The volume dilemma

Despite email being a largely-unavoidable aspect of modern life, I find it quite burdensome. Over several years, I’d tried various techniques to manage these missives, with varying degrees of success.

I started with a single email address, then added a second for “less important” things. Deciding what was “less important” seemed simple enough at first, until I spent an inordinate amount of time hunting for a message I knew I’d received. Fortunately, around this time, Gmail arrived.

For several years, Gmail proved its value and was sufficient for my needs. I set up dozens of labels and hundreds of filters, particularly appreciating that I could assign multiple labels to a message. Enamored, I consolidated everything to a single address, resolving the “which inbox is that in?” dilemma I’d previously faced. Gmail’s search abilities were equally as crucial to this as its filtering and labels. Unfortunately, moving to a single email address, and using it for nearly ten years, introduced new problems.

First, and likely the most obvious, is the volume of unsolicited messages that a long-established email address attracts. “Spam” is only part of this, though. Over time, someone shared my address with someone else who needed it, then someone else did the same, and so on, eventually leading to emails from strangers with only a tangential connection to me. I don’t fault anyone for sharing my address, I’m just noting it as a contributor to the overwhelming nature of email. At this point, that address is largely unusable and therefore infrequently monitored.

Second, and very much related to my preceding point, is the volume of “expected” email such an inbox receives. Even with Gmail’s labeling and search capabilities, keeping the bill reminders separate from emails from family–while not losing that job inquiry amongst the coupons from those stores I frequent and the random newsletters I signed up for–became a nightmare. My inbox eventually turned to little more than a blur of label colors, as the cognitive burden of so many actionable messages grew overtook my ability to read their subjects.

Lastly, by using a single email address hosted by a third party, I’d ceded any ability to sort and manage messages before they arrived in my inbox. Creating multiple accounts with a single provider as a means to organize emails doesn’t provide much flexibility, and quickly fails as things get mixed up.

As I’ve talked about several times now, self-hosting was my solution. Paid services that support custom domains, multiple inboxes, and limitless aliases can provide the same relief.


This was originally written as part of “Why I host my own email” but proofreading showed it should be its own post. I’ve achieved postception. 😂

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