January Simplicity Challenge – Zero Out Your Inbox

One of my goals for this year is to simplify, simplify, simplify.  After living out of a car for close to two years, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty and freedom of living with fewer things.  But simplicity is not always about objects.  There are many things that clutter our lives – commitments, electronic distractions, friends or family that bring us down, unhealthy habits, and on and on.

Each month I am going to issue a challenge to simplify some part of my, and if you’ll join me, your life.  Since we won’t be moved into a new space until later this month (details in a future post!), I’m going to focus on simplifying a non-stuff area of my life this month – Email.

Simplicity Challenge - Empty Your InboxMy goal, which I’ve admittedly been working towards for the past two months, is to have zero emails in my inboxes at least once a week.  For me, that means hitting zero in each of my two email inboxes each Friday.  Don’t run away too fast, that goal may not be appropriate for you, yet, but you can surely get there.  Stick to the personal accounts right now, and try a few of the following things to get you on your way.

1. Count how many emails you have in your inbox.  If you’re like me and you delete or save your emails into folders after your respond, then you should (hopefully) have less than 100 emails in your inbox.  If this is the case, go through your inbox quickly and delete or file away anything that is in there that you’ve read and do not need to address or that you do not need to read.

2. Give yourself a goal to address three, five, ten emails a day.  The number will depend upon how many emails you have to cull through and how ambitious you are.  Make it reasonable, but pick a number that will get you somewhere.

3. Once you’re down to the emails that will take longer to address, limit yourself to addressing one or two per day.

4. Pretty soon you’ll be getting close to the beauty of an empty inbox.  Keep plugging away until you get there.  Don’t stop at an inbox with three emails or five or even one.  Those last few will be the hardest, but they’re also the most important to address.

5. Once you hit zero, make it a goal to continue to hit it at least once a week.  If you don’t do this, the emails will just build up again, silently asking you to do something each time you log in to your account.

6. Along the way, you will get new emails (duh!).  Respond to these as you get them.  Don’t let them linger.

7. Most importantly, take preventative action.  Take yourself off of every single mailing list that does not serve you.  Don’t reflexively delete like I used to do.  Consider each email you get and if it is something that you would delete without thinking, then take yourself off that mailing list right now.  The best way I have found to do this is to spend one week not deleting anything from my email before first opening it, considering it, and then responding, reading, or unsubscribing.  It takes a bit of remembering not to just delete away on my phone, but I am always thankful the following week when the flow of junk has subsided.

Do you already subscribe to the philosophy of an empty inbox?  If not, try it.  See if it makes you calmer and takes one thing away from your mental to-do list.  It has forced me to respond to emails I had been putting off responding to for months and, in some cases, years.  Freeing up the mental space, tiny as it was, devoted to those unanswered emails allows me to spend that space on more important pursuits.  Plus, cutting out the junk helps me to limit the advertising to which I’m exposed.  But, most importantly, an empty inbox helps me to be more prompt and thoughtful in getting back to people.  And connecting with people is what this is about, right?

[Editor’s Note: A comment from a friend sent me to check out Yesterbox.  This is another way of trying to master the inbox instead of letting it master you.  Thanks for the heads up, Adam.]

After sharing my goals here and in a couple of groups that I belong to, simplifying seemed to resonate with many of you.  I will be sharing Simplicity Challenges each month of 2015 to help motivate us to meet our goals.  Please join with me and let me know your progress at the end of each month.  If you’re on twitter, you can follow me at @bottlemoonlight and tweet about the challenge using #simplicitychallenge.  If you participate in each of the monthly Simplicity Challenges this year (please let me know in the comments on each Challenge post) and sign up to receive my posts via email (upper right), expect something awesome from me at the end of the year as a huge thank you for taking the journey with me. 




