Is your mailbox full? Are you getting weekly or even daily messages from your system administrator saying you need to reduce the Microsoft Outlook mailbox size? This can lead to a lot of wasted time cleaning up your mailbox. Try these tips for a faster, more organized approach to keep your mailbox smaller and easier to work with.
Note: With the move in many organizations from Exchange Server (local/network) to Exchange Online (cloud/Office 365), the following steps will be less important as storage space is dramatically increased. However, it’s still a best practice to reduce the number of items in Outlook for simpler organization and faster search. And you can still clean up your Outlook mailbox size if you are running Outlook as a stand-alone (POP3) version. Reducing the size often improves performance.
Caution: Before starting these steps, take the time to back up your Outlook.pst file (stand-alone version), which is usually found under the Outlook Files folder in Documents.
The following steps apply to Microsoft Outlook 2021, Outlook 2019, and Outlook 2016:
1. Mailbox Cleanup
The best place to start is to open the Mailbox Cleanup tool. In Outlook, choose File > Info > Cleanup Tools > Mailbox Cleanup.
- First, choose the View Mailbox Size option, which scans the size of your mailbox and all of the subfolders. This is a great way to target which folders are the biggest contributors to your large mailbox so you can clean these up first.
When connecting to Exchange, you’ll see a Local Data and Server Data tab. Only look at the Local Data tab; cleanup changes you make will automatically take place on the server as well.
- Next, pick the options to Find older or larger items that you can delete directly from the results to clean up the Outlook mailbox size.
- Depending on your archive settings (see Archive Older Messages below), you can also run an AutoArchive.
- Finally, check the size of the Deleted Items folder and Empty the folder if you want (specific options are detailed below as well). If available, one option is to view and delete multiple versions of items in our mailbox.
2. Move Messages to Your Personal Folders
If you’re accessing Outlook from Exchange, another way to reduce the Outlook mailbox size is to move Outlook items to your Personal Folders. This option may not be available to you as many organizations have moved away from supporting Personal Folders.
Even though the messages you move to Personal Folders are no longer counted in the size of your mailbox, the Personal Folders file (outlook.pst) is stored on your local hard drive and is not accessible remotely. You should also back up this file to prevent losing these Outlook items if your computer goes down or is updated. If you are running a standalone version of Outlook, your email, calendar, tasks, and notes are all stored in the outlook.pst file (or .ost file-offline), which has a size limit of 50GB (Outlook 2021, 2019, & 2016).
3. Archive Older Messages
Another useful maintenance step is to periodically archive your Outlook folders. If you are accessing Outlook from Exchange, you may not be able to change archive options as archiving is often controlled by system administrators or a third-party program.
Setup your archive preferences under the Info > Cleanup Tools > Archive option. The archive.pst file can be created and updated at any location you specify, usually your local hard drive. Archived items are removed from your Outlook mailbox size and moved to the archive file based on the settings you determine. Just as with the Personal Folders file, your archived items are not accessible remotely; the file should be backed up on a regular basis.
4. Empty Deleted Items
Quickly clean up your deleted items by automatically emptying the Deleted Items folder when you exit Outlook. To apply this option choose File > Options > Advanced tab. From the Outlook start and exit option, check Empty Deleted Items folder when exiting Outlook and OK to apply.
To manually clear deleted items, locate and right-click the Deleted Items folder and click Empty Folder on the shortcut menu. Once you clear deleted items, it cannot be reversed. If you feel confident that you want to delete a message forever, you can bypass the Deleted Items folder by pressing [Shift] + [Delete] for a selected item instead of pressing the [Delete] key. Then confirm the delete process.
5. Save and Remove Attachments
Attachments in email messages are responsible for the bulk of the space used in your Outlook mailbox. Depending on the email communication, one option is to save the attachment and then remove the attachment from the original message. This requires extra steps yet may help slim down the size of your Outlook mailbox:
- Open the message.
- Right-click on the attachment and then pick Save All Attachments. Or select Actions from the Message tab. Then pick Other Actions > Save All Attachments.
- Next, locate and select the folder where you want to save the file(s) and pick Save.
- Once you have saved the attachment, delete the message if it doesn’t need to be retained. If you need to keep the message, you can remove attachments from a message by right-clicking them and choosing Remove.
Bonus: Reduce the Size of an Outlook Data File (.pst)
Note: This tip only applies to Outlook running on a stand-alone computer.
If you delete items from an Outlook Data File (.pst), the file is automatically compacted in the background when you’re not using your computer and Outlook is running. You can also manually start the compact command immediately. It will likely take several minutes to compact an Outlook Data File (.pst).
- Following the steps above, delete any items that you do not want to keep and empty the Deleted Items folder.
- Click the File tab.
- Click Account Settings, and then click Account Settings.
- On the Data Files tab, click the data file that you want to compact, and then click Settings.
- Click Compact Now.
NOTE: You do not have to exit Outlook after you compact an Outlook Data File (.pst) file.
Start applying these mailbox clean-up actions to grab greater control over your Outlook mailbox size.
For more time-saving Microsoft Outlook techniques, find additional shortcuts, tips, and tricks at TheSoftwarePro.com/Outlook.
© Dawn Bjork, MCT, MOSM, CSP®, The Software Pro®
Microsoft Certified Trainer, Productivity Speaker, Certified Speaking Professional