How Emptying Your Inbox Will Change Your Life

How to declutter the cloud in your brain

Photo by MARVIN TOLENTINO on Unsplash

So I use Gmail. This is only relevant because the tips I provide here pertain directly to the functionality of that particular provider. After using the same username for well near a decade, I had begun to notice my unread messages slowly climb to a point that just became outlandish.

I decided a few years back to start deleting emails that had no meaning to me in an attempt to trim down that 6,000+ number that loomed in my face every time I checked my messages. After about an hour of checking that box to select 50 at a time then deleting them “in bulk”, it became clear that I was hardly even making a dent.

It seemed like I was just wasting my valuable time. So I gave that up and went back to staring at the inside of my eyelids or scratching an itch or whatever was so pressing at the time. Most likely it had something to do with my Playstation in all honesty.


I let that slide for another few years and tried to ignore the fact that I was subconsciously being weighed down by a mountain of unresolved clutter. It seemed benign enough, but it nagged at me in the most subtle way for all that time.

Well I finally did something about it, and the experience was profound enough to share with you.

While I was job hunting, I had enough of seeing that number climbing slowly to the stratosphere. I dug in my heels and began the task of completely emptying out everything.


I started by looking at the top of my inbox. If it was irrelevant, then I opened that message, unsubscribed, then searched that person’s/company’s name and checked the box at the top to select them all at once to delete (as I mentioned before).

The defaulted amount of messages displayed was taking too long, so I went into the settings and bumped up the Maximum page size to Show 100 conversations per page. This was a bit better, but was still way too slow going.

I carried on until I noticed something that blew my stupid little mind:

After checking that box that selects all 100 things in that search, a tiny message pops up at the top that says:

All 100 conversations on this page are selected. Select all conversations that match this search.

By clicking on the latter sentence, I had selected EVERYTHING in the criteria of my search. Next it says All conversations in this search are selected. Then I clicked on the trash can.


Now it isn’t fool proof unfortunately and I haven’t worked out the finer details since it doesn't seem to work 100% of the time, but it beats toiling away at clearing 100 at a time over and over again.

Another trick I learned is instead of just searching for a keyword in the search bar, there’s a little down arrow on the right side. When you click this, you get a drop down with a bunch more options like so:

This allows a much more fine-tuned search to drill down into exactly what you’re trying to eliminate. A huge help in this process.

After watching my inbox take significant (and satisfying) hits, I then moved onto my drafts, saw that they were all bullshit, and got rid of them all.

In this process, I came across a lot of very old messages as you can imagine. Some of them I read for nostalgia’s sake. An old girlfriend who messaged me periodically after we had broken up gave me pause and pulled me back to those days.


College friends of mine that shared project ideas and interesting links to videos and resources.


Randos from God knows where looking to connect and collaborate on some thing or another.


It was sad and exciting and gratifying and scary and just an experience that made me feel like I was literally getting detoxed physically and mentally.

My girlfriend came out and asked me something incoherent as far as I could tell. I told her I was in a trance and continued deleting wide-eyed with ragged breath. I was on a mission and just would not stop until I was completely cleared out.

I moved onto those little G chat conversations down there that have been sitting there for EVER. One of them was a poop emoji. Like literally a poop emoji in my inbox was just there as part of the background of my email experience for YEARS. I had hardly even known it but it was affecting me in some stupid way for all that time.


Another was some girl I had no interest in who just couldn’t take a hint. It said Hi or something dumb. Like what?! It just sat there as part of my psyche and I never did anything with it.


I emptied out the trash. Went over to my Social tab, all those Facebook and YouTube subscription notifications just avalanching into infinity. All there subconsciously weighing me down. I was elated to be rid of it ALL!


Onto my Promotions tab. Hotel Hub and TGI Friday’s and who the hell even knows how these things got in here?! What on Earth is this shit doing in my life? Even if I wasn’t directly exposed to this stuff as it was tucked neatly away in this tab that I never open, it’s still in my domain and it needs to GO!


I started mopping up the stragglers in my main inbox after this to drive it home. I searched for words like Subscribe, Customer, no-reply. I used quotation marks for multi-word searches so Google knew I wanted only those words in combination and not each word individually (a trick I learned way back in college).


Then I went over to the app on my phone to see how things were going over there. Honestly, I feel like the app couldn’t keep up with all this devastation. At first I was disappointed that my changes weren’t being reflected but I let it slide and figured it would take Google a while to catch its breath.

Next I had another idea: by default, when I swipe a message in my Gmail app inbox, it archives it (whatever the hell that means). I didn’t want them to be “archived”, I wanted them fucking gone!

So I dug through the settings until I finally found what I was looking for:

Swipe Actions

Now when I swipe right…


And when I swipe left…


I’ll tell you it’s so nice to swipe messages away as they come in. It just feels so GOOD.

When I was done, and by done I mean I dropped my inbox down from 6,000+ to about 130, I put my laptop down and stumbled up the stairs to the bathroom. I was somehow in a daze, but also felt incredibly clear-headed. I told my girlfriend that I felt smarter as I went up. I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror.

I looked like a crazy person.

My eyes were wild like some feral creature. It’s hard to describe, but I was a different person in that moment. It wasn’t exactly pretty, but I loved it. A massive weight was lifted and I felt more free than I had in a long time. I knew this was something I needed to do, but nothing could have prepared me for how it would affect me.

I took a shower, and became human again shortly after.

Now, about a month after this whole ordeal, I guard my inbox like it’s my home. Only welcome guests may enter. If you intrude, it’s no big deal, you just get blasted out on sight. Using these tricks I learned have given me a greater sense of control over what I expose myself to in this particular realm of my life.

I highly recommend everyone take a few hours out of their day and do this. It will affect you in ways you can’t even fathom.

I would love to get some comments on what it was like for you. Did you do this already? Do you have any other tricks to share? There are a ton of functions I have no idea about and it would be great to help us all master the art of the empty inbox.

Keep it clean out there.


Brian Relay is a digital artist with ten years of random work experience that loosely relates to his field of study. He lives in New Hampshire with his transient musings and collection of half-resolved issues. Together with his un-imaginary friend, they’ve successfully completed their very first comic book. Also, he recently picked up his novel-in-progress (NIP) that was collecting digi-dust for an embarrassing amount of time. He’ll let you know when it’s done.

Aspiring novelist/director/podcaster/spiritual guru/normal person

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store