How Can I Reduce My Email Disk Space Usage?

Whether you know it or not, you could be using more disk space for your email accounts than you actually need to. In fact, many customers pay for disk space overage for email when there are steps they can take that can significantly reduce their email disk space usage, especially for those customers who use IMAP rather than POP3 for their incoming mail protocol or who use the webmail interface more often than an email client.

There are three main folders that tend to retain mail longer than they have to: Junk-Email (for people using Microsoft Office Outlook 2003), Deleted Items and Sent Items. The first two folders will generally hold emails that are no longer useful or necessary to keep for extended periods of time. The Sent Items folder is a bit different as people do tend to use this folder as a repository for important communication. However, this does not mean there are not steps you can take to minimize the number of files stored on the mail server and therefore reduce your disk space usage.

Don’t Just Delete Messages, Purge Folders As Well
Many people who use the webmail interface or IMAP think that when they delete a message, it’s removed from a mail server. However, this is not necessarily the case. When you delete a message from the webmail interface, or if you delete a message using an email client that connects to the mail server using IMAP, the mail server will only dispose of that deleted message in one of four ways (ways that you control when you set up the account within the mail server): the server will auto-purge the email, it will move the deleted message to the Deleted Items folder, it will mark the message as deleted, or it will mark the message as deleted and hide it. Only the first option will automatically remove the deleted messages from the server and remove the messages from your email disk total. If you select any one of the other three options, you would need to manually purge the messages either through the web mail interface or from within your email client. Purging messages is the only way to truly remove deleted messages from your email allocations.

The Junk-Email Folder
Created automatically by Outlook 2003 and used to handle spam messages, the Junk-Email folder can generally be purged on a daily or weekly basis after you are confident that the messages Outlook flags as spam are, in fact, just that. By default, the Junk E-mail Filter protection level is set to Low, which is designed to catch the most obvious junk e-mail messages. Any message that is caught by the Junk E-mail Filter is moved to a special Junk E-mail folder, where you can retrieve or review it at a later time. You can make the filter more aggressive, which may mistakenly catch legitimate messages, or you can even set Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 to permanently delete junk e-mail messages. As it is difficult to have any spam filter catch incoming messages that are only spam, you may want to check the Junk-Email folder occasionally prior to deleting and purging messages. For more information on the Outlook Junk-Email folder, check your Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 Help file, and do a search for “Junk Filter”.

The Deleted Items Folder
Depending on how you have your email account set up, this folder is generally where any messages you delete are stored. Again, simply storing messages in this folder does not mean they are removed from your disk space allocation. Quite the contrary, as they are still being stored on the server, they still count against your disk space usage and add to the number of messages that are stored on the server. Only by purging this folder can you completely remove these messages off the server and remove their collective size from your disk space allocation.

The Sent Items Folder
Whenever you send a message, or reply to a message, a copy of that message is stored in the Sent Items folder. Again, the accumulation of messages in this folder detracts from your email allocation and adds to the number of messages stored on the server. However, unlike the Junk-Email or Deleted Items folders, many people want to retain the messages that are stored in the Sent Items folder for later retrieval. While it is possible to purge messages from Sent Items, it is recommended that customers have some rule sets in place for how messages are deleted and purged from this folder.

So What If I Don’t Want to Purge Messages?
Put simply, you don’t have to. However, by removing older items from the mail server you not only lower your chances of paying for disk space overage you also help improve the performance of the mail server itself. Regardless, if you don’t want to purge messages an alternative would be to use an email client (Microsoft Outlook, Eudora, etc.) and use that client to occasionally connect to your mail accounts. When you use an email client from your desktop or laptop, you can create folders on the desktop or laptop that you can use to locally archive older email messages from any folder you create on the mail server. Doing this not only gives you the ability to search through old email communications, it also allows you to go back to the mail server and delete and purge those messages that you have downloaded and stored locally.