It seems that over time I’ve collected over 20,000 Gmail “conversations” and until today had 1,800 unread e-mails in my inbox. Who knows how many “read” e-mails I might have had. When I first opened the account in 2004 I was very diligent when it came to cleaning the inbox up, archiving, staring, and so forth. I rarely deleted e-mails as there seems to be no reason to with Gmail (The footer reads: You are currently using 976 MB (13%) of your 7367 MB). Alas what started as a dedicated mail trap has moved on to become the catch-all mailbox. And why not? It is so easy to search and manage that there is no reason to continually archive and delete. Something had to be done though when I linked Gmail to my iPhone.

I was rarely checking e-mail, up until a year ago, as it wasn’t a source of communication for me. I was e-mailing assignments to teachers (before I graduated from the diploma mill) and getting newsletters and so forth when I started this account. Now everyone is using e-mail and I get quite a few important updates such as Facebook notifications, etc. But that was just coming in too fast, and I wasn’t good about “deleting” stuff. If you click a link an in e-mail on the iPhone you are taken right to Safari and will likely not go back an archive the message when you get the next chance to do so.

The problem I had was that I like to use the “unread” status, rather keeping things unread, to know that I need to follow up on an item (notorious one at this point is the reminder to file my tax returns!). This works for Outlook at work as you can create a search folder that displays just those unread e-mails – I don’t see a way to do that with Gmail on the iPhone (though I have an idea for how to do so with labels!).

So I needed to clean everything up. Turns out it was an easy process. I started by searching for things that seem to flood my “inbox” but that would have taken hours to find each Crate and Barrel, The Onion, Border Rewards and Facebook e-mail that was ever sent to me.

Instead I did the following:

Searched using the following: label:inbox label:read

Selected all (using the Select: All, None, Read, Unread, Starred, Unstarred shortcuts). Then continuted to select more using the “Select all conversations that match this search” option.

Hit the archive button, confirming I wanted to archive each and every one of those suckers.

(Though you’ll notice there is an extra step in there – it can be done differently, but it wasn’t allowing me to archive every one using Select: Unread.)

Then to clean up my unread e-mails:

Starred those 10 e-mails that are sitting there as reminders.

Searched: label:inbox -is:starred
(Notice the minus sign in front of the “is:starred”, this will perform an inverse selection)
“Select all conversations that match this search”

Hit the archive button, confirming I wanted to archive each and every one of those suckers.


Now I have 10 e-mails sitting in my inbox that I can easily scan over and the unread reminders are no longer spread out with 25 read pieces of junkĀ in between. Very much for the win. Now I just have to keep up on it. But using the above steps I can just go back maybe once a month and perform some clean up when needed, in just a few minutes (if even a whole minute).

UPDATE: Check out this nifty list of Gmail search hacks that could make your (e-mail) life easier.