junk mail, you are not the boss of me

not only do i love a clutter-free home, i love a clutter-free inbox and a clutter-free mail system. i have a few tips for you regarding your mail/media/paper status. let’s first start out chatting inboxes.

your inbox does not need to be the boss of you

~i’ve found the best way to deal with junk mail is to stop it from arriving in the first place.

so turns out there are services, some even for free, that will remove you from junk mail lists. i’ve never used any of these so i can’t speak from experience, i just know they’re out there. google is your friend. your team mate. google “how do i stop junk mail” and the world will once again be your oyster.  direct mail dot com is an example of one such service.

you know how you’re shopping at jcrew or old navy or honestly any number of retailers and they ask for you email? guess what. you don’t actually have to give it. genius, i know. i’ll be the first to admit i’m often times the sucker and saying “no thank you”  seems sorta rude so i just go ahead & relinquish my email addy. and for whatever reason i created my personal email address with a ridiculous amount of characters. what was i thinking?

well when you start receiving the plethora of emails from your favorite retailers just scroll down the body of the email until you see those glorious words–unsubscribe. and then do it. that process takes but a moment & will save you much time on the flip side. let’s face it, you don’t really need every groupon notification, every old navy sale flyer & every amazon update do you?

some of my favorite retailers, take anthropologie for example, now give you the option of receiving your receipt in paper or email form or both. friends, listen to me. you should never say “both”. you have just doubled the media you will now be either filing, sorting through, keeping up with or dealing with…again. choose  your form of organization and stick with it. i’m old so the old school format of paper receipts is what currently works best for me.

the second and perhaps the biggest jewel of advice i can give you regarding this subject:

~decrease the amount of times you touch (i.e: read, handle,view) junk mail, both in your inbox as well as your actual paper mail. and the goal should be once.

what do i mean by that? okay, so say you open your inbox and let’s say there’s five new emails from the last time you opened your inbox. as you scroll through those five new emails do something with each individual one as you open/see it. essentially your options will fall into one of the following categories.

  1. delete it
  2. file it
  3. respond to it

if you simply open your inbox, see the new five emails & then go about your merry way, the next time you open your inbox, which could be in 5 minutes or 5 hours, that number will have grown exponentially.  before you know it those five emails, which have rapidly grown to 50 and on & on, will live in email purgatory until you claim back your inbox.  you’ll be like the cat lady of inboxes with scattered unorganized unkept emails taking over your life. or something like that.

at the risk of sounding all militant and drill sergeant-ish, try to go through your emails in the order in which they were received. i know the email from your girlfriend is below the one from etsy, publix & groupon but i honestly think if you go systematically on a regular-ish basis you’ll stay ahead.

so let’s break down. delete it. despite unsubscribing from many email lists, the majority of what comes is ( for me anyways) really can just be set free. delete it right then & there & move on.

set up folders in your email inbox & then see those folders like the spaces in your home with everybody having a home base. for the organization over-acheiver, go ahead & set up sub-folders within your folders. i’m not super structured about this part, but go through your folders & clean them out periodically when emails no longer are needed.  currently right now some of my folders are : becoming ( i keep all my information for this current course housed here), receipts, taxes, prayer ( anytime someone sends me an email with prayer requests i store them here while i’m remembering them in prayer), noonday-several sub-folders here, my photography ( which i’ve broken down into requests, scheduled & completed), schedule, wordpress ( important emails regarding my website, etc) and compassion (emails from our compassion little fella).

respond to it. if your email requires some type of reply try to hold yourself accountable to some reasonable time frame…i shoot for 24 hours max. but i realize often times there’s just life but realistically for the most part, i shoot for replying within 24 hours. years ago i used to respond to every single comment that came in through  my blog. that was back in the day when readers were in general were more engaged in the communication process. while my intentions were to be congenial with my readers, this was relatively overwhelming. now instagram has become the medium for more conversation. bottom line. i have freed myself of this in many ways. i honestly can’t answer every question that rolls in…and truth be told, many times the reader posing the question has probably forgotten they’ve asked it in the first place. you can’t please everybody all the time so try to make peace with that.

for paper mail i try to follow those same guidelines. i’ve had friends come over & ask where all our junk mail is. that always cracks me up! basically i keep an accordion folder right inside the little laundry room just inside our side entry. that’s where i keep my purse & running shoes as well!  that file folder is where i store paper receipts ( which i go through monthly), hard copy papers i need , stamps & return address labels. dan has a fabric covered neutral bin that’s upstairs beside where he drops his keys & wallet. inside that bin is where we keep whatever paper bills we still receive, forms, etc.  usually as I’m walking in from the mail box i blitz through everything quickly & as soon as i walk inside, i deal with it all then. deal meaning again, throw it away, file it or respond. ( when i can). try not to just throw all your mail in a basket or stack to sort through later, assuming you have a minute right then.  again the principle of exponential growth will apply here as well.

