Your Gmail Inbox Could Be About To Collapse (And Here We Give You The Solution)

to my student internet for journalists, one of the two subjects I teach at the University of Palermo, the news hit him like a bucket of cold water. We were learning how to automate email using rules (or filters, as Google calls them) when you noticed that your Gmail account was 98% busy.

It’s that the small fact, which we forget – because everything seems infinite and free on the Internet – is in a hidden place in the Gmail interface, at the bottom left. So it took her by surprise. The solution? The same one who staged the Mountain View firm in September 1998: look for.

Storage indicator used in Gmail; it’s on the bottom left, so you’ll probably only find out nowAriel Torres

Search and delete, of course. But erasing is easy. It’s about finding those hundreds, thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of messages that contain huge attachments and eat up the 15GB that Gmail offers right now. In reality, those who offer all Google services in the cloud as a whole, because if you have a lot of items in the Drive, they will also take up space on this total. So the first thing would be to go see if you haven’t gone too far and upload 5 gigabytes of photos to Drive. I mean, now you don’t have 15. You have 10. Unless, of course, you pay.

Google's free 15GB is shared across all services;  in the image, the Drive storage indicator
Google’s free 15GB is shared across all services; in the image, the Drive storage indicatorAriel Torres

Thing is, since there’s no point in opening new accounts every time the storage runs out, it’s best to take a look at what you have left from time to time and, if things go wrong, start deleting. OK, great, easy to say. But what to remove?

Each mailbox is a unique and personal universe. In some cases, you may be able to free up space simply by deleting a relatively small number of large attachments. In others, you will need to delete many relatively small emails that have accumulated in the thousands over the years. Almost two decades, alas!

The good news is that Gmail (and the same goes for Outlook.com, for that matter) offers a browser polished enough to quickly identify which messages are taking up that precious 15 gigabytes of free storage.

There are two ways to do this. The old fashioned way, via the search field operators (at the top) or via the button that displays a series of cursors (show search options is the message that displays the tooltip that appears if you hover over this button), just to the right of the search box. This button actually leads to the Filters; a smart decision, as it combines both functions (filters and advanced search) in the same dialog box, thus reducing complexity.

Advanced search is used both to find messages and to create filters (i.e. messaging rules)
Advanced search is used both to find messages and to create filters (i.e. messaging rules)Ariel Torres

To create a filter (to which I have already devoted a note, but I will come back to it soon), we will generally tend to use the address of the sender; It is the safest. But if we want to clean up the box, it is more convenient to use two other fields in this dialog box: size and date range. So, for example, using a date in 2006 (dates can be handwritten, as the calendar is quite clunky), a range of one year, and a size of 1 megabyte, I found photos taken from me at an event in 2006 they took 6MB. Two thousand six! Bye Bye.

Start searching by date and size and you’ll quickly find a lot of stuff you didn’t even know was in your Gmail, and which, whether you know it or not, is still taking up space.

If the question is critical, we will have to work with the keyboardwhich is much faster than the mouse (and less inaccurate).

For shortcuts to work, you need to enable them. You can see more information in this note.

After deleting a mountain of emails, you will not see any change in the storage used indicator. You would see it, eventually; strictly speaking, you don’t have to do anything else, because the Recycle Bin is emptied every thirty days. But it’s much more satisfying – and it tells you if you can start doing something else now – to empty it by hand and then hit F5; there you will see how much space you have gained.

Gmail search box
Gmail search boxAriel Torres

Something else: Gmail automatically and transparently removes spam; which does not mean that it always works well, but in this case I prefer that it fails by excess, because among spam there are many digital scams. Now, scams or not, spam also takes up space. In my case, just emptying the junk box just freed up 200 megabytes. It doesn’t look like much today (beyond that it’s five times the hard drive space of my first PC), but when it comes to cloud storage, it all adds up. Or stay. A minute and a half after emptying the spam, to put a precise number in this text, I already had a promotion for a grill. In the USA. #facepalm

OK, dialogs are very comfortable and easy to use, but using operators in the search box is much faster and more efficient. For example, to find all US-CERT communications, which I have labeled US-CERT, just put:

tag: us-cert

Exactly, you don’t need to use capital letters. Logically, it works just like the Google search engine, so it doesn’t see capital letters. There are tons of operators, all useful, and some very interesting. For instance, file name works with file extensions or full filenames, like this:

file name: pdf

filename:report.pdf

Another little known, but which in some scenarios can be very handy is Have you got. A searches for posts that have links to, for example, Drive. So:

a: reader

Note that there should be no space between the colon operator and the word that follows. You can see all operators here.

In practice, email has become a kind of repository of personal information, a type of software that was much talked about in the 90s, when programs were still the holy grail of this industry (and then the Internet arrived). The thing is that the place of the PIMs (Personal Information Managers) was between email and social networks (with the latter there is not much to do), so cleaning the Gmail box is a bit like doing archeology in our personal life . So be prepared for several surprises. And another tear.

Example of searching using operators
Example of searching using operatorsAriel Torres

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