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How to Slim Down Your Email Inbox — and Why It Matters

Gmail, other popular free services are starting to charge for file storage

Email, inbox concept

Nipitphon Na Chiangmai / EyeEm / Getty Images

En español | "Free” email programs from AOL, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others, more likely than not, now have limits.

Google’s Gmail the most used email program, ahead of Microsoft’s and Yahoo Mail, could end up costing you this year. Google discontinued its policy June 1 of free photo uploads to the Google Photos app beyond the 15 gigabytes of storage it automatically allots. But that 15 GBs includes Google Photos, the Google Drive backup service and Gmail.

Go over 15 GBs, and you'll have to pay. Or worse, you'll wake up in the morning to this error message from Google about your Gmail.

If you run out of space in Gmail, you won't be able to send or receive messages. Messages sent to you will be returned to the sender.

Houston photographer Rob Greer doesn't mind paying Google for the extra storage space. He doesn't have time to go through his inbox and delete emails to make room.

"I pay $1.99 a month now,” says Greer, 50. Gmail is “really inexpensive when you think about it. They could charge me $9.99 a month and I'd still pay it."

Google charges $1.99 a month, $19.99 annually for 100 GB of storage; $2.99 a month, $29.99 annually for 200 GB of storage; or $9.99 monthly, $99.99 annually for two terabytes of storage. Think about how important email is to you. Could you live without it?

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Other services also levy fees

Because our inboxes are stuffed with endless sale offers, newsletters, notifications, updates and all those personal emails (especially the ones with big photo and PDF attachments), your inbox will be growing this year — unless you tame it.

Google isn’t alone in enforcing storage rules. An email account on your Apple phone isn’t free. The company offers 5 GB of storage and charges if you go over: 99 cents monthly for 50 GB; $2.99 for 200 GB; or $9.99 for 2 terabytes, the equivalent of 2,000 GB.

On Android phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy series or the Google Pixel, most email defaults to Gmail since Google makes Android software.

Microsoft's, at one time called Hotmail, lets you keep 15 GB of free storage but urges you to upgrade to 1 TB of storage for $6.99 a month, or $69.99 annually. The subscription includes online backup files; access to a more secure, ad-free email program; and the use of Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word.

Yahoo and AOL’s mail programs, while still free, are littered with ads. AOL users can skip the ads by upgrading to a paid version for $4.99 a month. Yahoo, which like AOL is being sold by Verizon to private equity firm Apollo Global Management, has made it harder for Yahoo Mail users to continue using the service for free. Automatic forwarding of emails from Yahoo to another address now is unavailable unless you pay $5 a month.

Use an app or delete manually

Meanwhile, what can you do if your inbox has gotten out of hand but you don't want to pay for more storage? You could do it the hard way and delete like crazy. Or you could pay to have an app do it for you.

The app Mailstrom starts with a free two-week trial, no credit card required, to delete up to 1,250 emails for you. After that it’s $9 a month, $59.95 a year, to keep the deleting going. In other words, Mailstrom does the deleting so you don’t have to.

The app finds the emails that show up most frequently — Google alerts, offers from local stores and the like. Once rounded up, you get to approve their bulk deletion.

Or you could try it the free way, searching for your most frequent emailers such as Google alerts and stores that nag you about their latest sale. Once displayed, click select all and delete them all.

What makes it hard is that Google lets you look at only 100 emails at a time, Greer says. Many people have way more email in their inbox, including this author, who has more than 60,000 unread ones.

Tips to trim your Gmail box

1. Find out how much you're using. Log in to your Google account, then visit the Google One site. Under the Storage heading, you'll see how much you have stowed now.

2. Tackle the biggest items first. Google suggests typing “has:attachment larger:10M” into the search bar to find the emails with the largest attachments. Emails with videos, PDFs and large photos should show up. Download any attachments you want to keep onto your computer's hard drive. Then select and delete the emails.

If you have thousands of emails, you'll have to do this several times. On a personal computer, you'll also need to go to the left side of the page, click Menu | Trash | Empty Trash Now.

3. Search by sender or more than two dozen other specifics with tips from Google's Gmail support page. Don't forget to click Select All in the spam folder, promotions and social tabs to get rid of those.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 25, 2021. It's been updated to reflect new information. 

Jefferson Graham is a contributing writer who covers personal technology and previously was a technology columnist for USA Today. He hosts the streaming travel photography series Photowalks and is author of Video Nation: A DIY Guide to Planning, Shooting, and Sharing Great Video.

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