Is Your Laptop A Mess? Read This

I am a digital hoarder.

While I preach inbox zero, my two main email accounts are at inbox 10,382 and inbox 47,301, respectively. And this is what my desktop looks like right now.
Photo: Courtesy Apple.
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I know. I have a problem.

My former WIRED coworkers would be quick to tell you that my actual desktop doesn't look much different than my virtual one. (I now work from home, where my shameful untidiness earns scornful looks only from my boyfriend — and maybe my cat.) But while I clearly don't abide by the "cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind" philosophy, there's a difference: My actual desktop space is merely messy. My digital desktop is a mess.

So, when my editor announced we'd be doing a spring cleaning package this year, I thought, This is my chance! I can turn things around.

I started with the low-hanging fruit: just cleaning up all those files on my desktop. Most of them are screen shots and photos used for stories, so I could just highlight them and drag 'em to the trash can. Others were funny or unique moments I screengrabbed. For those, I created a new folder and dragged them there. In less time than I would have thought, the backdrop for my daily workings was pristine.

I'll be honest, I didn't think it would make a difference, but once I cleaned up all those dozens of files living on my desktop, I felt a tiny cloud of anxiety evaporate into the ether.

Next, it was onto the actual files and photos saved to my laptop. Most are notes from meetings, drafts of stories, and interview transcripts. Many are already backed up in Google Drive. I started going through in reverse-chronological order, thinking I'd organize them into folders. However, I realized that was unnecessary: Between the names of the files ("Loreal_interview," "Fitbit_Ces2016") and the content within them, the most logical thing was to leave them as is. If I needed to find a file, it'd be much easier to just use Spotlight to search by keyword, as I'd already been doing.

Whew, that was a relief.

But email. This was a chore years in the making.

Again, I started with the easiest task. (Does anyone ever start their chores "worst thing first?") I wanted to make tomorrow's inbox more manageable. While I have some filters in place, I created some more. Now, instead of reading emails and applying a label to them by hand, emails including certain phrases are automatically categorized for easy reference later.

But now, it was time for the big move: Cleaning up my inbox. I knew I didn't have to delete messages, I could still keep them for future reference by just archiving them. I hit my personal Gmail account first, and followed the directions here to archive all emails sent prior to this month. I did a search by date ("before:2016/3/1" in the search bar), and then, to avoid having to select 100 items page by page, I tapped the "Select all conversations that match this search" option just above the messages listed. Once all were selected, I took a deep breath and tapped the "Archive" button.

It didn't happen instantaneously. Apparently, when you've got close to 50,000 emails to archive, it takes some time...and causes some problems. Four minutes in, I encountered a system error and it seemed that nothing was being archived. Maybe I've waited too long. Maybe I'm stuck at inbox 47,000 forever. What have I done? I thought to myself. I filled with a growing bubble of embarrassment, amusement at my own predicament

I turned then to my other, less hazardous inbox. After a few minutes: success. My inbox wasn't zero, but it was now sub-800 — almost manageable. It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought. I had imagined it being like ripping off a Band-Aid. I now understood why everyone was so flabbergasted I'd never archived my emails before.

But did I feel drastically different, like a new woman, now that I'd finally shrunk my insane inbox number? Honestly, not really.

What archiving does is remove the "Inbox" label from your emails. This is convenient, because if you do a search, you can still find everything, but in terms of magically reading or deleting all your old emails, it can't do that. Of course, I could mark everything as read, or delete emails older than a certain date. The latter would truly free my inbox, but what if there was something important that I deleted? While I reduced my inbox, I suppose I'm still digitally hoarding its contents, just in a less visible way.

However, I did feel better. I was filled with renewed motivation to keep that number sub-1,000 (and my desktop clutter-free). Perhaps, in a day or two, I'll even go ahead and archive everything and actually reach inbox zero — it doesn't seem so lofty now. And since cleaning my desktop, I have stayed up on maintenance, sending things to the trash can at the end of the day rather than letting them collect virtual dust.

Maybe next year, I'll clean my actual desk.

This month, we're asking you to toss out everything you thought you knew about spring cleaning and give every corner of your life a refresh. The inspiration for a happier, clutter-free you is right this way.
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