How Much E-Mail History Should I Keep?

I know that I certainly give my clients the gears about keeping too much email history but in some cases it’s justified!

© Artur Marciniec - Fotolia

© Artur Marciniec – Fotolia

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding on what your own personal policy or what your corporate policy should be.

  1. E-Mail Client Limitations
  2. Industry Regulatory Requirements
  3. E-Mail Provider Storage Limits
  4. E-Mail Access Method
  5. Personal Preference

E-Mail Client Limitations

I am mostly thinking about Windows here and Microsoft Outlook specifically. If you use Microsoft Outlook in a Windows environment then your email is stored in what’s called a PST file (a file with a .PST file extension … e.g. outlook.pst). All your email and email folders, calendar, contact and task items are all stored in a single PST file.

Earlier versions of MS Outlook had a 2.0GB file size limit on them meaning that, although it wouldn’t suddenly implode, if you pushed the size of the PST to sizes larger than 2.0 GB you ran the risk of the file corrupting and thus potentially losing data.

In doing some research online for the writing of this article I did learn that in later versions of Outlook this 2.0 GB limit is no longer the case, but really massive PST files produce performance issues and are not recommended.

This all being said to say that when considering how much email history to keep you’ll want to keep this in mind.

Industry Regulatory Requirements

Depending on the particular industry you work in you might be required to keep a certain number of years worth of email history for forensic reasons.

Check with your IT administrator to see if there’s anything particular you need to do on your end as it might also be covered on the back-end of your system where archives are created. If this is the case then you can likely keep your email volume lean and mean!

E-Mail Provider Storage Limits

If you use IMAP as a method for accessing your email then your ability to keep history is really only limited by the capacity of your email service provider. G-Mail for instance allows you to keep 15 GB on their free email addresses and on their paid Google Apps accounts they start at 30 GB of storage and go up from there! Yahoo allows up to 1 TB (Terabyte) of storage for their free email addresses … According to this article doesn’t put any limit on the size of your email storage.

As you can see it all depends on who’s actually providing the e-mail service for you …

E-Mail Access Method

If you use simple POP3 for accessing your email then you have to consider E-mail Client Limitations, as mentioned above, but you also need to consider disk space on the PC or Laptop that you are accessing from. If you are using IMAP to access your email then you may choose to use a web interface to get your email in which case you would just limited by the amount of space at your provider -or- you may choose a traditional email client in which case you’d just be limited by disk space on your PC/Laptop or possibly by the email client software you use (see E-Mail Client Limitations above)

Personal Preference

If you are strictly a personal user then it’s pretty much whatever you like. Some people adopt a method of “Once I’ve dealt with it I never want to see it again” and they delete everything. Others are hoarders and keep “EVERYTHING” including even the SPAM they receive. You need to decide for your self what works best for you.


Ask lots of questions of the IT Administrator at your place of work if you are not sure what you should do or if you have a strictly personal account ask questions of your email provider and what their best practices might be.

I’d really love to hear your opinion! If you have any questions or comments please reach out using one of the methods on our CONTACT page and I’ll forward to hearing from you! 

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

42 thoughts on “How Much E-Mail History Should I Keep?

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