How to Archive or Delete Old Messages & Clean Up Your Mailbox

Most of us save too many emails, and this can make for a messy inbox. Another way to organize your Outlook inbox is to archive or delete old messages.

While both archiving and deleting emails removes messages from your inbox, it’s important to understand the difference:

  • Archive.Sends a message to an Archive folder. The Archive folder is intended for older messages that you intend to save. When you archive an email, you can easily retrieve it at a future date.
  • Delete. Sends a message to the Deleted Items folder (it looks like a trash can). If the Deleted Items folder is emptied, it may be difficult to retrieve the message. Delete is typically reserved for emails you don’t expect to need in the future.

MS Outlook also has a Cleanup Tool. You’ve probably gotten one of those messages where a bunch of previous messages are copied at the top. You may also have each of those previous messages in your Outlook inbox. When you apply the Cleanup Tool to a conversation or to a folder or subfolders, the tool removes those duplicate messages.

However you do it, removing messages your mailbox can free up space in your inbox. To properly organize your inbox, it’s important to learn how to use each of these tools:

Step 1. Delete Old Messages

It’s easy to delete an old email. Simply click on the email to select it:

Here’s how to organize your Outlook email inbox by deleting old messages.

Click the Delete icon in the Ribbon (it looks like an X). The message is moved to the Deleted Items folder.

To permanently remove a message from your email, click the Deleted Items folder to open it. (It’s in the Navigation Pane on the left and looks like a trash can). Click the message again to select it. Click the Delete icon to permanently delete the selected message.

Caution: Some permanently deleted messages may be able to be recovered from the server if they are still in the Deleted Items folder, but it’s also possible you won’t be able to recover an email after you delete it.

Step 2. Manually Archive Messages

A less permanent way to remove old emails from your inbox is to archive them. To archive an email, click on the message to select it. Click the Archive icon in the ribbon next to the Delete icon:

Using the Archive icon is another way to keep old messages from cluttering up your inbox.

If you’ve not used the Outlook Archive feature before, you’re prompted to create an archive folder. Click the Create archive folder button. Outlook creates a new folder titled Archive and sends the email you selected to it:

Store old emails in your Archive folder to organize your inbox.

In the future when you archive an email it’ll go to this folder.

Step 3. Set Up Archive Parameters

You can also change MS Outlook’s automatic archive settings. Click File > Options to open the Outlook Options window:

You can set up Outlook to automatically archive messages.

Click the Advanced option from the Navigation pane on the left. Then click the AutoArchive Settings button. The AutoArchive dialog box appears:

Use the AutoArchive dialog box to define archiving parameters in Outlook.

Use the check boxes to select the archive options you want to choose. Click OK on the AutoArchive dialog box when you’re done. Then click OK on the Outlook Options window.

Step 4. Use the Outlook Cleanup Tool

Emails have become more conversational. If you’ve taken part in an email conversation where you and a recipient have replied back and forth in a series of message, you know what I mean. When you reply to an email, your reply appears above the original messages and all earlier replies. Unfortunately, all of that replying can fill up your folders—making it harder to find those messages you need.

Outlook has a solution with the Cleanup Tool.  This tool removes redundant messages, so it removes earlier messages that don’t include the latest reply. You haven’t lost any information, because all your earlier messages are included in the latest message.

Let’s see how it works. In the From My Boss folder below I have two message that are all part of the same conversation. The first message has the subject line “New Work.” The latest message has the subject line “Re: RE: RE: New Work:”

Replies to messages can take up room in your Outlook inbox.

You can use the Cleanup Tool to clean up a conversation, a folder, or a folder and subfolders. In this case, we’ll use it to clean up the From My Boss folder.

Click the folder to select it. Click the down arrow on Cleanup Tool icon. (It’s on the Home tab to the left of the Delete icon.) You’ll see the Cleanup drop-down menu:

Select the Clean Up Folder option to remove redundant messages in a folder.

Select the Clean Up Folder option on the drop-down menu. A prompt appears warning you that redundant messages will be deleted. Click the Clean Up Folder button on the prompt. The original message is deleted:

Removing redundant messages can organize your Outlook inbox. 

The original message is deleted because it’s redundant with the latest message. This is particularly helpful feature if you’ve got a lot of email conversations in your inbox.

NoteEmail messages that contain a different element—perhaps a reply from a different recipient or an attachment—won’t be deleted because they don’t meet the requirement of being redundant.