Easily Do A Complete Overhaul Of Your Hotmail Inbox, And Maintain It

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msn hotmail inboxHave you seen or used Hotmail lately? Despite its rough past, it’s pretty nice and it surely gives Gmail a run for its… well, I was going to say “money” but both are free. Which, in my opinion, is quite impressive, given the amount of things that you can do with it. The “new” Hotmail has several very beneficial features now that allow you to keep your email inbox clean, organized and free of spam and “graymail“.

The features go beyond the inbox, however. There are also features that allow you to mark certain emails as “important” so you don’t forget about them. But there are many others that make Hotmail an excellent choice for a modern email client.

Understanding Graymail

If you’ve never heard of graymail, you’re not alone. This was a term I hadn’t heard of, before diving into the depths of Hotmail. However, we all have it. So what is it? It’s all the mail that you sometimes want, but is always in the way. It’s your social media notifications, your daily deals from shopping websites, and all those newsletters that you thought were interesting at the time, but never open them and (sometimes) feel guilty about it because you’re thinking you’re missing something big! Yes. You’re not the only one who does that.

So what’s the difference between spam and graymail? Spam is unsolicited emails while graymail has been given permission to be received by you. Spam is from fraudulent or misleading sources, but graymail is sent from reputable sources with legitimate information that provides an option to opt-out of whenever you want to. Lastly, the content that spam brings is of no value and is often malicious. Whereas the content in graymail can be interesting and relevant to you, however it may not always be the case if your tastes change. Nonetheless, graymail has some sort of value, where spam has none.

In the past, our inboxes used to flood with spam. There was hardly a way to control it. But now, real spam is hardly the problem. In fact, Hotmail claims that the amount of spam in the average user’s inbox is less than 3%. So if real spam is hardly a problem, why is your inbox so messy? Graymail. That’s why. You sign up for newsletter after newsletter and eventually you become overwhelmed with too much information that you begin ignoring potentially valuable emails. This is not permanent. Hotmail provides you with the tools to easily reverse this process in a matter of minutes (if not less).

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msn hotmail inbox

Automate Your Inbox

Schedule Cleanup

There are three options for scheduling a clean up:

  1. Only keep the latest message from this sender.
  2. Delete all messages older than 3, 10, 30 or 60 days.
  3. Move all messages older than 3, 10, 30 or 60 days to [designated folder].

organize hotmail emails

This can be accessed under the dropdown menu “Sweep” on the main toolbar above your inbox.

organize hotmail emails


organize hotmail emails

This feature is actually within the email itself. If you prefer to completely stop receiving a particular newsletter, you can click “unsubscribe” and Hotmail will automatically keep you from receiving future emails from that sender by blocking the email before it arrives in your inbox.

Once you click unsubscribe, you also get the option to remove all of the previous emails.

organize hotmail


Categories are a great way to organize your emails. Once you have your designated categories, you can start adding and dividing up senders to the different ones.

You can create a new category in the dropdown menu or by clicking the link “New Category” under “Quick Links” in the panel on the left side.

organize hotmail

You can also add emails to a new category by clicking on the category section on a specific email. You can also add it to a new category if the preferred one is not listed.


Sweep offers several options. We’ve already explored the Schedule Cleanup option under sweep. The other options include…

Specific senders to a designated folder…

Deleting emails and blocking future ones from specific senders…

And marking an entire folder as “read” and erasing all emails from a specific folder.

Find Emails Faster:

Customizable Instant Actions

Instant Actions are great, but Customizable Instant Actions are really great. To access these and create your own, click “Options” in the top right corner under your name and then click “More options.” There is a plethora of options on this page and I encourage you to get to know them. You’ll find the “Instant Actions” option at the bottom of the “Customizing Hotmail” list. You’ll see an “Add actions” dropdown list.

These are options that you would use frequently right on the email message in your inbox. Choose which ones you would like by clicking on the Instant Action and then customizing it to your liking. You can move the actions around using the “Move up” and “Move down” options next to the “Add actions” menu. Note that you can only display five Instant Actions at once.


Flags is a type of instant action which allows you to mark specific emails as a priority over all others. No matter how old an email is, if flagged, it will appear at the top of your inbox. This is obviously not something you want to overuse. Otherwise you will just end up with a bunch of emails that you haven’t done anything with. That said, flagging allows you to easily set apart the important emails from the rest.

One-Click Filters

One-click filters allow you to only view specific types of emails. For example, you have the option to view only emails from contacts, newsletters, social updates, etc.

organize hotmail

Additional Features:


Multiple aliases are very beneficial as they allow you to have multiple email addresses within Hotmail without having to check multiple inboxes or even import mail – it does it for you. To do this, hover over “Inbox” and you’ll see a “gear.” Once you click that you’ll see three options, all of which are important to make note of. Select “Create a Hotmail alias.” You’ll then be prompted to reenter your password.

