How to clean up your Gmail inbox by quickly deleting old email

If you have too much email in your Gmail account, it may finally be time to clean it out. This is not simply to reach the Zen-like nirvana of “inbox zero,” but to address a looming threat: As of June 1, 2021, Google will change its storage policy. By default, Gmail users receive 15GB of storage, shared across Gmail, Drive, and Photos. Some data, like Photos, is currently exempted—but that goes away in June. If your total data exceeds your free allotment, you’ll either have to delete data, pay Google for more storage, or risk losing whatever “extra” data Google chooses to delete. 

Don’t let that happen! Here are some tactics for deleting lots of email, pronto.

How to quickly delete old email in Gmail

About the only requirement for purging old emails from Google Gmail is that you must be logged into Gmail, and using it on a browser from a Chrome, Mac, or Windows PC, or an Android tablet or iPad. These commands may be available from a smartphone, but they’re designed first and foremost for the web interface.

First, you’ll need to know how much storage capacity your email is taking up. If you scroll down to the bottom of your Gmail page, you can see how much space all of your data takes up—not just Gmail! If you’re a Google One subscriber, your Google One storage page breaks it down between Gmail, Photos, and Drive. (Tip: You can block Google Photos’ automatic uploads to help manage your storage.)

cleaning up gmail total storage used Mark Hachman / IDG

Consult your Google One storage tab to find out how close you are to your limit, and how much you’ll want to delete.

Now, let’s start deleting.

The easiest way to delete unwanted email from Gmail is to use Google’s built-in section tabs within Gmail, which already filter email into several sections: your Primary tab (your main inbox), followed by Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums. The implicit message here is that Google already considers the email that’s stored in your Primary tab as the email you actually needeverything else can probably be sacrificed. 

I usually purge everything in my Promotions tab first—it’s almost-but-not-quite spam. Take a last look through a few pages, to ensure that you want to do a wholesale purge. (If you want to delete email selectively, skip to the section below.) 

To begin the process, first click the Promotions tab (the label will show as a color rather than gray). Next, from the ribbon of icons above the tabs, click the small checkbox icon at far left, like so:

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