Nothing kills a pleasant vacation buzz like 1,042 emails waiting in your inbox.

That’s why, after my last vacation, I declared email bankruptcy. Translation: I deleted everything.

My first encounter with email bankruptcy was inadvertent. I only discovered that a former colleague had deleted all the email that came in during his vacation because his boss told me I had better send him another one. It seemed sort of sneaky at the time.

But now that Lauren Young, a journalist and editor with Thomson Reuters (and another former colleague), has coined a catchy term for getting rid of all those messages, so-called email bankruptcy is out in the open. Respectable, even. “There’s something so liberating about going into your inbox and deleting it all,” says Young.

Red umbrellasIt’s not as if Young’s creditors are caught completely unawares, as I was the first time I encountered email bankruptcy. Her autoreply gives an alternate contact. It warns correspondents that due to the expected volume of email upon her return, she may declare email bankruptcy. She links to a story in Fast Company where she’s quoted speaking about email bankruptcy, so people know what it is. She encourages people to get back in touch when she’s back in the office.

Like a lot of tricks for managing email, this one has the unfortunate side effect of making someone else do more work. Someone managed to remember to send me an email, and actually sent it, and now I was telling them they had to email me all over again. Is that fair? “It’s totally fair for vacation,” says Young. “It’s so hard for people to really manage to unplug,” and then when they get back, they’re punished with the deluge of email.

While some might find temporarily solace in trying to keep up with their email even while they’re supposedly on vacation, a raft of studies detail the health risks of our always-on culture, especially to those who can’t seem to put down their smartphones.

The first time Young attempted email bankruptcy, she tried to finesse it. Her autoreply said that “due to the expected volume of email,” some messages might be “lost in the shuffle.” She’s not pretending anymore. “I’m done,” she says. “I’m down for the count. I’m starting fresh.”

Almost no one commented on her first email bankruptcy. “I didn’t ask or tell people. I just did it,” she says. “No one said, ‘You’re a bitch and I can’t believe you’re doing it.’” None of the higher-ups at her company minded. Her boss mentioned it in a meeting, but not in a negative way.

That’s the thing I found so shocking about my first (and so far only) attempt at email bankruptcy: Nothing happened, except that I got a whole day of my life back when I realized I wouldn’t be spending it sifting through email. I did scan my inbox to make sure I didn’t miss anything important. Maybe the truly bankrupt wouldn’t have done that, but since this was my first try, I was a little nervous.

Who shouldn’t do this? Well, Young says, you shouldn’t try this if your boss expects you to be at his or her beck and call 24/7. Then, I pointed out, you’ve got bigger problems. “True,” says Young. “But plenty of people work for crazy people.” Here’s hoping you’re not one of them — and that a little bankruptcy makes your next vacation a bit more relaxing.  — KW


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