Once you do so, you will be able to choose a new email address to automatically have imported into your Hotmail inbox. This email address can be @hotmail.com or @live.com – the preference is yours.

So what’s the benefit of this? Well, this gives you the ability to create another email address whether it’s temporary or something you intend to use along side your primary address. Now, a similar feature like this does exist in Gmail, however, that’s only with the addition of a “+” to the original address. Hotmail, on the other hand, allows you to create a completely new address without the process of creating a whole new account, and then can import it into your existing Hotmail account.

Multiple Emails, One Inbox

This is a great option to consider if you are wanting to use (or already using) Hotmail as your primary email client. To add more emails to import into your existing Hotmail inbox, hover over “Inbox” again and select the first option on the list, “Get email from another account.” This will bring up the Sending/receiving email accounts page. Click on the link titled “Add an email account.” Add your email account and fill in your account details.

Now, some users such as those using Yahoo, won’t be able to do this through this page. But there’s hope! Hotmail provides a service called TrueSwitch which allows you to import all your existing mail and contacts easily no matter what service you’re coming from. All you need to do is follow the steps there and you should be on your way to a brand new email client.

Folder Management

Folders are a great asset to clearing out your inbox. They differ from Categories in that they actually store emails in them, versus categories that are only used to sort the mail. Both are essential, but have different purposes. You can create new folders by clicking “New Folder.” You can then use the Sweep feature to automatically add emails to folders in a mass quantity or even bypass the inbox altogether upon arrival.

Preventing Future Spam

Although spam isn’t a big part of most inboxes. Some people have more than others. There are two kinds of spam – spam from unknown senders and spam from a contact’s hacked account. The latter is dangerous to not only you, but also the contact. I try to do my part in notifying them personally and I encourage you to do the same.

But there’s something else you can also do. Hotmail allows you to report their account as hacked.To do this, open the email (just selecting it won’t work) from the account that you want to report for being hacked. Then click the menu “Mark as” and choose “My friend’s been hacked!”

If you are trying to recover from a hacked account, Hotmail provides some information that should help, as well as a way to recover your account.

To remove spam from other senders you can use the Sweep option. Select all the spam and then click Sweep > “Block from.”

msn hotmail inbox

Do make sure that you double check to make sure all of the emails that you’ve selected are true spam messages before blocking them. This ensures that there won’t be one you wanted to keep that will be sent to the Junk folder accidentally.


As you can see, Hotmail has come a long way. It isn’t an email client to be taken lightly. In fact, many of the features that it has are completely unique and in my honest opinion, for anyone creating a new email account, Hotmail should be highly considered with these given improvements.

Now that you have the tools to change your email experience in Hotmail, do you see your email habits changing? Are you using Hotmail and implementing some of these features already? If not, are you considering switching over?

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Comments (30)
  • ali

    Yesterday, when I went to my ‘hotmail’ it was Outlook. I figured out how to get it back to my preferred Hotmail, but now I’m left with numbers and arrows beside my incoming and outgoing mail, which I find visually distracting and meaningless to me.
    What can I do to get rid of them?

  • Briony

    How do i unblock a sender that i previously blocked by using the ‘delete of future emails from this sender’ in ‘sweep’ tool?

    • Scott

      Try going to the gear icon (top right), click More Mail Settings, then under Prevent Junk Mail click “Safe and Blocked Senders” and go to the blocked one and unblock it (“remove from list”).


    • Aaron Couch

      Thanks for answering this question Scott!

  • rr

    Thanks; this was a great article. I had already tried some of the hotmail features, not “aliases” though. I am still a little confused by that…
    In any case, ever since I started using the “SWEEP/BLOCK” feature, I have noticed that my spam actually increased. My guess is that perhaps in “blocking” these addresses, they perhaps “know” and send even MORE spam? So, for me, (while I found that feature to be the most useful initially), I now find it to be anti productive and causing more spam than I had in the first place. I was wondering if anyone else noticed that. As far as the other features, I think Hotmail did a great job.

    • Aaron Couch

      I hadn’t noticed that I was getting more spam and frankly I don’t know if there’s a way for spammers to know that you’re blocking them.

      Have you been sucessful with keeping them out of your primary inbox with filters and the sweep/block feature?

  • Aaron Couch

    Thanks for reading!

  • Scott

    Two unrelated comments:

    1) While I have and use a Hotmail/Live account, I don’t use it very heavily for any important emails (or even many UNimportant ones) at this point, mainly because of the level of security. Okay, I’m somewhat on the paranoid side. :-) In contrast to something like Gmail, Hotmail a) lacks two-step authentication for logins, b) lacks the ability to use special characters in the answers to the security questions (hey, every little bit helps !), and c) to this day limits its passcode to 16-characters ! (Some articles I’ve read had people suggesting 16 as a bare minimum ! My Gmail passcode — as well as those for my other email accounts — are over 30.)

