Cleaning out your email inbox is a great year-end activity. But any time of the year will do!  A clear inbox helps you focus on priorities and ensure that you are storing emails in the right location for recordkeeping purposes. Outlook has some features to help you do this.

At the top of the Home tab in Outlook, you will see a couple of buttons that can help you quickly delete redundant or unwanted email. The purpose of this article is to help you understand these helpful buttons so that you can apply them appropriately.


Outlook_CleanUpIgnoreHere’s a scenario. A coworker sends an email with “Cat Playing the Piano – Hilarious” in the subject line to 10 people including you. The other nine folks don’t have enough to do, so they all watch the video and reply to all with their comments, criticisms, and ROTFL’s. You really wish that the original sender had left you off the list. Here’s where Ignore comes in.

Click one of the emails you’ve received in your inbox with the cat video in it. Once that email is highlighted, click the Ignore button. All emails you have received to-date with that subject line will go to the deleted items folder – as will all future emails in that conversation. You can go to your deleted items and turn off Ignore at any time by right-clicking on an email from that conversation. Be careful, though. If the subject line is generic or vague (like “Watch This!”), then you will never see an email in your inbox with that subject line again – even if it is a new conversation.


Clean Up

The Clean Up button deletes emails whose content is completely replicated in subsequent replies. Clean Up has the potential to save you lots of time when you have a backlog of email. You can clean up your inbox, sent items, or any folder (and/or subfolders) in Outlook. Duplicate emails are moved to Deleted Items.

Clean Up by default will NOT delete emails with attachments (or flags or categories for that matter). It does recognize them as unique, even when their content is replicated in subsequent replies.


Sorting and Purging Email Manually in Outlook

When the more automated methods don’t appeal or aren’t applicable, it is time for a good old fashioned sort-and-purge. Here are some pointers:

  • Delete all emails sent to or received from individuals that would not have business records value. Sort by “To” or “From” and collapse groups for ease of viewing.
  • Sort and purge emails according to their Subject. Sort by “Subject” and delete groups of emails as appropriate. For those email conversations that need to be retained, drag the most recent email to the appropriate Folder. If you did not use the Clean Up button, Delete the emails whose contents are duplicated in subsequent replies.
  • In your Sent Items, click the Sort by Icon button and scroll to the bottom of the Sent Items. Delete calendar/meeting invitation responses.

Need more guidance on email purging? Email me for a no-cost-to-you initial assessment.


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Dr. Melissa Gratias, MBG Organizing SolutionsDr. Melissa Gratias (pronounced "Gracious") is a work psychologist who helps overwhelmed and underappreciated businesspeople be more focused and effective. Since 2007, thousands of people have graduated with honors from her onsite sessions, distance coaching, productivity seminars, and corporate consulting projects. Based in Savannah, Georgia, Melissa is available for nationwide consulting and speaking engagements. Contact her via email at or call 912-417-2505. Sign up for her free monthly e-newsletter or visit her website,

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