How to Clean Out Your Email Inbox in Under 5 Minutes–and Why You Should

By Marilynne Rudick on April 27, 2011

At a recent party, it took only a couple of drinks before friends began revealing their darkest email secrets: how many hundreds–even thousands–of emails clogged their inboxes. More than a few people admitted that they had never deleted emails. The new ones just piled up atop the old ones.

Moreover the email hoarders didn’t know why this was a problem. They shrugged when I asked them how they located old emails. “Why is keeping years of emails in your inbox a bad idea?” they asked.

Why Bloated Inboxes Are A Problem

For a start, bloated email inboxes slow down your email system, result in error messages, and fill up space on your email server causing incoming messages to bounce. Ignoring a bloated inbox is like living on a fault line. It’s just a matter of time before your inbox implodes, wiping out everything.

In a previous post, Ten Tools For Pruning Your Inbox, I listed strategies for coping with email overload, such as unsubscribing from newsletters you no longer read, deleting nonessential email, and using Rules to sort incoming emails into folders. But if your inbox contains hundreds or thousands of emails, you are way beyond pruning. The obvious answer is archiving old email.

It’s Easy to Archive Gmail

Some e-mail systems, such as Gmail, make archiving easy. Select the messages you want to archive, and click archive at the top of your inbox. Gmail will move your emails to an All Mail folder. To retrieve them, click on the All Mail folder. You can use Gmail’s powerful search features to locate old emails. (Search by date, key words, person.)

A Simple Way to Archive Email Regardless of System

With some email systems, such as Microsoft Outlook, the archive function can be needlessly complex. My experience is that clicking yes in response to Outlook’s prompt, “Do you want to archive old email?” catapults the emails into an inaccessible third dimension.

Here’s the simple way to remove email from your inbox, regardless of what system you use.

  1. Create a new email folder. I just call mine archive. (If you don’t know how to create email folders, check your email system’s help menu.)
  2. Select (by clicking or highlighting) all the old emails you want to archive.
  3. Use the move function to transfer the designated emails to the archive folder you created.
  4. Use the search function to find old messages.

You can avoid email Armageddon, by archiving old email on a regular basis–weekly or monthly–depending on the volume.

Clearing out your inbox by archiving is cathartic. You are not psychologically weighed down by hundreds of emails that demand action or remind you of your inaction.

Now that you’ve slimmed down your inbox, you’ll want to keep it tidy. Ten Tools For Pruning Your Inbox will show you how to prevent email overload.

Categories: E-Mail & Messaging


  • I avoid the inbox by setting up filters that take the incoming email into a folder for that type of email. I have one for siblings, another for ecommerce, etc. Works well. All email programs give you the ability to filter mesages out of the inbox. Best cure for a full inbox is to avoid the messages coming into the inbox in the first place.

    Posted by: Ian on May 7, 2011 at 8:33 am

  • I’ll be darned. I just found my old emails that I thought were lost forever. I guess I made archive folders before. Good thing I read this and checked. Thanx!

    Posted by: Aunt Jill on April 30, 2011 at 8:56 am

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