How to clean up your Gmail inbox by quickly deleting old e-mail

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Cleaning your inbox can help your organise your life as well as save you money that you'd have to pay to Google for extra storage

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12 February 2021 | 0

If you have too much e-mail in your Gmail account, it may finally be time to clean it out. This is not simply to reach the Zen-like nirvana of ‘inbox zero,’ but to address a looming threat: As of 1 June 2021, Google will change its storage policy. By default, Gmail users receive 15GB of storage, shared across Gmail, Drive, and Photos. Some data, like Photos, is currently exempted – but that goes away in June. If your total data exceeds your free allotment, you’ll either have to delete data, pay Google for more storage, or risk losing whatever ‘extra’ data Google chooses to delete. 

Here are some tactics for deleting lots of e-mail to avoid some unneccessary charges.

How to quickly delete old e-mail in Gmail

About the only requirement for purging old e-mails from Google Gmail is that you must be logged into Gmail, and using it on a browser from a Chrome, Mac, or Windows PC, or an Android tablet or iPad. These commands may be available from a smartphone, but they’re designed first and foremost for the Web interface.

 

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First, you’ll need to know how much storage capacity your e-mail is taking up. If you scroll down to the bottom of your Gmail page, you can see how much space all of your data takes up – not just Gmail. If you’re a Google One subscriber, your Google One storage page breaks it down between Gmail, Photos, and Drive. (You can also block Google Photos’ automatic uploads to help manage your storage.)

Consult your Google One storage tab to find out how close you are to your limit, and how much you’ll want to delete.

The easiest way to delete unwanted e-mail from Gmail is to use Google’s built-in section tabs within Gmail, which already filter e-mail into several sections: your Primary tab (your main inbox), followed by Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums. The implicit message here is that Google already considers the e-mail that’s stored in your Primary tab as the e-mail you actually needeverything else can probably be sacrificed. 

I usually purge everything in my Promotions tab first – it’s almost-but-not-quite spam. Take a last look through a few pages, to ensure that you want to do a wholesale purge. (If you want to delete email selectively, skip to the section below.) 

To begin the process, first click the Promotions tab (the label will show as a color rather than gray). Next, from the ribbon of icons above the tabs, click the small checkbox icon at far left, like so:

To select bulk e-mail in Gmail’s Promotions tab, click the tab (right) and then click the checkbox at upper left. It will select all the e-mail in the current view.

This should highlight all of the emails you can see on the first page of the Promotions tab – not every single one of them that you have within Gmail.

After you select that page’s worth of e-mails, Google confirms your selection – and offers you the option of selecting all of the e-mails in the Promotions tab, if you click the blue-highlighted message as shown below:

You can then tap the Delete key or click the small bin icon in the menu ribbon above to delete all of the e-mail. You’ll receive a small popup entitled ‘Confirm bulk action,’ warning that “this action will affect all…conversations in Inbox” and asking if you want to continue. If you do, click OK.

Congratulations. All of your Promotions email have been deleted… sort of. Yes, your e-mail isn’t quite gone, yet. Gmail simply moved it to the Trash, another of the categories that’s accessible via the left-hand navigation rail. (Scroll down, then click More to reveal the Trash and Spam folders.) Click Trash to see all of your deleted e-mail, waiting to be deleted. 

E-mail moved to Gmail’s Trash can be moved back out of the Trash with the Move command.

By default, Google gives you 30 days before it automatically deletes e-mail that’s been moved into the Trash. That gives you 30 days to search for and save an e-mail that you accidentally trashed – but it still leaves your total Google One storage allotment unchanged. (You can highlight the e-mail (or emails) and click the small ‘Move to’ folder icon to move them back to the Inbox if you discovered an e-mail you want to save.)

You can delete all of the e-mail sitting in your Trash folder using this button – but once you do, it’s gone forever.

f you want, you can click the ‘Empty Trash now’ message at the top of your Trash e-mail list to delete all of those e-mails, once and for all. That will lower your storage allotment – but there’s no going back now. (Unfortunately, you can’t see how much storage capacity all of thar accumulated email in your Trash folder takes up.) Once you manually delete those e-mails, they’re gone forever.

Now you can decide if you want to delete e-mail in other Gmail tabs, too. You may consider e-mail notifications in the Forums folder and Social tab expendable, too. The Updates tab usually hides messages from apps and other services I consider important, so I don’t often delete those e-mails without some consideration and further filtering.

How to filter e-mails in Gmail

The Gmail search box at the top of your screen will do more than just search for keywords. You can use search filters for all sorts of things to help weed out unnecessary e-mail, and Google lists a number of them on its Gmail search support page

Here are a few commands that are especially useful for reducing the storage space your inbox consumes, listed below. Simply type the bolded text into the Gmail search box.

  • before:04/18/2018 This returns all e-mail in the folder sent before April 18, 2018.
  • older_than:2m This displays all email that’s older than two months. You can swap the “m” for “y” (year) or “d” (day). Note that newer_than can also be used.
  • has:attachment Any e-mail with attachments.
  • filename:pdf Any email with a PDF file as an attachment.
  • size:
  • larger:
  • smaller: Either size: or larger: can be used to find messages that are larger than a certain size in bytes. Here, you can use larger:100 for a message that’s larger than 100 bytes, or larger:15M for a message that’s larger than 15MB.

Others, such as from:eliza (e-mail from Eliza) or is:important (for email that’s listed as Important), may also be useful. 

Hopefully these tools will allow you to keep your Gmail inbox down to a manageable size.

IDG News Service

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