Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

18 Jan 2014, 13:59 p.m.

Cleaning My Virtual Room

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2014 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

In late December 2013, my personal email inbox got to over six thousand emails. Many of them had been there for years. I was using nearly no filtering, and so there was important stuff in there that I just forgot about. It caused me a lot of anxiety. I knew the kinds of tips Val suggests, like setting up filters and avoiding abusing "unread" markers, but I had just not kept up this hygiene, and it was getting to me. I have been a bad correspondent for years, and my overwhelming inbox is part of why.

Therefore, the last days of 2013, I rapidly went through big swaths of them -- Twitter notifications, a few less relevant mailing lists, and so on. By the minute 2014 started, I was down to two thousand. I started using Beeminder to track my goal: down to 10 messages in my inbox by the end of January 18th.

Today's the 18th. I'm at 160 messages. And this is the hard stuff, now. Here I find the heartfelt notes I saved for reading later, then didn't read for months, then felt embarrassed about. Here lie the year-old "here's my address since you promised to send me something!" notes. Here I see stories I promised to give feedback on, guest posts for Geek Feminism I started arranging, invitations to my cousins' weddings in India, followups from friendly people I met at PICC 2011 or Open Source Bridge 2012.

(155 now.)

I am in a comfortable apartment, in reasonably good health, in no physical danger. And yet my body reacts to looking at these letters. It's absurdly hard work.



Doing this requires confronting my past negligence and remembering that I may have hurt people by that negligence. And thinking about tasks I've put off.


I'm reminded of Paul Ford's "Cleaning My Room", in which Ford talks about his years of slovenliness and then a sudden urge "to face down the beast of disorder".

Now I've reached 143, that old pager code for "I love you," and am reminded of that old saw, "Work is love made visible."


Sumana Harihareswara
19 Jan 2014, 0:08 a.m.

I did it! Albeit by moving about 32 of the emails into a "process-later" box, and setting up a goal to process all of those in the next month or so.

I know I can do it. And honestly, for most of those, they've waited long enough that another few weeks won't matter, or they're reasonably easy scheduling things.

My inbox looks usable now. Weird!