Email avalanche, send help!

So I quite literally have over a million messages in all of my email accounts combined. My strategy to start was to dump all of the email in my inbox into a folder I’m calling Dec2019Cleanup for each of the accounts. Then I’m sorting by subject and adding filters/mail rules to filter email into the correctly named filter/mailbox. I’m unsubscribing from as much as I can in the process, junking some, deleting others. Even with this method it still is overwhelming! I don’t want to waste time doing this if it’s never going to help. I do own MailTags and Mail Act On but don’t have a clue how to use them in order to help me in this situation. Any thoughts/ideas? Thanks!


Q) What do you need to have from doing this?

That is specifically need rather than simply want.

The reason I ask is that Full-text searching and a single archive folder in each account can often be sufficient for producing a clean slate for good email hygiene going forward, and actually works for most users when it comes down to it. Note that processing power and search has not always afforded this approach being sufficient, which was a driving force behind more traditions folder organisation in the past.

If you have a need to organise particular sets of mails for organisational, or backup/archive purposes then that can quickly narrow your focus to give priority and make such a high volume task more manageable.


I have ADHD and looking at a cluttered inbox or folder makes it very difficult for me to find anything. I get overwhelmed. Searching a gazillion messages with or Gmail on the web still takes a while and is much faster if there are fewer messages. I just bit the bullet, just now, and sorted by from on my gmail and bulk deleted whole groups of messages. But I do understand what you are saying. I just rarely trust most search.

If it makes you feel able to work with the mails more efficiently and if your volumes are such that you were still seeing performance issues, then that’s a couple of good reasons to filter down your mails.

Deletion is certainly a good thing to do and will help get your volumes down. If you are ruthless, then this can be a very quick way to reduce volumes.

But, I suspect you will still have a lot of mails to search through which it sounds like you may still find overwhelming.

I would still suggest that it would be worth prioritising the mails you actively work with and search for. Filtering for those and moving them into a suitable folder structure should both reduce your “old mixed mail bucket” volume while making the mails you are going to be active with more accessible for you. i.e. tackling in the opposite direction might give you better returns sooner; but both approaches effectively costs over at some mid-point,

There is a threshold of course. If you can quickly reduce volumes to a point where an “archive search” is acceptable, that could actually be a better approach, but this would still lead to you having to deal with unwelcome larger volumes over time. But this initial deletion would then make it quicker to search for active sets of mails as the overall volume would have reduced significantly.

So, if you want the organisational benefit asap, I think prioritise and file is still your best option at this point. If you are okay to continue searching for a while, and the smaller active folder approach is fine as a longer term goal, then I would continue with your current approach.

One final thing to highlight is that if you are just highlighting mails and hitting the delete key, then this is a tactical solution for here and now. If you want to apply it more strategically, consider using rules to tackle as many as possible as they can apply on an ongoing basis and save you work in the future. After all automation is the name of the game :wink:

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Do you still need everything?

I’ve had the same issue in the past, and chose to archive off everything older than 1 year. If I ever need anything from it (and that’s very, very rare) I fish it out of the archive. My archive is in Devonthink, so a very simple search usually finds whatever I need instantly.

My inbox is clean (always at 0), new email is immediately dealt with or sent to Omnifocus and then archived, this gives me peace of mind.

What also helps is I have all advertising email, newsletters etc sent to an ad mailbox on gmail the content of which I delete every quarter. I give out email addresses from it something like ads-mail+[whatever supplier] That’s usually 70% of email gone, straight away without issues.

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Thanks, and that’s my goal: To automate this whole process. I’m trying to decide between keeping a Mac mini on to process via rules, or adding the rules in iCloud for my iCloud accounts. For my gmail I know there are filters but I could use rules as well. I also own MailTags which I’m going to use to tag emails I care about in various ways, using Mail rules and manually when I see something I know I’m going to want to refer to again. Am I missing yet another way to do this?

Once I see if I’m going to upgrade to DevonThink 3 Pro, I’ll figure out how to actually use DevonThink! I have thought of archiving email there as well, but I really want to keep everything in one place instead of having to try and remember where I put it. My thought is that I want to keep DevonThink for reference only. Clean out Evernote and be done with it (yet another huge task for another time) and use my Email client of choice, seemingly for now, to store email I want to refer to. At least that’s how I see things now. Much like my wife likes to rearrange our furniture once a year, I might revisit this and change my mind in the same timeframe!

If you set up as many rules as possible in your mail provider, they will then apply independently of your mail client. For many, these change over time and between platforms. While a Mac mini processing mails is certainly a valid option, I’d look at what you can get working in the cloud first as it would be more resilient to apply the rules, then have a local mail client pick up any further processing.


Yeah and that’s the way I’m leaning for that very reason: I am sticking with stock Apple Mail for now, but who knows if I’ll move to Airmail,etc on my Mac and iPhone?