    So, for those interested in Hotmail who’ve never used it, be aware of these things.

    (Btw, the most recent Windows Team Blog is about Hotmail’s security, in case anyone wants to read it, and the comments. http://windowsteamblog.com/windows_live/b/windowslive/)

    2) Be aware that with Hotmail’s alias feature, you may only create 5 aliases per year. Note the word “create.” It’s not only that you may HAVE 5 aliases at a time. It’s stricter than that. You may only go through the **alias-creating process** 5 times in one year.

    Learn a lesson from the bitter experience of myself and others when aliases were first introduced. If you create 5 aliases, then decide you don’t like two of them and delete them, expecting to create two more to replace them (for a total of 5), you will be met with this error message: “You’ve added the maximum number of email addresses right now (we have a limit to help keep your account information safe). Please try again later. ” “Later” means at least 365 days later !! I’ve been trying to add to my two remaining aliases (after deleting 3) since Auguest 2011 and I still get the ‘try later’ message. No amount of complaining to the powers that be at the time that they (the Hotmail team) were not clear at all about this alias-creating limitation had any effect. They all said, “We can’t do anything about it. You’ll have to wait one year to add more.”

    (I think lack of clarity is one of Hotmail’s failings.)

    So, be aware of these things, too.

    FWIW, the service itself HAS seemed to improve greatly, and the features mentioned in the article here ARE extremely helpful. But it’s still far from perfect. You just have to weigh the pros and cons just like with any service. E.g. for me, if Hotmail can get its security limitations straightened out, I’m sure I’d be a happier — and more frequent — user ! :-)

    • Aaron Couch

      Thanks for your in depth comment Scott! I didn’t know about the 5 per year limit on the aliases.

      As far as being clear, it’s something that I feel many companies and organizations struggle with, including the social media giant, Facebook, but with the increase in awareness of this it has also been a focus of many companies and I do feel Hotmail has gotten better with it.

      We can only hope they just keep improving and don’t hit a stalling point like in past years.

      Glad you found this article helpful. If you have any other thoughts or questions, feel free to share them!

    • Scott

      Hi, Aaron

      Just to provide a little clarification re: aliases:

      In this blog post (http://windowsteamblog.com/windows_live/b/windowslive/archive/2011/02/03/hotmail-delivers-aliases-to-help-you-manage-and-secure-your-email-account.aspx) the Hotmail team announced aliases. One bit of relevant info is the following:

      “…you can add up to five aliases per year to your Hotmail account, up to fifteen aliases in total….”

      So, as I understand it, they will add allowance for an additional 5 aliases this year (presumably they have already, since they were introduced in Feb. 2011), and then 5 more aliases next year, so that users may have a total of 15 for their accounts.

      In my case, my last successful creation of an alias was last August. But I have not as yet been able to create any more aliases (I only have 3 at the moment). So perhaps their one year rule starts, not from the date they introduced the alias feature, but **from the date a user creates his/her 5th allowed alias.**

      If that’s the case, then I’m assuming — and we all know what happens when I do that ;-) — that sometime next month I’ll suddenly be able to add 5 more to my present list of aliases. And 5 next year. I don’t know if/when I can add the two that will make a total of 15. We’ll see. :-)

      As I say, the Hotmail service does have some great plusses, but sadly providing all necessary information ain’t one of ‘em. Fortunately, though, many Hotmail/Live “power users” provide blog post comments that help keep the Windows Live team on their toes. :-)

    • Aaron Couch


      Now that there’s the new Outlook.com, I wonder if this problem of yours was rectified. Did you have any luck with that?

    • Scott

      Hi, Aaron

      Well, yes and no.

      No – I still have not apparently gotten to the 365-day mark with regard to being allowed to create 5 more aliases. All I know is I’ve been *trying* to create them since late summer 2011 (above I said August, but it may have been September; I really don’t know for sure).

      BUT on the positive side, now that I’m using outlook.com, I WAS able to take advantage of the renaming feature and rename my account so that it now has an outlook.com address ! :-) And that means that the previous account address (which was “@live.com”) automatically became a new alias !

      So, in a way, Hotmail/Live/Outlook *did* give me a new alias. But it didn’t ‘reset’ things. IOW, just because I’m now using outlook.com doesn’t mean they also let me create 5 (or 4) more aliases according to their regular alias-creating feature. I still apparently have to wait til my year is up – whenever that is. :-\

    • Scott


      Good News: as of today (Sept 24, 2012) I was *finally* able to make another alias.

      Bad News: The MS gods allowed me to make one and only one alias (instead of the 5 we’re supposed to be able to add each year) !!! After making the one alias and trying to make another, I got the ol’ “you’ve added the maximum number of aliases” message. >:-(

      In frustration I just made a second account and created 4 aliases (easily) for that account.

      (On the plus side, it’s a good thing I don’t use my Outlook/Live/Hotmail account(s) for anything important.) ;-)

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
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