Published Feb. 17, 2008|Updated Feb. 26, 2008

I'm thinking of declaring e-mail bankruptcy.

My finances are fine. It's my inbox that's a mess.

I have 1,886 unread e-mails and will likely have 20 more by the time you've finished reading this column.

I read recently in Wired how prominent copyright attorney Lawrence Lessig hit upon a novel tactic after trying to clear out his backlogged inbox.

"Bankruptcy is now my only option," he wrote in a mass message to his e-mail creditors after 80 hours of fruitless shoveling. He promised, profusely, to do better in the future. He just needed a fresh start.

I've never been particularly shamed since my work e-mail bounces into my Yahoo account, making the backlog Yahoo's problem, not mine. And in my defense, the first few pages of it are my hot e-mails - this week's queries and forwarded jokes, baby pictures and scams that can be perused quickly. The remaining 50 or so pages are easy to delete, but scattered throughout are articles I do want to read, pictures I do want to save and lawyer jokes at which I do want to snicker.

I use the search function to quickly find what I'm looking for, so it hasn't affected my workload or my social life too much (I do owe my friend Josh an apology for forgetting to respond to his housewarming party Evite).

But then a co-worker looked over my shoulder recently and exclaimed: "Good Lord, you have 2,000 unread e-mails!"

I was outed.

Actually, it was 2,176.

I spent an hour that day deleting e-mails from 2006 that I never got around to zapping. Yes, old e-mails about the Gap spring sale in 2006 were in there. It's not like I'm harboring 200 cats. It's 2,000 bits of invisible e-mail messages.

After a couple hours, I had it down to 1,803. Now that it's creeping back up, I'm thinking about how Lessig told Wired he erased his debts.

He put all the overlooked people in a BCC field of a new message he sent to himself and wrote a nice note explaining his plight. He promised to keep up with his future e-mail and sounded sufficiently shamed.

My problem is that just like personal bankruptcy, I don't think I can justify starting over when I haven't done the hard work of changing my habits.

So I'm going to start devoting time each day and a couple hours over the weekend - when I usually like to remain blissfully e-mail free - to clean my e-mail clutter.

The tally since I started writing this? 1,908.