How to Archive All Old Emails in Gmail and Reach Inbox Zero
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“Wow, why do you have so many unread messages in your inbox?”

“Oh, it’s a bunch of receipts and notifications.”

“You don’t read them?”

“Nope.”

“Why not delete them then?”

“Who knows when I’ll need them in the future?””

“You know you can remove them from your inbox and still keep them for your records, right?”

“Eh? How?”

“Archive them.”

I wish I charged people each time I have this conversation. Many people are unaware of the Archive function in email services like Gmail or Outlook. Some know it exists, but don’t know what it does.

Archive is the secret to achieving Inbox Zero without deleting your emails.

What Is Archive?

In simple terms, Archive is a vault of messages that is part of your email, but not a part of your inbox.

gmail archive vs delete

Taking Gmail as an example, your email consists of Inbox, Sent Mail, Spam, Trash, and Archive.

  • Inbox — Every new non-junk email lands here. You can keep an email here or get rid of it by deleting it or archiving it.
  • Sent Mail — Every email you send to others is saved here.
  • Spam — Junk email goes here automatically.
  • Trash — Every email you delete goes here.
  • Archive — Every email you want to remove from your inbox, but not delete, goes here.

In other words, the inbox is a collection of important emails you need now, while the archive is a collection of emails you might need some time in the future. And this differentiation is going to help you master your Gmail inbox anxiety How to Master Gmail Inbox Anxiety How to Master Gmail Inbox Anxiety So many emails, so little time. Do you feel this way when it comes to managing your Gmail inbox? We show you simple settings and helpful tools to organize and stress-proof your Gmail inbox. Read More .

What Does Archiving Do (And Not Do)?

To understand the benefits of archiving emails, you need to know what it exactly does, and how it affects your Gmail.

gmail archive button inbox desktop

  • Archived emails aren’t automatically deleted. The Archive is like a vault. While trashed emails are automatically deleted after 30 days, archived emails will stay in your Gmail till you manually remove them.
  • Archived emails can be searched. Gmail has a powerful search engine. When you search for anything, archived emails are a part of that. If you want to specifically exclude them and only search your inbox, type “in:inbox” (without quotes) before the search term.
  • Archived emails count as storage space. Deleted emails don’t count towards your total Gmail storage space 3 Ways To Free Up Storage Space In Your Gmail Account 3 Ways To Free Up Storage Space In Your Gmail Account Google Mail currently offers 7,679 MB of free storage. For the average user, that is enough space to last a lifetime. But what if you run out of storage space nevertheless? How can you find... Read More . Archived emails continue to count, since they are still part of your Gmail.
  • Archived emails aren’t marked as read automatically. If you archive an email without opening it, that email will stay unread till you act on it.
  • Archived emails can be browsed. Gmail doesn’t have an “Archive” tab to browse the messages you sent here. However, you can use the All Mail tab to see emails from both Inbox and Archive together. If you use Microsoft Outlook, then there’s a handy Archive tab to browse the vault.
  • Archived emails work with labels. You can add a label to a message and Archive it, and the label will stay. When you click the label to see all messages tagged with it, the archived message will also show up.

Why Should You Archive and Not “Mark as Read”?

By default, you will have the email inbox open in front of you. Whether you use Gmail’s priority and social tabs or not, this includes unread emails and older emails. You need some of these, some are for future reference, and some can be deleted.

gmail archive vs mark as read

But an inbox full of emails you don’t need immediately is nothing but clutter. Even when you mark an email as read, it still sits in your inbox. Why force your brain to deal with that?

Archiving an email removes it from the clutter, but stores it safely for the future. In any case, you are more likely to find emails with Gmail’s powerful search 5 Advanced Gmail Search Operators You Should Know 5 Advanced Gmail Search Operators You Should Know Gmail is an ingenious webmail client with many awesome features. Being a Google service, one of its strengths obviously is Search. And this is exactly how Google revolutionized email. In Gmail you don't really have... Read More than browse through lists of subject lines.

How to Archive a Message

You can archive a message on Gmail’s desktop web app as well as the Gmail apps on Android and iOS.

gmail archive android default action

  • For Desktop — Click the Archive button at the top of any message. Or select multiple messages and click the Archive button. Or tap “E” to use the Gmail keyboard shortcut for Archive.
  • For iOS — Tap the Archive button in any message. Or select multiple messages in inbox and tap the Archive button.
  • For Android — Go to Menu > Settings > General Settings > Gmail Default Action and choose Archive (instead of Delete). Now, in inbox view, swipe any message left or right 9 Hidden Features in Gmail for Android You Should Be Using 9 Hidden Features in Gmail for Android You Should Be Using Get the most out of your Gmail for Android experience with these tips and tricks. Read More to Archive it. Or select multiple messages and tap the Archive button. Or tap the Archive button in any message.

