emails.

If you feel like you’re going to miss something, you can always Google local events or airline deals or even resubscribe at a later date. There is also usually an option to change the frequency of emails you receive so you still get some updates, but not every single one.  The same goes for newsletters and publications.

Create Multiple Accounts

I know this sounds counterituitive, especially since managing one inbox is tough enough, but this is a good way to separate solicitations from messages requiring a response. This is the only address you should give out to a company or organization and should be the designated place for social media notifications, store receipts, and
online forms.

Just Do It

Try to answer emails immediately or designate a time for it during the day, depending on what makes the most sense for your life and schedule. I have a 5-minute rule that I share with clients and is applicable to just about everything we do in life. If you can accomplish something in five minutes or less, then
do it now. That way you won’t have a slow-building pile of email to deal with at the end of the day.

Let It Go

Sure it’s nice to be invited to a brunch with 15 friends or an ice hockey game with co-workers, but once the event has passed delete not only the invitation but all correspondence associated with it. If you feel nervous about getting rid of these emails for any reason, move them to a folder titled Past Events. Periodically edit the folder.


Lisa Grant ’87 founded SortSort, a personal organizing company, in 2012 after a nearly two-decade career of designing and selling her own jewelry collection in Bali, Indonesia. Now a resident of Brooklyn, Grant is devoted to making the world a more organized and clutter-free place. She can be found at

In this regularly occurring feature, we tap Pards for their expertise on matters small and large.