How to Clear Old Messages from Your Gmail Inbox

If you've been a Gmail user for a long time, chances are good you've accumulated a lot of mail. In fact, it's not uncommon for a Gmail inbox to accumulate hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of messages. Indeed, at last count, one of my older Gmail accounts had nearly 33,000 of them (and still I'd barely used 20 percent of my available storage--gotta love Gmail).

You can clear out your inbox by archiving older messages. That doesn't delete them; it merely moves them out of the inbox and into Gmail's archive (which is accessible by clicking All Mail in the left-side menu). Here's how:

1. Open your Web browser, head to Gmail, and sign into your account.

2. Next to the Search the Web button up top, click Create a filter.

3. In the "Has the words" field, type before:2011/01/01. That's just an example date; it would archive all messages received prior to January 1 of this year. You can use any date you want, as long as it conforms to the format YYYY/MM/DD.

4. Click Next step.

5. Check the box marked Skip the inbox (Archive it), then check the box for Also apply filter to ### conversations below.

6. Finally, click Create Filter. Depending on how many messages meet the filter criteria, the archiving process may take a minute or two.

When it's done, your inbox should be significantly smaller. Remember, you haven't lost anything; you've simply relocated old mail. Those messages will still appear when you search your Gmail account.

Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at hasslefree@pcworld.com, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums.

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