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5 Simple Cleanup Tasks to Start the New Year Fresh

A fresh start. A new beginning. Wipe the slate clean.

Photo by Esperanza Doronila on Unsplash

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you need a reset. A fresh start brings possibilities and helps purge the baggage renting space in my mind.

At the start of every year, I have good intentions of keeping up with everything. However, my reality is much messier, and throughout the year, stuff starts to build up. The email inbox grows. The snail mail bin accumulates things that aren’t critical to handle now, but I can’t ignore them. The little $5–15 subscriptions and monthly fees get lost. And I can no longer keep up with all the podcast episodes that I couldn’t live without a few months ago.

I don’t beat myself up about it anymore, and you shouldn’t either. I’ve found a helpful end-of-the-year or beginning-of-the-year cleanup routine that gets me started with a clean slate.

Many of the things I address here build up throughout the year due to automation. Automation has many benefits, but the downside is loss of control. It just happens — automatically.

But here you are at the beginning of a New Year. Now’s the perfect time to take control.

You can use these five simple cleanups to start the year right and save some money along the way. I don’t sit down and do them all at once because of the time involved. Instead, I use the months of December and January and fit these tasks into the cracks so they’re not overwhelming.

Unsubscribe

Approximate time: 1–2 hours over a couple of weeks

That birthday present you bought from the boutique online retailer put you on their email list. Now you’re getting daily “Don’t Miss This Deal!!” messages from them. That free recipe guide you downloaded in July from the BBQ guy? Now you’re getting “Special Offers” from him twice a week. Your podcast library and YouTube channel are cluttered with episodes that you may have been interested in 8 months ago but now are just in the way of finding what you want.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

The simple solution is to unsubscribe from most (maybe all) email lists, podcasts, and YouTube channels.

Over the span of a couple of weeks, I unsubscribed from 87 email lists, 12 podcasts, and 13 YouTube channels. I can already feel the weight lifted from my shoulders.

Be ruthless with your unsubscribing. You don’t need 99% of what is currently coming to you automatically. I’m starting the year subscribed to three email lists, four podcasts, and one youtube channel.

Unsubscribe from all retailers and marketers and any blogs or newsletters you don’t read immediately and regularly. Even the ones you read periodically at one time but now are just piling up on the backlog. You won’t go back. Just unsubscribe.

Note that marketing emails are different from account updates. If you unsubscribe from their marketing list, don’t worry about missing important emails from providers, such as your bank or utility company.

Unsubscribe to all podcasts and YouTube channels that you haven’t listened to or watched in a month. If you’ve let them sit for that long, you’re not missing anything. And remember, you can always go back.

Inbox Zero

Approximate time: 1–8 hours

The empty email inbox is nirvana. It’s a virtual pat on the back that tells me I have taken care of the things I needed to and am ready for what’s next. However, by the end of the year, my various inboxes accumulate hundreds (1000's?) of shrapnel emails just sitting there.

The younger me was on top of my email inbox, and I ended each day with inbox zero. But that was in a time where I had a single work email address and a single personal email address. Now I live in a world where I have two email addresses for my day job, three side-project addresses, and three personal addresses (one of which is a burner).

I’ve had to give up daily inbox zero, and honestly, I love it.

Daily inbox zero has become counterproductive and emotionally taxing. With modern email clients’ excellent searching capabilities, it’s also no longer necessary.

However, I like to start the year with a clean inbox, as it adds to the fresh start feeling and gives me an opportunity (and kick in the butt) to handle a few things that I’ve been putting off.

You may feel overwhelmed because you have 1000’s of emails across your various inboxes, and they’re full of stuff you don’t want to lose.

Don’t worry, because most of what you think you can’t lose can be found or recovered elsewhere. In fact, I’ve found the only type of messages that I need to save are:

  • Personal correspondence
  • Important external work correspondence (I delete ALL internal work “conversations”)
  • Correspondence with your providers such as insurance, bank, etc
  • Order and purchase receipts and related correspondence (for example, a warranty discussion, etc)

Go through your inbox and move these messages to saved folders. For everything else, delete it.

Don’t stop till the inbox is at zero.

