Tips for managing a stuffed e-mail inbox in Mail

MailIconXEven though you might have plenty of storage available in your e-mail account, after a while of using Mail in OS X, you might find your inbox crammed with thousands of old messages. While Mail should be able to handle all of these messages, sometimes you might find it easier to only have a few messages to sort through.

Unfortunately, the only true way to manage old mail is to eventually sort through it all unless you decide to simply delete the old mail in your account; however, there are some ways to quickly clear your inbox and still have your old mail available:

Smart mailboxes

One way you can manage endless mail in your inbox is to avoid using the inbox and instead use one or more smart mailboxes to show your relevant messages. With smart mailboxes, you can set up rules to show only the unread mail in specific accounts, and only that which was received in a given time frame, among other criteria:

  1. Choose New Smart Mailbox from the Mailbox menu.
  2. Label the smart mailbox.
  3. Set the criteria for the mailbox, clicking the plus button to add more and refine the mailbox’s focus.
  4. Click the OK button to save the mailbox.

When you create the mailbox, it will appear in the Mail sidebar in a section called Smart Mailboxes, which you can drag to the top (above the standard “Mailboxes” section) so it will be more convenient to you.

The Archive mailbox

Another built-in option is to use Mail’s Archive mailbox, which is a temporary mailbox in which you can store items until you get around to deleting or otherwise managing them. To send a message (or multiple messages) to the Archive, you can drag it there or select it and press Control-Command-A.

Note that Gmail messages will be in the archive by default, so if you use this service then the Archive might not be as useful for clearing your mailboxes.

Custom “Old Mail” box

A final approach that is similar to the Archive mailbox, is to create a local mailbox on your Mac in which you store your old mail. This will allow you to still access it when needed, but keep it out of your main inbox:

  1. Select New Mailbox from the Mailbox menu.
  2. Select “On My Mac” as the location, and give the mailbox a name (e.g., “Old Mail”).
  3. Select and drag any message to this mailbox, to remove it from your inbox and have it available only on your Mac.

The key the convenience of using a separate “Old Mail” mailbox, and even the Archive, is to create a mail rule that will handle messages and send them to these mailboxes if they meet a given criteria. For instance, to keep your inbox relatively empty you might wish to archive all messages that are older a week, or perhaps two. To do this, with your Old Mail mailbox created, make a new rule in Mail’s preferences with the criteria to act on mail who’s date received is greater than 7 to 14 days (you select this time frame), and then have the rule perform the action of moving the message to the “Old Mail” mailbox, or to the Archive.

With this rule created, you can simply press Command-A to select all your messages in your inbox, followed by pressing Option-Command-L to run all of your rules on these messages. Since this rule requires messages to be older than the current day, then it will not act on any new messages. Likewise, any other rules you have that act on incoming messages will not have any effect, because they will have already been applied to the messages in your inbox.

2 thoughts on “Tips for managing a stuffed e-mail inbox in Mail

  1. MaX

    Mail needs a truly automatic sorting feature: when you open a message, set it to remain in its current mailbox or automatically move to a new sorted mailbox. Mail should do it for you or ask you where to move it, allowing to create a new mailbox if necessary.

  2. Art Busbey

    I read somewhere else that choosing to Archive mail moves it from the iMap server to a local mail box – which seems, on the face of it, to be like using POP as the protocol. If the person who wrote this is correct, then why not use POP?

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