One bad habit I have is letting my Gmail inbox get too big. I guess this means I’m not an Inbox Zero expert. These accrued items tend to be non-urgent items that I haven’t flagged as a priority. Eventually, I reach that tipping point and want to mass delete Gmail items. There are many ways to delete Gmail based on common patterns, dates, selections and search criteria.
I want to emphasize this article is not about how to delete all emails or closing your Gmail account. This is about email maintenance and deleting. In addition, I’ve kept these examples simple so you don’t have to create search filters.
Feel free to jump ahead to any section by clicking a link below.
Understanding Gmail Storage
Gmail provides each user with a large pooled storage allotment. This allotment presents issues for some people if they aren’t proficient in searching or using labels. The sheer volume of emails can make it harder to find items. Granted the introduction of Gmail tabs has helped in categorization.
The first thing to recognize is your “total storage” is not just for your Google email. While Google allocates 15 GB on the free account, that is shared with other Google assets like Google Photos and Google Drive.
How Much Storage Have I Used?
If you scroll to the bottom of your Inbox, you’ll see an indicator. The numbers will appear the left of the Terms. In my account, I’ve used 9.38 GB.
I can see my total allocation and how much I’ve used. I also have the ability to get more details about my other Google products by clicking the Manage link.
Deleting Promotional Email
Google attempts to sort your mail by the use of predefined tabs. One of these tabs is called “Promotions”. These are probably your least important emails so it’s a good starting place. Some examples from my Promotions tab include:
- Daily coupon or deals emails
- Promotions from merchants
- Product announcements
- Webinar reminders
Another benefit of starting with this tab (or folder) is that you probably have multiple pages. When people first start to delete emails, they don’t realize that the top checkbox will select all messages just on that page. The number depends on your account setting but is typically 50 messages. As a result, they repeat the deletion process for each page, when there is an easier method.
- Click your Gmail Promotions tab.
- Scan the items to see if you should unsubscribe to any. This is preferable.
- See if any items have value or are Starred. If so, drag these emails to another tab to get them recategorized.
- Click the checkbox at the top. This will select all visible emails on that page.
- If you have multiple pages, you have a new option. You should see a new link for Select all conversations in Promotions.
- Click the All conversations option. It will also show an email count.
- Click the trash can icon to delete your selection.
- Click the OK button on the Confirm bulk action message.
Your header should now show All conversations in Promotions are selected along with some other items:
[A] The enabled checkbox. Each email should be checked as well.
[B] The Delete icon.
[C] A note indicating the number of selected emails.
[D] A Clear selection link.
Deleting Emails by Status
Understandably, some people may not want to delete ALL emails in a given tab. Fortunately, Gmail allows us to refine what to delete by a number of statuses. For this scenario, an email can only have one status.
The email statuses include:
These status selections display when you click the down arrow control next to the main checkbox. Instead of checking the box, which defaults to “All” emails, you can select a subset.
This feature is handy if you want to keep unread items or ones that you’ve starred for some reason.
Finding and Deleting Email From Specific Senders
Gmail also allows you to delete emails from a specific sender. Basically, this amounts to creating a temporary filter on the email address or some other pattern. The process is pretty simple.
- Glance at your inbox and look for frequent senders of email.
- Check the box to the left of one of the emails. You can click different email senders. A series of additional icons will appear.
- Click the More Actions icon.
- Select Filter messages like these.
- A new panel opens with your selected email address or addresses. Sometimes Google will not show an email address, but a pattern such as a list ID in the Has the words.
- [Optional] You may want to filter out emails with chats or attachments.
- Click the Search button.
- Gmail will now show just the emails from that email filter.
- Check the box in the top left corner to select all the emails that show. If you have more pages, you’ll also see another link, Select all conversations that match this search.
- Click the Delete icon.
Deleting Emails Based On A Common String
The above strategy works well when you want to delete all the content from that sender. But, sometimes situations arise where the sender sends out multiple types of emails under one email address. In this case, you just want to delete a subset.
For example, I use a security plugin that sends various emails. If I look at conversations, I can tell there are certain items I want to keep and certain items I want to delete.
In looking at the email subject lines, I can see a pattern – Wordfence activity, which I’ve highlighted above. I can copy and paste this common string into the search box above the emails. I tend to wrap the phrase with quotes. However, I also want to filter for my domain so I will append “timeatlas” after the first phrase. In this example, I want to delete all emails with the phrase “Wordfence activity” that also mention my domain.
You might notice in this example, I didn’t get a count of how many emails would be deleted. The text simply says all conversations.
Deleting Emails Based on Size
This method is best suited to find emails that are quite large and are adding to your storage problem. A lot of times when it comes to email file attachments, I’ll end up with files in multiple locations. You want to make sure that if the attachment is important, you’ve downloaded and put it on your hard drive. In the example below, I used the search criteria of 10M, but you can change that value.
- Go to the top of your Inbox.
- In the search box area type larger:10M
- Your email will show emails that are greater than 10mb.
- Check any emails you wish to delete.
- Click the delete icon.
Retreving Deleted Gmail Items
Gmail does have a safeguard when it comes to deleted emails. They disappear from your Inbox or another tab, but they are still around. This is why our storage number doesn’t immediately change.
The deleted emails get temporarily stored in the Trash folder. This folder can be seen in the left folder pane. The emails in this folder get purged every 30 days unless you opt to do it sooner. This means you can restore and move these emails to a different folder.
- From the left folder pane, select Trash. Or you can type in:trash in the search box.
- Find the emails you wish to restore.
- Check the box to the left of each email
- Click the Move to icon on the top toolbar.
- Select the destination folder for the emails.
The above steps for deleting Gmail email in bulk won’t get you to “inbox zero” in one fell swoop. However, it will give you the tools to chip away at large chunks of email.