i need my studio workspace to be free of clutter & visually appealing to me. i’d rather look at art canvases than a file cabinet. so we basically store all important papers & files out in our garage ( where we incidentally don’t store our vehicles) in a metal file cabinet. we try to keep hard copies of birth certificates & passports in a safety deposit box but copies of these and other files such as taxes, receipts, reports cards, are all stored there.

another final gem of wisdom i have for you:

maintenance is easier than repair

i was visiting one of my best girlfriends & we were talking about the challenges of running a small business ( or two) from our homes. she asked me about emails & then told me her inbox had some crazy number like one thousand,  maybe two, emails in at that time.

have. mercy.

there is no way that more than a fraction of those one thousand, perhaps two, emails in her inbox were needed. along with junk mail stopper programs there are also services that will lasso those situations in for you as well. again, google is your friend.

once you do whatever you need to do to get your inbox into a reasonable situation, maintaining that reasonable situation ( which is going to be different for me than it is for you) is your goal. whether we’re talking cars, marriages, or inboxes maintenance is always easier ( and often times cheaper) than repairing what’s been neglected.

we’ve covered a lot of ground here so i’ll stop before i share what i do with my texts. that might send you into an anxious state. remember, in reality i don’t accomplish all this every single day! give yourself some grace if most of this is new for you.

also, since i don’t photograph inboxes or empty mailboxes, let me leave you with a beautiful image i shot at serenbe this summer and we can wrap it up with a peaceful, easy feeling. available in my canvas shop….serenbe sunset.

01 paige knudsen.com


January 15, 2015 - 11:37 am

Julie - Oh, if you could see my inbox!! Just checked and it’s at 5,975!!! I know….totally crazy and overwhelming!!! I’m totally stressed now…even after your beautiful and calming photo….haha. I just want you to know that you are truly a wonderful and inspiring motivation in my life and I very much appreciate you!! I’m gonna go wade into that mess right now and finally try to win my battle with gmail! Thanks again for all that you do!

January 15, 2015 - 1:01 pm

Nicola - A quick tip i heard somewhere was if you come across a task and it will take you less than two minutes to do it, you should do it right then. Shirt that needs to be hung up, do it right then. Shoes that need to go away, do it right then. A few dishes that need to be washed, do it right then. While this doesn’t always work (sometimes you just don’t have two minutes right now) most of the time it does and saves me the stress of worrying about messes or small tasks and keeps things from piling up into monumental tasks.

January 15, 2015 - 1:50 pm

Ella - That was totally my line about the maintenance & repair. It is so much easier to put your things away then to clean a large mess. In fact, I do the same with email.
Such great tips!

January 15, 2015 - 2:09 pm

Ali - Woa – you are in charge of your life! impressive! This is so helpful & yet still overwhelming since I have much deferred maintenance in my life, home & computer ! 😉

Thankful you shared your tips about maintenance! After reading this I began to immediately deleted 1,000 emails deleted this morning – yay!

I’m still in a big black hole with 16,000 email left in my email account. But, I did unsubscribe to a ton of sites as I went through so hoping that helps me tackle this goal! I’m off to try to figure out how to make file folders in gmail ! Going to use your tip and google it ! Thank you!!

❤ Ali

January 15, 2015 - 3:40 pm

sue - glad I am not alone – I too am overwhelmed with both emails and paper. Had a trash bag full of papers I went through yesterday…that seems easier to tackle then the computer. Thanks for the inspiration Paige!

January 16, 2015 - 11:36 am

Maria - confession…mine’s at 935 but I just unsubscribed from about 15 junk mail items and am focused on taming this beast…thanks for the ideas and push 🙂

January 17, 2015 - 3:38 pm

Shannon - You would have twitched to death over the state of my inbox, Paige. HOWEVER, with your gentle voice in my ear I cleaned out thousands,literally, of emails this week. Fifty at a time until I’m just down to the emails that have pictures attached. Step two is to download those & hit delete. Thanks for the tips!

January 17, 2015 - 5:45 pm

carrie - i feel like i NEED you to tell me what you do with the texts. 😉 and when can i come get a “paige orignal” christmas purged item? 🙂

January 23, 2015 - 7:43 pm

patty - such an incredibly beautiful picture, paige… i can only imagine the peace you felt standing there…

ps: {happy new year}

January 24, 2015 - 8:09 am

tara - i have a friend with THOUSANDS of unread emails…like 12,000. She sees that number every time she looks at her phone. I die.

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