Weekend Roundup: Holiday Shopping Edition

Things I’m digging lately:

The $100 Christmas Challenge – Bill McKibben and members of his church began a challenge back in the 1990s to not spend more than $100 on Christmas Gifts each year. Sticklers among you may want to account for inflation (ha!), but this is a fantastic challenge that I’m thinking of trying next year.  We’ve spent about two and half times that this year, which I realize is less than many people, so I’m thinking that we can forget inflation and try to only spend $100 next year.  The key for us is hand-making many of our presents, which means that while the dollar figure may be low, the time (and love) factor is quite high.

40 Reasons to Avoid Shopping on Black Friday – Black Friday has come and gone, but the reasons to avoid the malls persist through the entire holiday season.

Online Deals For Holiday Shopping: Buyer Beware – And if you need one more reason to think carefully about so-called sales and great deals, this article is an eye-opener.

Contrary to the impression these articles may give, I am not anti-shopping or anti-gift.  Instead of chasing deals, I’d rather think about what a loved one wants or needs and shop or make accordingly.  I’ve also begun to look much more critically at sales and instead purchase items based on quality rather than based on the supposed savings that I’m getting.  For folks like my husband, this is obvious, but for someone like me who used to be seduced by the savings off of the MSRP for just about everything that I bought, this is a liberating awakening.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Book Review)

Simplify, simplify, simplify.  Simplify possessions, simplify wants, simplify commitments.  But how in the world do you go about this?

Before we left on our adventure, we spent months and months planning and reading to figure out how to approach a trip of this sort, what we would need, and where we would like to go.  We also spent years preparing financially, even before we made the final decision to travel.  Over the past two years, folks have asked me about how we’re able to do this, and I plan to get into this in later posts.  But this post deals with what we did not do before we left, which was simplify possessions.

Sure, we simplified to a certain extent by necessity.  We had to choose a limited number of things that would fit into our car.  After about a week on the road in our Eurovan, we already had a list of things we would be jettisoning.  When forced to reckon with the smaller space of our car after the death of our Eurovan (R.I.P. Bobby), we purged quite a bit, but still felt as if we had more than we needed.  And yet, we continue to have an entire storage unit in rural Pennsylvania sitting full of items from our former three bedroom townhouse.  I do not miss 99% of these items.  Most of the time, if I’m thinking about missing something, it’s my crock pot.  Strange – whatever!  Sure, we will need some of these not-missed possessions when we have a home.  And there are others that I cherish.  But there are many, many items that we can do without.

As we have been focusing more on finding a home, I have been giving a lot of thought (some would say an unhealthy level of thought) to how we are going to simplify and minimize.  I have begun following several minimalist and simple living bloggers hoping to get inspiration and insight into the process I look forward to going through.   And I am planning on writing about why I am heeding the siren’s call of simplicity and why it may be something for you to consider, as well.

But enough on that, how do I (or you) get started?  I kept seeing the same advice that I have tried in the past in many different places.  And then I had the opportunity to read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo.  It changed everything.  Is it a book for everyone?  No.  Was it a book for me and may it be a book for you if you are interested in learning how to simplify your possessions to increase peace, time, and contentment?  Most certainly, yes!


The book can get a little cheesy from time-to-time.  The author seems to have an unhealthy obsession with tidying and has been doing it since she was a small child.  Her unhealthy obsession, however, is our gain.  The book provides a number of specifics for decluttering, but not for organizing, since she believes this is unnecessary once you have pared down your belongings.  The most important take-away points are:

  • Do not tidy section-by-section.  Do it all at once, and if you do it well, you only have to do it once.  She estimates the average person’s “all at once” will take six months.
  • Do not ask if you have used this item in the past six months to a year or if you need this item.  Instead, pick up every single item that you own and ask about each item, “Does it bring me joy?”  This, my friends was the magic formula for me.  Of course!  All these years I have been collecting things and holding onto items that I may need one day.  But in the interim, I have to store the item, clean around the item, put away the item, and think about the item.  If it doesn’t bring me joy, why am I doing it?

You may wonder how I will be transitioning to life off the road.  If you listen closely enough, I will be somewhere in the distance, speaking to my things, donating a whole lot, and becoming freer in the process.


I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review; however, I am completely honest in my reviews.  If I didn’t like the book, you would hear about it.