Automatically Archive Emails With Filters

The best way to get rid of email clutter How to Avoid Outlook Junk Mail and Email Clutter How to Avoid Outlook Junk Mail and Email Clutter If you struggle to get through your emails, you'll love these Outlook features. They can help you filter and prioritize all incoming email. Read More is with the combination of Archive and Gmail’s filters. You probably get thousands of repetitive messages that you don’t need to open but want to save, like receipts from Uber. Here’s how to do that, with the Uber example.

gmail archive create filter skip inbox

  1. Open the last email receipt you got from Uber.
  2. Click the drop-down arrow next to the Reply button, and click “Filter messages like this”.
  3. This will create a filter for all messages coming from that Uber email address. If you want to refine it for receipts only, add “Uber Receipts” in the subject line.
  4. Click “Create filter with this search”.
  5. Check the first box for “Skip the Inbox (Archive It)”.
  6. (Optional) Check the box at the bottom for “Also apply filter to matching conversations” if you want to archive all such existing emails.
  7. (Optional) If you want to mark it as read automatically, check the “Mark as Read” box too.
  8. Click “Create filter”.

How to Retrieve an Archived Message

Did you archive a message accidentally? Don’t worry, it’s easy to bring it back to your inbox.

gmail archive retrieve move to inbox

Either search for the message in Gmail’s search bar, or go to All Mail and locate it by browsing. At the top, click the Move to Inbox button to bring it back.

How to Archive All Old Emails in Gmail Inbox

Love the idea of archiving? Is your inbox overloaded with old emails that you want to banish to the Archive? Again, a quick filter will get it done.

gmail archive all old email filter

  1. In the search bar, type “in:inbox before:yyyy/mm/dd” (without the quotes). Fill yesterday’s date in the format of yyyy/mm/dd. If you want to archive all the emails in your inbox, then just write “in:inbox” (without the quotes).
  2. Click the drop-down icon in the search bar, and click “Create filter with this search”.
  3. Click “OK” in the popup for “Confirm creating filter”.
  4. Check the box for “Skip the Inbox (Archive It)”.
  5. Check the box for “Also apply filter to matching conversations”.
  6. (Optional) If you also want to mark all mails as read, check the “Mark as Read” box too.
  7. Click “Create filter”.

Depending on how many emails you have, Gmail will take some time with this filter. But after a while, all your emails will disappear from the inbox and be safely stored in the Archive. It’s the simplest step to achieve and maintain inbox zero 4 Simple Steps to Achieving & Maintaining Inbox Zero in Gmail 4 Simple Steps to Achieving & Maintaining Inbox Zero in Gmail Read More .

gmail archive delete filter

Important: If you chose “in:inbox” alone, then once Gmail is finished archiving, make sure you delete the filter. Otherwise all future mails will also skip your inbox and go straight to Archive.

To delete the filter, in Gmail, click Cog wheel icon > Settings > Filters and Blocked Addresses. Scroll down to find the filter you created, and delete it.

Did You Know About Archiving?

Be honest now, folks. How many of you actively archive messages instead of deleting them or just letting them sit in your inbox? Was this little archiving trick worth it?

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  1. D. Wass
    November 16, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    I finally felt motivated to find out what "archiving" is, and found your article this morning. Great information - thanks! Just want to mention that when I tried to set up a filter as outlined above, to archive all old mail received before a certain date, Gmail ignored the "before:" part and archived everything in my Inbox. I was alarmed at first, but then realized I can just click "All Mail," and there it is! I deleted the filter so that it doesn't block all future email from coming into the Inbox. Not sure why the "before:" command didn't get recognized - I tried it twice on two different Gmail accounts. Any thoughts?

  2. writemom
    September 8, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    I did this and put in a date of 4 mos ago and it archived all of my email anyway.

  3. Icecoldcrash
    May 19, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    Indeed, best thing is to create several folders, different categories, you just move the email there, works a treat beeing imap, (I know pop does it too), you can actually move them from any email app on your phone.
    I am a proud owner of a zero in box, where I live all invoices come by email, simple as this :
    They arrive, I read them and mark them as unread until i pay, after that I move them so j know they're out if the way, whenever I need one, know where to look for ;-)

  4. likefunbutnot
    May 18, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Threading is wrong. Archiving is wrong. Delete something if you don't care about it. Leave everything in your inbox (with threading turned off) or COPY it to a folder if you feel you must. You'll have a wonderful self-sustaining journal of your life if you just leave everything in your Inbox and that is beautiful.

    • D. Wass
      November 16, 2017 at 2:12 pm

      "You'll have a wonderful self-sustaining journal of your life if you just leave everything in your Inbox"

      I love this! That's how my daughter justifies never putting a single article of clothing, school work, eating utensil, food wrapper, jewelry, etc. away, and instead leaving it on her bedroom floor. But there's a place for life journals--and it isn't "on the floor!" People need to walk on the floor, find things, do work, and clean the floor periodically, etc. Your archive can be your "life journal," while your Inbox can be your work space.

      • likefunbutnot
        November 16, 2017 at 2:31 pm

        I fundamentally disagree. I want everything in one place and that place is my inbox. I have no interest in obfuscating email curation nor in using features that aren't necessarily available on other Mail platforms.