Cancel Deadbeat Recurring Premium Subscriptions

Approximate time: 30–60 min

Remember that 90-day free trial? Or the $1 to get started for a month deal? You signed up for Showtime to watch Billions, but you binged it six months ago and haven’t watched Showtime since?

Right, me too. Don’t pay any attention to your friend who judges you for “not being on top of it.”

It’s not unusual for me to accrue $30-$80 in monthly recurring revenue subscriptions that I no longer want or need by the year’s end.

Sometimes I simply forget. Other times I’m too lazy or feel some kind of weird shame to cancel. I get it.

These little recurring gremlins get you on two fronts. Not only do they needlessly eat away at your bank account, but they weigh on your mind as well.

The first step to cancellation and freedom is to find them, which can be harder than it should be. You will need a little investigative work in a few different areas, but it won’t take long if you know where to start. To do so:

  1. Start with your last 90 days of bank and credit card statements and identify all transactions you see each month. The transaction list never lies.
  2. Do the same for any “online-only” accounts, such as Venmo and PayPal.
  3. Finish up by checking your Apple Cash or Google Pay account transactions.

Once you’ve found the gremlins, destroy them.

  1. Apple and Google make this fairly simple for recurring subscriptions through their services, so start there.
  2. Streaming services such as Netflix and HBO Max can be purchased directly or through a bundle provider like AT&T or Verizon. If you’ve purchased directly through the service, go to their website to cancel it. If through a bundle provider like AT&T, go to your provider account to cancel.
  3. You may have to do some research for all others, but luckily Google helps find unknown service charge names.

Snail Mail Bin

Approximate time: 30 min — 2 hours

I have all essential monthly bills, such as mortgage and utilities on autopay, but my mail bin is full by the end of the year. I’ve accumulated a pile of stuff that I meant to look at, or didn’t have a place to file, or time to handle, or just plain didn’t know what to do with it.

This is what it looked like when I started my cleanup:

A year’s worth of accumulation

The first step that I take with this mess is to sort it into three piles:

  • Take action now
  • File
  • Trash

Be absolutely ruthless with the “trash” pile. If you’re not sure if you should keep something, don’t. That little pang of doubt reminds you that you’ll be better off without it. Do this pile first. Burn it, shred it, or just toss it right in the can.

Take a breath.

Now work on the “file” pile. Whatever method of filing you use, now is the time to get these lingering papers files and your filing system cleaned up from a year of neglect.

My filing method includes two sets of filing cabinets. One is my active set of files and lives in my office. The other I call cold storage and lives in my basement. The active files are for everything I know I will be receiving during the year — medical, taxes, school, etc. Cold storage is for everything that is now history. By the end of the year, I have several active files that can move to cold storage, so I do it now.

Take another breath.

Time to tackle the “take action now” pile. Eat the elephant one bite at a time. Start making calls and sending emails. For example, I had a 4-month old letter from my car manufacturer indicating a recall on my car. Therefore, I called the dealer and scheduled my appointment.

You’ve done it, and now you’re all caught up.

Throw Out the Garbage Food and Drink

Approximate time: 15 min

By year-end, my pantry is full of stuff I shouldn’t be eating and drinking. Thanksgiving through the New Year celebration always results in a pantry full of crap — snacks for parties, partially used jars and bags, tins of cookies, bottles of sugary and colorful liquids for fancy drinks, etc.

Don’t let the guilt of sunk cost fallacy blow your health. You’ve already bought it. It served its purpose. It’s time to chuck it. All of it.

“I spent good money on this. I don’t want to waste it.” No, you didn’t. You spent shit money on shit you know you shouldn’t be eating and drinking. The money is spent and gone. Now throw the shit out and clean the slate.

Willpower is overrated. Your willpower didn’t win in December, and it won’t win in February. But this problem is easily overcome by using your environment to your advantage. Disciplined people are smart about using their environment. Use your environment to your advantage by getting rid of the stuff you shouldn’t be eating and drinking.

Grab the trash can and start chuckin’. Don’t finish the opened bag of Doritos, and don’t save the four cans of Coke. Chuck it all.

Now Get Started on the New Year

Nice work. Take the win and pat yourself on the back.

Starting the year with a clean slate is not only a great feeling but provides tangible benefits to your bank account.

Now it’s time you got started accumulating stuff for the New Year.

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