04/07/2014 07:54 am ET | Updated Jun 07, 2014

Confessions Of An Email Hoarder

My name is Melissa and I hoard emails.

My reason for hoarding them is simple: I might need them some day. Emails serve as written proof of a conversation. This is helpful for a number of reasons, from memory nudging and legal/historical documentation, to spousal argument proof (See, hon, I did tell you my Aunt Rose was coming to town).

In the "old" days, emails were letters, and I filed them in actual file drawers, alphabetically, by topic. The trouble with files of any kind, virtual or physical, is that at some point, you have to purge them to make room for more. Knowing when to do this is key, because as I've learned, time has a way of passing and files have a way of multiplying. Still, my files have come in handy on more than one occasion. Three years after my cancer treatment ended, I was told I owed $4,000 for a then-experimental (now mainstream) medical test I'd done to see if I really needed chemo. Luckily, I'd saved an email telling me I owed nothing.

Although there's no law against hoarding emails (even if your husband finds it one of your least attractive qualities), it turns out they do eat up a chunk of your computer's memory. Were your computer to die, or almost die, as mine did, and you needed a new one, all those emails would just schlep over to their new digs -- assuming you'd backed them up. The problem is, you're really just moving clutter from one place to another.

Maybe it's because I actually went out looking for a new computer that my old one, upon my return, rallied, though only briefly. Before it finally gave up, I seized the opportunity to delete my cache of emails. Let's just say this: if I were paid one dollar for every email, I'd have enough to buy a Smart car.

Deleting them was not as easy as I thought it would be. At first I searched for key words.Then I looked for people's names, then email addresses, and after all that, I deleted hundreds, but not thousands. That's when I got serious -- I did a reverse date search, so they were listed from oldest to newest. And I started reading. There in all its Times New Roman 12-point glory, I found the virtual edition of the last five years of my life. The story pitches, the polite rejections, the rude rejections, the enthusiastic acceptances, the family squabbles, the neighborly correspondence, the medical and insurance stuff, the kids' high school and college challenges and successes, and, of course, the photos. The more I read, the less I could delete because, well, it was my life.

After several hours (yes, hours), I broke. I'd had enough and knew it was all or nothing. So I went with all. I blindly deleted by year. You see your history disappearing, line by line, day by day, month by month, year by year in tiny light pulses on the screen. In 30 minutes, I had erased five years.

Turns out, most of what I saved was trivia or baggage I was carrying out of fear. Letting it go was quite liberating. Like moving to a new house with nothing but the clothes you're wearing.

My name is Melissa and I hoard emails. But not for as long.

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