Cleaning up your GMail inbox

When I started using Gmail some years ago I wasn’t really trying to keep my inbox clean. I marked some of my mails read, but somethimes I was even to lazy for that. Over the time all those unread and and un-archived emails added up to a couple of thousand messages plugging up my inbox and I just couldn’t be bothered cleaning up the mess up, just because they were so many — a vicious circle.

But you don’t have to worry about spending hours cleaning up the mess as you can do it in less than a minute by using GMail’s filter functionality. That’s how it’s done:

Go to your “Settings” page on GMail and click on the “Filters” tab. At the bottom is the option to create new filters. Clicking on that should bring you to the filter creation page with 5 input fields.

We need the “Has the words“-field, as shown in the image above, on the right side of page.

First we want to get all that unread mail of your being marked as read so we write “label:inbox” without the quotes in the field. Now click on “Next Step” and confirm that you know what you’re doing in the warning dialog. We are experts, we don’t need warnings!

Now, select the boxes “Skip the Inbox (Archive it)“, “Mark as read” and “Also apply the filter to x conversations below.

After that, hit the “Create Filter“-button. Your inbox should be clean now.

When you’re done it is very important to go back to the Filters tab in Settings and remove the filter we created or every new mail will be marked unread and and moved to the archive. Don’t be afraid, all the mails we just put there will stay there.

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4 thoughts on “Cleaning up your GMail inbox

  1. Thanks for this tip, helped get rid of 3k of unread messages! Well, they’re still there…waiting…waiting…lurking…

  2. Thanks a bunch for the detailed tips on how to rid thousands of unnecessary messages. I knew there was an easier way than clicking through the pages and check boxes! :mrgreen:

  3. does this process delete the messages or save them in an “archives” folder? how can one go see those mails again after following these steps? thanks -

  4. @josh It does in fact preserve all the e-mails, they aren’t deleted but moved to GMail’s built-in “All Mail” label.

    It should be on the left sidebar in your GMail account. Maybe hidden under “[number] more” depending on your enabled GMail Labs features.

    Hope I could help.