Outlook is not a filing cabinet.

Recently in my line of work, as a Senior Desktop Engineer, I have run into a couple of situations where users are under the impression that their email program is a filing system.  Unfortunately, one of those clients learned the hard way that your email program is not and has never been designed to be a filing system for those Excel, Word, and PDF files that people send to them.

But you say, “Well Hunter, I have created tons of folders to organize all my emails that come in.  So it must have been designed for a filing system.”  I will respond to that as that person being only partially right, but overall wrong.  Allow me to explain and for the purposes of this blog post, substitute “Outlook” with the name of your email program if you do not use it.

NOTE:  Please pay particular attention to the section called WARNING at the bottom.  If you miss it, it’s on you!

Outlook is for sending and receiving email.  That is the first thing we have to understand on how it functions.  Yes, you can store emails that you have received in the past, and organize them into folders, along with all those attachments.  However, that functionality is really only for the short term, and if you are an email hoarder, you probably have started to notice that your email program takes longer and longer to start up.  That is because every message that comes in is saved to a file on your computer and that file has to load each and every time you start up.

If you are wanting to hold onto emails for longer than say, 4-5  years, consider using the Archive function in Outlook.  Archiving is a way to move older items over to a file when you are not actively accessing them on a regular basis.  When I say regular, I mean at least once a week.  Also, you will likely be forced to archive your email as typically mail providers limit how much space you can take up on their servers.  In most office environments, usually it’s about 1-2 gigabytes.  Email providers like Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook.com may allow more, but at some point you are going to either have to delete emails or start archiving.  You will know you are reaching this limit when you start getting nasty-grams from the mail administrator essentially saying, “Clean your crap up.”

In Outlook 2013, simply goto File/Options/Advanced/Archive Settings and select the option for Archives.  From here you can manually archive emails in a folder, or you can set things up on a schedule.  Let me give you some advice.  If you are an email hoarder setup a schedule!  Start out with every 90 days.  If you find out that you mailbox is accumulating more email during this time, then shorten the timeline down by 30 days until you reach a comfortable level.  You can always get back in and access those emails if you ever need to and there is a great article on how to do this task.


This is the part I warned you about earlier!  Now you have reached this point and may be saying to yourself, “Archive, schmarchive, I do not see a benefit of doing any of this.”  Here is the incentive:  When I started out this article, I told you about a client of mine that had a huge inbox of mail to the tune of 30 plus gigabytes and he was archiving, but the wrong way!  Microsoft states the the size of your archive file can reach 50GB and then it’s subject to corruption.  That means, it messes up and you cannot access anything.  My rule of thumb when dealing with declarations like this from Microsoft is to reduce that number by half.  The reason I found out about this is that when they tried to open their email that day, it would not open.  No, not just those files, EVERYTHING!

I spent an entire day running a repair tool that frankly I had no guarantee it would work.  Fortunately it did, but the problem was even with Archiving, he was still actively adding to those files and using his mail client like a filing cabinet.  Archiving is exactly that.  You take old email, tuck it away and pull out what you need when you need it.  Not constantly adding to and keeping a running tab.  If necessary, you may have to break up your archives into smaller separate archive files.  Main lesson from all of this is, the bigger your mailbox is, the more likely you will run into this scenario and could lose EVERYTHING!

One final suggestion, try saving emails to an actual folder on your hard drive.  You can more easily double click a saved email in a file folder on your C: drive and get into it and you are outside the archive file system and not subject to it’s restraints.

So email hoarders you have the tools, you have the talent, so start archiving today and bring some order to your inbox!

Hunter Bonner


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